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A Great Career, a Good Person … And a Bad Decision

Heidi Jones seemingly had it all – an exciting career as a TV meteorologist at WABC-TV in New York, growing national exposure as a fill-in meteorologist at Good Morning America … and the looks, personality — and intelligence —  that helped catapult her to success in a highly competitive industry.  Why, then, did she risk it all by filing a false report of attempted rape – and what happens to her once-blossoming career now?

The motives underlying why she did it are probably tangled up and difficult to explain or understand.  She’s likely trying to figure it out herself right now.  Sometimes we don’t really understand why we do the things we do, even when they have the potential to be self-destructive.  “It’s complicated,” as they say.

But on another level, we can look at the whole sordid mess as stemming from a single terribly bad decision.  Everyone makes bad choices.  Although most people don’t do anything as dramatic as Heidi did with these invented accusations, good people make mistakes and bad decisions virtually every day.  It doesn’t necessarily make them bad people, and most of the time it doesn’t make them criminals. It does make them human, certainly.

Sure, there are some people out there who have no regard for what is right and wrong – but those people are, in actuality, few and far between.  The great majority of people out there who make an occasional bad decision, including those accused of crimes including both felonies and misdemeanors, are good people who somehow disconnect their actions from their consequences. They “tune out” the ramifications of their choices when they elect to do something they would normally know is wrong.  Chances are, although Heidi may have known intellectually that her actions were wrong, she tuned out the ramifications due to personal problems that she might have been having.  She made a mistake … and, sadly, a very high-profile mistake that just may cost her what she’s worked so hard to create.

Most people in the criminal justice system, and most of our clients, are a lot like Heidi – decent, law-abiding people who make a very poor decision of one kind or another that leads to an arrest or criminal charge.  Although their faces may not be as well-known as Heidi’s, they are the faces of what the criminal justice system is often all about: bad decisions … but not necessarily bad people.

With no prior record, and with the root of the false accusations seeming to stem from personal problems, it’s unlikely that Heidi will serve jail time even though she’s charged with a misdemeanor and could face up to a year in prison if found guilty.   However, like so many basically decent people out there, she’ll likely be living with the consequences of this one bad decision for a long time … and only time will tell how forgiving the broadcast journalism industry, and the viewing public, will be.  Meanwhile, we here at Collins, McDonald & Gann will be helping lots of lesser known people (and a few very well known ones) in getting past their mistakes and getting on with their lives.

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