The Right Lawyer Makes a Big Difference
A quick hypothetical. Suppose you learned that a loved one was diagnosed with a heart condition and required heart surgery to remedy the matter. Now suppose that your brother’s college roommate is a renowned knee surgeon. Would you hire the knee surgeon to operate on your loved one’s heart? If so, then maybe you need to have your head examined by a brain doctor.
Does the above hypothetical seem far-fetched? How about we take a look at it in the world of criminal law? A loved one gets arrested for Driving While Intoxicated. The same brother’s other college roommate went to law school and now works in a small firm writing wills and setting up trusts and estates for wealthy clients. There will likely be a family discount and the lawyer insists he took criminal law in law school and has a friend he can “bounce a few things off of” if need be. Do you hire the trusts and estates attorney to represent your loved one?
Our firm has practiced criminal law for over 20 years. All of our lawyers handling criminal cases also served as prosecutors, so we’ve seen the criminal justice system from both sides – a decided benefit to our clients. During the past year or so we have noticed a somewhat disturbing trend throughout the many different criminal courtrooms we appear in: namely, persons charged with crimes being represented by attorneys who, based upon an observation of their actions, are not criminal defense lawyers.
Let’s be clear, we are not claiming a special right to all criminal cases on behalf of all of us who have decided to dedicate our practices to criminal defense work. There are plenty of good general practitioners who are proficient at representing clients in a variety of different settings and venues. That being said, the world of criminal law is expansive, ever-changing and, at times, all consuming. As we are sure there are in matrimonial cases and medical malpractice cases, there are countless nuances to criminal statutes, investigation tactics, trial skills and sentencing parameters. Knowledge of these minute details and how they can be used to a client’s advantage are often the difference between a successful disposition in the case and a not-so-successful disposition.
Let us give you a recent real life example. A few weeks ago a very nervous young man came to our office for a consultation. “John” had been arrested several weeks before and charged with misdemeanor Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) and other Vehicle and Traffic Law violations. John submitted to a chemical test of his breath and registered just slightly above the legal limit. Additionally, John was under the legal drinking age. John’s case was pending in a local criminal court and he was being represented by a family friend who focused his practice in real estate matters and landlord tenant disputes.
During our meeting John explained to us that his current lawyer, after an initial conference in court, recommended that John enter into a plea to the misdemeanor and let the judge decide what his sentence should be. This suggestion was made without a working knowledge of the way a DWI is prosecuted or defended and, perhaps more importantly, with no working knowledge of the local practices and policies of the DA’s Office prosecuting the case or the judge presiding over it.
Fortunately for John, the lawyers at CMG have practiced criminal defense law for decades and throughout New York. At any given time we represent many clients charged with DWI in the surrounding local district and criminal courts. In short, we know how these cases are prosecuted, how they can be defended and what the plea bargaining parameters are for the DA’s office and the judges.
Unbeknownst to John and his lawyer, the facts of John’s case met the criteria for a program that, assuming John completed the conditions of the DA’s Office and the Court, would allow John to plead guilty to the traffic violation of Driving While Ability Impaired by Alcohol, not the misdemeanor DWI. This is a program that only lawyers who handle these types of cases regularly would know exists. It is a program that requires that the defendant’s lawyer verbalize the proper things to the DA’s Office and the Court in order to take advantage of it. We don’t fault John’s lawyer for not knowing about it; we are sure there are many nuances to a landlord tenant case that, if we were to take one, we wouldn’t know of either. Instead, we fault him for taking a case as serious as a criminal one without knowing every single option available to his client. That, in our opinion, is unacceptable, irresponsible and may even border on legal malpractice.
Folks, don’t let a knee surgeon operate on your heart and don’t let an attorney who writes wills negotiate a plea bargain in a criminal case where your fundamental right to liberty is at stake.