Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Criminal Defense Attorney Salt Lake City

Criminal Defense Attorney Salt Lake City: The Good

I remember being at a doctor's office with a broken wrist and the doctor telling me my wrist wasn't broken. 

"We looked at the X-Rays and they appear fine," he said. 
"Doc, I've broken my wrist before and I know what it feels like. I'm certain it's broken." 
"No, you're fine. Trust me." 

Well, I couldn't sleep that night from the pain. In the morning, I went to another, larger hospital for a second opinion. They took an X-Ray and of course my wrist was broken. 

Hiring a criminal defense attorney in Salt Lake City is a lot like that. Experience and knowledge in any profession goes across the spectrum. I've known some criminal defense attorneys in Salt Lake City that were so awful I heard judges, in private of course, wondering how it was they had kept their bar licenses. On the flip side, I have seen some criminal defense attorneys in Salt Lake City that have blown my mind with some of the creative tactics they've used. 

I'm very fortunate to be a partner at this firm and have the ability to spot these characteristics in criminal defense attorneys and hire the ones that impress me. We hired one attorney away from another firm for the simple fact that he was aggressive and smart. I knew he would be an excellent attorney at our firm and I had to have him. 

Many criminal defense firms in Salt Lake don't realize the talent that they might have in their associates. Perhaps because I come from a business background, when I recognize talent, I know we need to add it to our roster as quickly as possible. 

It takes time to hire a good criminal defense attorney in Salt Lake City. Don't just hire the first person you speak with: call around. I tell all potential clients to speak with at least three other firms. This is a big decision, especially for those facing prison time, and it shouldn't be taken lightly. 

Criminal Defense Attorney Salt Lake City: The Bad

So how do you spot bad criminal defense attorneys? Hard to say since it varies, but here are some general tips:

a. If a criminal defense attorney is rude to you on the phone, they will probably be rude to you during the case. Avoid this. Criminal defense is a service and you are the customer. You should be treated with respect. 

b. If a criminal defense attorney charges too little, they probably don't have the experience or the knowledge you need. A good attorney knows how much time each criminal defense case takes and charges accordingly. If they are charging you too little, that generally means they plan on spending as little time on the case as possible. This isn't always true, but in my experience this seems to be the trend. 

c. If a criminal defense attorney charges too much, they may be inflating what they can do for you. I've known some criminal defense attorneys here in Salt Lake City that charge triple what everyone else does and promise a dismissal to the client. When the dismissal eventually doesn't come, the criminal defense attorney shrugs and says, "Oh well. That's life." Call around and check out what everyone is charging. A difference of a few thousand dollars is okay, but if someone is charging twenty thousand more than everyone else, that may be a problem. 

d. If a criminal defense attorney has no staff, that may be a problem. I cannot tell you how much I rely on the hard work of my staff. How well I do on my cases is a direct result of how well my staff works in the background, gathering evidence, interviewing witnesses, coordinating with the courts. If I didn't have them, all the little things that go into a case would have to be done by me personally. This would take time away from me doing what I do best: coming up with a legal strategy to win my client's case. 

Criminal Defense Attorney Salt Lake City: The Ugly

It is a sad fact of the criminal defense world that there are some attorneys that will take a client's money, not do a thing for them, and then refuse to give any of the money back when the client requests a refund. It makes all of us hard working criminal defense attorneys here in Salt Lake look bad and it makes the attorney profession look bad. 

How to Hire a Good Criminal Defense Attorney in Salt Lake City

The old adage that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure applies here. Do your research, speak or preferably meet with your potential criminal defense attorney in person, ask lots of questions, and make a good judgement. A good criminal defense attorney can make the difference between winning your case and going to jail. Don't leave that decision up to chance.


Yossof Sharifi

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Salt Lake County Jail: How to Get Your Loved Ones Out

Salt Lake County Jail: The Arrest

If a loved one is being held at the jail, it means he was arrested for a crime or crimes that the police believe them to have committed.

The police either had an arrest warrant and executed it, meaning they found your loved one and brought them in, or they arrested them at or near a crime scene. Once someone is arrested in Salt Lake County, they are then taken to the Salt Lake County Jail for booking. The booking process can be slow or fast depending on how busy the jail is at that time. It will involve booking photos, fingerprints, intake forms, and of course, a full body-cavity search.

Many people think they are entitled to a phone call at this point because that is what happens in movies when someone is arrested. That is definitely not the case and the guards get annoyed fairly quickly about inmates screaming for a phone call.

If you or a loved one are arrested, don't fight, keep your mouth shut, and make sure to hire a good criminal defense lawyer.

Salt Lake County Jail: The First 48 Hours

After the booking process, the prosecution has 72 hours to file an information officially bringing charges against the inmate. If they fail to meet that 72 hours, the inmate is released. If they meet the deadline and file the charges, the inmate will then have an arraignment date set with the court that has jurisdiction. Many arraignments are handled at the Salt Lake County Jail itself by video arraignment.

Salt Lake County Jail: The Arraignment

Your loved one will be arraigned in front of a judge. Bail will be determined and an offer may even be made by the prosecution on the case. Public defenders are there to help people plead guilty or to set things out to a regular court hearing.

I really do not recommend pleading guilty at this stage. Your attorney will not have any of the information and you run the risk of pleading guilty to a case that might be won. It's much better to plead not-guilty and let an attorney take care of the case for you.

Salt Lake County Jail: The Bail

Bail is a tricky issue. For many judges, the default position is to set bail higher than needed to ensure the appearance of the inmate at future court proceedings. The two issues the judge will be looking at to determine if someone receives bail are threat to the community, and flight risk. If you do not meet either of these criteria, you will likely get bail.

After bail is received you may hire a bail-bondsman  This is someone for which you pay 10% of the total bail amount and they post a bond and secure your release. There are many good bondsman out there. Our law firm uses Dewey's Bail-bonds as they have consistently worked with our clients and get them out of jail in a very short amount of time.

Salt Lake County Jail: The Release

Once released on bail, hire an attorney right away. Too many people attempt to represent themselves and I watch in court as they get railroaded and receive far stiffer penalties than they need to. Do not let this happen to you. Hire an attorney, don't speak to anyone else about the case, and let the attorney handle everything.

A good criminal defense attorney should walk you through the process step-by-step and explain to you everything that's expected of you. They can make the process much easier. I don't fix the plumbing at my house: I hire a specialist for it because they can do it better and quicker and cheaper if you take into account how many things can go wrong with me attempting to fix the problem myself.

Criminal offenses in Utah are no laughing matter and the Salt Lake County Jail is not a fun place for anybody. Don't think short-term. Hire an attorney, have them hire a bailbondsman, and get you out so you can move on with your life.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

How to Get a Terrible Utah DUI Attorney

Bad Utah DUI Attorneys

There seems to be a lot of blogs talking about how to get good Utah DUI attorneys and most of them point the finger back to the DUI attorney writing the blog. So instead of being tacky and doing that, I thought I would discuss the ways in which you can go about and hire the worst DUI attorneys out there.

If you received a DUI and you're looking for a DUI attorney, then just follow these steps and you're certain to ruin your life:

Steps to Hiring Really, Really Bad Utah DUI Attorneys

Step 1: Hire someone from a billboard:

Ah, the ole' billboard. Used by many a fast-food restaurant to make you hungry on the long drive home. Not to bash them too much, but Park City, Utah is one of the most beautiful cities in the nation and a big part of that is that they have completely banned billboards. Billboards are little more than annoying mind pollution but the billboard lobby in Utah is so powerful doing what Park City did is nearly impossible now.

But lawyers love their billboards. Check out this gem:

Nice. I'm sure that was  a good $30,000 well spent.

Step 2: Get your DUI attorney to guarantee a victory: 

After you call a DUI attorney off a billboard (or bus advertisement or bus bench, anything having to do with buses really), then call and set an appointment. Then tell him or her that you demand a guarantee that they will get your case dismissed with an apology from the judge. Don't settle for even a traffic ticket with a $50 fine. Demand the apology too, just to teach the judge and the prosecutors and police that you won't be hassled if you commit a crime.

Hire only a DUI attorney that's willing to give you a guarantee. After all, they have none of the evidence at this point, haven't spoken to a single witness, haven't watched any videos, and don't know anything about your case. They must be super-humanly skilled at DUI's, predicting the future, and manipulating public officials if they can guarantee a victory.

Because if they don't follow through, you have a lot of options. For example, you can ask for your money back at which point they'll tell you no. And then you can begin a three year law suit at which time you will probably lose anyway. But you will annoy the DUI attorney for sure.

Step 3: Lie to the attorney about everything: 

DUI attorneys love when you lie to them. It keeps the element of surprise when they go into the courtroom and the prosecutor and police know more about your case than they do. DUI attorneys also love looking like fools in front of judges. Again, it's about variety here so if they went in and did a good job every time with perfect knowledge about your case, they'd get bored. So keep them on their toes and lie about everything, including your name and address if possible.

Step 4: Yell at everyone:

DUI attorneys don't like everyone being polite to them. Call them frequently and yell, even if they're doing a great job. Think of it as reminding them that you're the boss. You might think that this would annoy them and they won't work as hard and just withdraw from your case, but that couldn't be farther from the truth. DUI attorneys are masochists and they would like nothing more than the occasional yelling. Holidays, evenings and weekends work best.

Step 5: Tell them it's their fault as you're hauled to jail:

Inevitably, you will be taken to jail if you follow these steps. But don't waste this opportunity to yell that it was their fault for not fighting hard enough.

Using these steps, you're sure to ruin your life over what should be just a simple case that a good DUI attorney could get dropped to a traffic offense.

In case sarcasm isn't your bag, these are clearly the worst things you can do if you have a DUI. If you want sound advice and to have your DUI taken care of quickly and quietly, find a top-notch DUI attorney on the internet and pay him what he needs to do a good job. Go too cheap, and you're better off going in by yourself and saving the attorney fees for the fines to the court.

So find the right DUI attorney online, be prepared to pay what a top notch professional in any field charges for their services, and then sit back and let them handle the headache.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Utah Criminal Defense Attorneys: A Paralegal's Perpective

Note: This contribution is from the paralegal staff at Sharifi & Baron PLLC

Utah Criminal Defense Attorneys: What I Think They Do

When I tell people I work for a criminal defense attorney’s office, they always ask how I feel about it.  The assumption is that if you work for a criminal defense attorney, you will be dealing with hard criminals on a daily basis and that you are working to put these criminals back on the street.  The underlying implication is that this is morally wrong and something I shouldn’t be proud to be a part of. The reality of it is, there is a wide spectrum of innocent to guilty clients.  

Utah Criminal Defense Attorneys: What Everyone Else Thinks They Do

We are taught that we are “innocent until proven guilty.”  This certainly stands true in criminal defense.  The important thing to note is that many of our clients are innocent, and we are trying to help prove it.  Admittedly, some of our clients are guilty, and don’t try to hide it.  Those client’s, however, aren’t trying to get away unscathed, they are trying to make amends and get on with their lives.  From a moral perspective, our office isn’t trying to litter the streets with criminals, but trying to get just and fair deals for our clients.
Utah Criminal Defense Attorneys: Why they do what they do

Many of our clients believe cooperating with the police means they will get a better deal in the end.  In cooperating with the police however, sometimes they say things that will lead to their conviction or admit guilt, regardless of whether or not they are truly guilty.  Many people are intimidated into saying things that they don’t mean or aren’t true.  Often times, detectives do what they call “blind calls” where they will have an alleged victim call the person they are accusing, and try to get them to admit guilt.  This is done without the accused knowing the detective is listening in on a third line.  This is completely legal, by the way.  Other times, detectives will interrogate suspects and say what they feel is necessary to get them to admit guilt, regardless of whether or not the information they are feeding you is true.  This is also legal.

Utah Criminal Defense Attorneys: What They Actually Do

For me, from a moral perspective, criminal defense attorneys are trying to help prevent confusion within the legal system.  When a client comes in and admits they are guilty, they aren’t asking our attorneys to get them off scot-free; they are asking our attorneys to help them right their wrongs.  Many are aware of the reality that they will have to pay a fine, do community service, or in extreme cases, serve jail-time.  These clients, however, are very aware and have accepted the fact that this is the case, and our attorney’s don’t hide the probability of these outcomes. 

 The way I look at it, the only way to defend yourself is to know your rights.  To know your rights, you have to understand the law.  The problem is that there is so much law - both federal and state -  that unless you’ve studied the law significantly, there is no way for you to truly understand it.  The way I look at it, this is why our attorneys are here.
On some level I understand why people might question my job. We aren’t here putting hardened criminals back out on the streets, rather, we are here to protect you, and your rights.  Criminal defense attorneys work hard to fight for you within the law.  They know how to navigate the system, and they guide you through it. 

Monday, October 29, 2012

How long will you go to jail or prison?

If you are accused of a crime, there is a chance that you will go to jail. Everyone wants to win their case and we’ve won more than our share of cases at trial or by dismissal. But there is sometimes the chance that you will have to go to jail. When you are considering a plea bargain or a trial strategy, you have to consider the possibility of jail time and how long you might have to go to jail or prison.

In Utah, judges have broad powers to decide how long you will go to jail if you are convicted. For example, if you are charged with a Class A misdemeanor, you can be sentenced to up to one year in jail. The judge does not usually have to send you to jail, but can sentence you to anything from 0 days in jail to 365.

But judges frequently refer to forms produced by the Utah Sentencing Commission when deciding on a sentence. Understanding those forms is essential to giving an accurate prediction of a jail sentence.

For serious crimes or when the judge wants extra input, the judge will request a Pre-Sentence Investigation(PSI) from Adult Probation and Parole (AP&P). AP&P uses the same forms to make a recommendation on a jail or prison sentence.

The forms are somewhat complicated, but I will give an example to illustrate how they are used. It is always best to consult an experienced attorney to make sure that a sentencing prediction is accurate.

Sentencing Example: Drug Possession

Mary Jane is accused of selling marijuana in a drug-free-zone (within 1,000 feet of a public park). She has been convicted twice before for possessing marijuana, but she successfully completed probation both times. She pleads guilty to distribution of marijuana, a third degree felony, which was reduced from a first degree felony based on the drug-free-zone and her previous marijuana convictions. Mary Jane has a good job working as a waitress at a diner. She doesn’t make much money, but she supports her kids on her own. She is a single mother. According to the sentencing guidelines, how long could Mary Jane serve in jail or prison?

The maximum sentence for a third degree felony like the one Mary Jane is accused of is a sentence of 0-5 years in the Utah State Prison. If she got that sentence, the judge would send Mary Jane to the prison and the Board of Pardons and Parolewould decide when she would get out at a parole hearing.

However, Mary Jane is very unlikely to be sentenced to prison. To predict her likely jail sentence, we start with the “GeneralMatrix” form. Mary Jane does not have any prior felony convictions. She has two prior misdemeanor convictions, but no juvenile convictions. She was previously on probation, but she never had any problems on probation. She has no violent history and no weapons were used in this offense.

Mary Jane scores three points on the criminal history matrix which places her in the lowest criminal history category.

Next we turn to the “Jail As a Condition of Probation” matrix form. Distribution of marijuana is a 3rd Other along the top row because it is a third degree felony and it does not involve violence to a person (which would make it more serious) or simple possession of a drug (which would make it less serious). The roman numerals in the left column represent the criminal history category for the defendant and in this case we’ve already determined that Mary Jane falls in the least serious “Criminal History Category I.” A person with the lowest criminal history category who is convicted of a third degree felony “other” offense isrecommended to serve 60 days in jail.

There are three color codes on the “Jail As a Condition of Probation” form. Dark, partially shaded, and light. In the dark-shaded parts of the form, the Sentencing Commission is recommending prison. That means that if a person is charged with certain serious crimes or has extensive criminal history, the Sentencing Commission recommends that judges sentence defendants to prison. Defendants whose sentencing matrix falls in the light areas can hope that no jail will be imposed or that they will get an alternative sentence like ankle monitor or more intensive supervised probation. The partially shaded areas represent the Sentencing Commission’s recommendation that those people at least serve jail time and that the judge should at least consider prison time.

It is also important to consider the “Aggravating and Mitigating Circumstances” form, but that form is the mostsubjective of all the forms. In almost every case, the probation officer, the prosecutor, and the defense attorney can reasonably disagree on the aggravating and mitigating factors.


Judges’ sentencing decisions vary from judge to judge, court to court, and county to county. They are not required to follow the sentencing guidelines and some rarely do. But some judges follow the guidelines religiously and it is important for defense attorneys to understand the matrices and how to use them.

How to Get A Lawyer


I knew a lawyer that would show up to court in jeans and a turtle-neck, plead his client guilty to whatever crime he happened to be charged with, collect his $5000 or $10,000 for the case, and move on to the next one.

Not once did I see him work out a great deal or fight the case at trial. All he did was show up, plead them guilty, and leave.

How to get a lawyer is one of the most common questions I get asked as a lawyer myself from friends and acquaintances. Before we dive into how to get a lawyer, let's talk about some ways how to NOT get a lawyer:

1. Yellow Pages: The phone book is a relic from the 80's. Tons of attorneys still advertise on there but very few of the cutting edge firms who stay on top of trends, and more importantly for their clients, on top of recent developments in law and business, advertise there. It only works for a few types of law and even those only if you spend an enormous sum of money. If you're facing a complex litigation matter or are charged with murder, you probably want to steer clear of the phone book. If you have a minor traffic offense or something else that doesn't really impact your life and you don't want to spend a lot of money on a lawyer, phone book might be okay. Although, even for that, I would still recommend searching the internet instead.

2. Fliers at the Jail: If you happen to commit a crime and have to be booked into jail, you may see fliers up for lawyers on some of the pin-up boards. Usually, these lawyers have some sort of deal worked out with someone somewhere that allows them to do this, or they literally just went into the jail and put it up themselves. Either way, that doesn't bode well for you. A good lawyer is never desperate: he will have a line of clients waiting for his services based on referrals. This just reeks of desperation.

3. Arrest Magazines: This is a growing unfortunate trend. People wondering how to get a lawyer often look at these magazines because they're available everywhere. The magazines basically take booking photos of people arrested, put them up on the internet for everyone to see, and then try and blackmail the defendant by sending them a letter saying we'll remove the booking photo for $100 or as much as $3000. If this happens to you, hire a lawyer right away and have them send a cease and desist letter to the magazine with a copy of a lawsuit (called a complaint) that the lawyer will file if the photo is not immediately removed. Unfortunately, the problem is that there will be dozens of other criminal magazines that do the same thing and you can't threaten them all. A small number of lawyers advertise in these magazines; anyone associated with these horrible publications is probably not who you want representing you in court.

4. TV and Billboards: I can't tell you how many awful advertisments for lawyers I've seen on TV and billboards. Again, it stinks of desperation. If you're on TV yelling about your services, you probably don't have that many clients. A sure sign that a lawyer is either not good or doesn't have much experience or is difficult to work with.


So now that we've talked about some of the ways not to get a lawyer, let's talk about how to get a lawyer in positive ways:

1. Internet: Internet is king. Any firm worth their salt should have a heavy presence online. If they don't, they probably aren't keeping up with the times and that spells bad news for you.

2. Referrals: The second best way to find a lawyer. The reason this was second and not first is that for a firm to rank number one on Google takes a lot of time, money and effort. They would have to be a successful firm to do so which means they probably have a long list of happy former clients. But cases vary from one to the next and your Great Aunt Jill might've gotten a good contract lawyer that does terrible for you. But, it's still a great way to find good lawyers despite the problems.

3. Online Reviews: My partner, Joshua Baron, has a perfect 10 out of 10 Avvo score. I haven't seen a single other lawyer that has that (though I'm sure there's a few). He received that score because he wins lots and lots of cases and publishes about them and is respected by his peers. Online reviews can really help you sort out who to go with. One thing to keep in mind though: sometimes, a lawyer can do an excellent job and the client still may go online and write a bad review about them. I once got a criminal case dismissed and my client gave me a bad review because it took me three months to do it and she wanted it done immediately. So take them with a grain of salt.


In the end, you're going to have to go with your gut and evaluate a lot of different lawyers. I recommend you speak to at least three different lawyers that specialize in your needed area. Ask a lot of questions like how many cases they have handled, how many victories they have, how many losses, and how quickly you could get in touch with them if you needed to.

After all is said and done, picking a good lawyer just comes down to how you interact with them. The number one factor people have stated is important to them when picking a lawyer is likability. The only way you'll know if you like them is to meet with them so make sure you put in a little bit of work before hiring. Otherwise, you might get the guy in the turtle-neck and pay $10,000 for something you could've done yourself.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Utah DUI and Your Driver License: The Saga Continues

In a previous post we talked about the Driver License Division taking away your license after you receive a DUI in Utah and what to do about it. 

Just to make it more difficult, they change the laws and rules every few years, sometimes every year, and many people don't know what to do after getting a DUI in order to keep their license. While you're busy hopping from one foot to the next, they suspend your license and make it much more difficult to keep your job, get to school, or shuffle your kids around. 

Here's a few additional tips and updates on DUI's and your license to try and prevent the DLD from suspending. If you haven't read our previous post on DUI's and your license, read that first here:


It's just amazing to me how many people do not request a driver license hearing after getting a DUI. An attorney can and should do it for you but it has to be done within 10 days. No exceptions. Not even if your grandma's in the hospital. Not if your dog's sick. Not even if the series finale of Breaking Bad is on and you just can't get down to the Driver License Division. You just have to do it. 

If you can't hire an attorney right away (and as I wrote in my previous post, everyone should hire a good DUI attorney right after receiving a DUI. Most firms offer extremely flexible payment plans so take advantage of them) then you will need to request it yourself. It's easy: just go down to your nearest Driver License Division Office and request a driver license hearing for your DUI. Many people choose to do it by mail. I wouldn't recommend this. Mail gets lost or misfiled and your driver license is too important to take that risk. Just go down there and do it or hire a good DUI attorney to do it for you. 


This should go without saying but many people do the DUI driver license hearing themselves and predictably lose their driver licenses. I wouldn't install my own plumbing system: you hire experts for that sort of thing. Same thing goes here. Your best shot is to have someone in the DUI hearing that knows what they're doing. 


Having a prior DUI is asking for you to lose your license. Even if you win the hearing, the DLD has been pulling some sneaky tricks lately. For example, lets say a good attorney gets your DUI dropped to reckless driving or impaired driving, which shouldn't suspend your license. Well if your current DUI is your second, it still suspends, even if you're not convicted of DUI but of something else! Also, even on a first DUI, if you have another alcohol related offense on your record, you may be required to get an ignition interlock device. When enter a deal on the DUI, the Driver License Division suspends your license indefinitely stating that you were required to have an interlock device and they won't give it back unless you get one installed and get them proof. The point is: if you got a DUI, the DLD wants to take your license and will do everything possible to take it from you. 


Many states have work exception licenses granted to people who receive DUI's. For example, Nevada allows you to drive to work after serving half of your 90 day suspension on a first DUI. Utah does have a work exception, but as one employee at the DLD told us, he has never seen it granted on a DUI. You have to get the DUI reduced to see if you even qualify and then you will have a hearing and be denied. I have never, in the over 1500 DUI cases I've handled as both a prosecutor and a DUI defense attorney, seen even one of these work exception licenses granted. Don't hold your breath if you think this is a way out of your suspension. A much better way is to hire a good DUI attorney and let them do their job. 


DUI's are unique crimes. You have a massive lobby group, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, who are shaping the laws to be less and less favorable to DUI offenders. The license is where they hit you the hardest. If your license is important to you, and especially if you have a special driving privlege license like a CDL, don't roll the dice just to save a few bucks on a DUI attorney. Hire one and let them deal with the headache. 

Friday, May 18, 2012

The Science of Persuasion

Aesop might have made a good lawyer if he had been born in a different century. In fact, he was probably a better lawyer than most present-day lawyers are.

Lawyers are sometimes identified as people who argue really well - or at least a lot. No one likes that type of lawyer, though I might be one. When I was a kid, people told me I'd make a good lawyer because I loved to argue. I wonder why I wasn't very popular in high school?

Anyway, arguing is not the same thing as persuading. An arguer might make excellent logical debate points, but debaters don't convince many people to change the way they act or think. People who are persuasive can change other's minds.

It is very difficult for people to change their own minds. When people are forced to confront new information that challenges their existing ideas, beliefs, or values they experience discomfort. Psychologists call that discomfort "cognitive dissonance." People are driven to reduce the discomfort and resolve the dissonance. One of the ways people reduce dissonance and make themselves feel better is by simply changing either the new information or the old information. They lie to themselves without realizing it and become so convinced of the lie that they don't remember that changed the truth.

One of Aesop's most famous fables illustrates the way people resolve cognitive dissonance. In the story of the fox and the grapes, a fox comes upon some delicious grapes.

"ONE hot summer’s day a Fox was strolling through an orchard till he came to a bunch of Grapes just ripening on a vine which had been trained over a lofty branch. 'Just the things to quench my thirst,' quoth he. Drawing back a few paces, he took a run and a jump, and just missed the bunch. Turning round again with a One, Two, Three, he jumped up, but with no greater success. Again and again he tried after the tempting morsel, but at last had to give it up, and walked away with his nose in the air, saying: 'I am sure they are sour.'"
This is where the expression "sour grapes" comes from. At the beginning of the story, the fox thinks the grapes are "Just the thing to quench my thirst." But when he cannot have them, he has to confront contradictory ideas: he wants them, but he cannot have them. Rather than living with this dissonance, he changes the first idea. He never wanted them in the first place because they were probably sour. Of course, the grapes never changed. He lied to himself without realizing it.

Everyone does this. Even four-year olds and monkeys lie to themselves to construct a more consonant reality. It is easy to see when someone else does this, but we can rarely see when we are doing it to ourselves.

Because they are people, juries and prosecutors and judges must lie to themselves to reduce cognitive dissonance. They don't like cognitive dissonance any better than the rest of us.

Which is why Aesop would have been a good lawyer. Aesop didn't argue directly. If he had, his stories wouldn't continue to be as popular as they are. His stories are powerful because they help us accept new ideas by minimizing the cognitive dissonance we feel when we hear them. He persuaded people.

Rather than saying explicitly, "Sometimes you act like you don't want something because you can't have it," he told a simple little story about a fox. Who would ever feel defensive about a fox? Aesop isn't saying that you sometimes lie to yourself to resolve cognitive dissonance. No. He is saying the evil foxes lie to themselves sometimes. But then I see other people acting like the fox. And then someone accuses me of "sour grapes." Maybe I am persuaded because I accepted the idea of sour grapes in concept before I was accused of it personally.

Stories are powerful. They can persuade us of things we would never accept in the abstract. Lawyers who can advocate for their clients with powerful stories are more likely to be successful than the ones who just argue logical points all day.

If you are looking for a lawyer, look for one who can tell good stories. And if you are a lawyer, be sneaky. Use your stories like trojan horses to get past your opponent's defenses.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

DUI Cop Lisa Steed and the Culture of Corruption

I literally just got off the phone for a DUI driver license hearing for one of my clients where disgraced Utah Highway Patrol trooper Lisa Steed was the arresting officer. For those of you that don't know, a DUI driver license hearing is an administrative hearing where the Driver License Division determines whether to suspend someone's license that has received a DUI.

I knew Lisa Steed had been taken off of patrol. I knew she had lied under oath and a felony drug case was dismissed. I knew the Salt Lake County District Attorney was/is dismissing her DUI cases left and right, and that Davis County has started dismissing them and refusing to file on new ones. The issue is, obviously, she was under oath and did not tell the truth.

Well, I went in armed with this information ready to tear holes in her testimony. She got to testify first about what occurred during the DUI. Then it was my turn to ask her questions.

My first question was, "Isn't true you're not on a patrol anymore?" Before the first question was out of my mouth, the DLD hearing officer yelled that I could not ask her about her credibility. I stated that this whole case was about her credibility to which was responded that this case was about what my client did.

The fact is, the only evidence in the case is the evidence Lisa Steed provided. If she is not credible, the evidence is not credible, but the Driver License Division does not want to acknowledge this.

It is exactly this kind of protectionism that created Lisa Steed in the first place. This video from ABC 4 discusses her tasing someone that was still sitting in their car, arresting people on motorized bikes, lying on the witness stand under oath, and violating UHP policy in the investigation of DUI's. And what was UHP's response? That she's a good trooper and still out on the streets.

Criminal defense attorneys have a bad rap. Many people feel we help criminals get away with crimes. The truth is, we have very little power. The most I can do is convince a jury that a man should not be punished. The most a corrupt cop can do is ruin dozens, even hundreds, of lives.

And yet the government's response, at least from UHP and the Driver License Division, seems to be that even if she is corrupt, even if she is violating policy, violating people's lives, and even assaulting them, we are going to protect her.

The fact that we can't trust our government to protect us from people like Lisa Steed is the truly frightening thing. To be honest, attacking her in defense of my clients is one of the proudest moments I've ever had as a defense attorney. And since I'm appealing this driver license hearing to the district court and subpoenaing Lisa Steed to the stand, I'm expecting I'll have more proud moments like this one.

Monday, May 7, 2012

A gorilla on a basketball court? You'd think you'd notice.

My friend, Brian Joyce, the Ute Gorilla at a Utah football
game. (Photo used without permission).

Our criminal justice system is based largely on eyewitnesses. CSI-type crime shows might make it seem like there is DNA evidence in every case that definitively links one person to every crime, most cases actually revolve around people who saw things.

Unfortunately, there is growing evidence that people can’t see or recall things as well as they think. Take this example: Suppose you were watching a video of two basketball teams passing basketballs back and forth on a basketball court. While they are doing this, a woman in a gorilla suit, walks out onto the court, thumps her chest, and then walks off. You’d notice that, right? And if you didn’t see it, you’d be pretty sure that it didn’t happen while you were watching.

Not necessarily, according to research conducted at Harvard University. Those researchers asked study participants to watch a short video. They were to count the number of passes made by one team and ignore the passes made by the other. While they were focused on this task, the gorilla came out, thumped her chest, and walked away. Half of the participants didn’t see the gorilla. When asked about it, most of them were sure that there was no gorilla in the video. The gorilla was invisible to them because they were temporarily blind to certain things and they didn’t even realize it.

Christopher Chabris and David Simons believe that the subjects were so focused on the relatively difficult tasks of counting the passes made by one team and on ignoring the passes made by the other team that they became blind to information that didn’t relate to those tasks. That finding is interesting, but not totally surprising. We know that when we are focused on one thing we might pay less attention to other things. That is the definition of focus.

The scary thing about the study is that the participants were sure that the gorilla wasn’t on the court during the video. You can imagine these people coming into court and swearing that there was no gorilla. In a criminal case where a defendant might be sent to prison for years, or even put to death, it is frightening to think that we are dealing with such limited perception. They didn’t even know that they were blind.

Barry Scheck’s Innocence Project has shed a lot of light on the errors that can creep into criminal trials. 75% of the wrongful convictions that they have had overturned using DNA evidence depended at least partly on faulty eyewitness testimony. This research by Chabris and Simons gives an explanation of why all those cases got the wrong result. The witnesses might not have been lying. They might have missed the gorilla in the room and not even realized it.

Here is the video that they showed. Can you believe that they missed the gorilla?

Friday, May 4, 2012

Do honest people cheat?

I'm a victim of life's circumstances
I was raised around barrooms,
Friday night dances
Singin' them old country songs
Half the time endin' up someplace I don't belong

- Delbert McClinton, "Victim of Life's Circumstances"

In criminal law, we punish people because we believe that they made a bad choice. They could have chosen something good, but instead they chose something wrong or forbidden. Similarly, one of the principal purposes of the criminal justice system is rehabilitation. Rehabilitative systems try to teach people to make better choices in the future. They try to change the criminal's character and reform her criminal tendencies.

But what if criminality (or honesty) is not a result of a certain type of character? What if people we would normally consider to be "honest people" would commit crimes under the right circumstances? Is there really such a thing as an "honest person?"

There is some disturbing psychological research that indicates that a person's basic character doesn't affect their behavior as much as their circumstances.

In 1928, researchers at Columbia University administered a number of different types of tests to thousands of children. One test was an aptitude test given in two parts. On the first day the students were not given enough time to complete all the answers and were immediately graded. On the second day, the students were given a very similar test with different questions. But they were provided with an answer key and instructed to grade their own tests. As you might expect, a lot of the students cheated.

The surprising result, though, was that some students who cheated on the aptitude tests never cheated on the physical tests. Or they cheated when they had the answer key, but didn't cheat when they did a take-home test. Even more surprising, some students would cheat on a math test, but not on a spelling test. The researchers concluded that most children "will deceive in certain situations but not in others."

Another study by Ann Tenbrunsel, a professor of business at Notre Dame, shows that a person's mind frame as they prepare for a test profoundly influences whether they will cheat. Tenbrunsel administered a test to two sets of subjects and provided them with an opportunity to cheat. But before she gave the test, she asked one group to think about a business decision and the other group to think about an ethical decision. Each group was to make a mental checklist to address the problem. Then, she administered the test with the cheating opportunity. The group that thought about the business decision was much more likely to cheat than the group that thought about the ethical decision. The subjects' moral upbringing did not effect their decision to cheat.

What does this research mean? For one thing, it means that we probably underestimate the effect our environment has on our behavior. Choosing our environment might be one of the most important decisions we can make.

On the other hand, these studies don't necessarily mean that people completely lack the ability to decide for themselves. A significant group of kids didn't cheat in the 1928 study even when they had the opportunity. And a significant group in the Notre Dame study didn't cheat even though they had been primed to think from a business frame of mind.

If we used to think that individual character accounted for 80% or 90% of the good or bad decisions we make, this research might make us lower that percentage. However much our character affects our decisions, it is an important factor. If we are presented with difficult decisions where we can't control our circumstances, we'll be forced to rely on our character. So, while the criminal justice system needs to acknowledge the impact of environment and circumstance on decision-making, it doesn't make sense to throw free-will out the window. It is still an important factor in what we do.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Changing a Culture of Crime

Police are not very good at preventing crime. That doesn't mean they aren't important. When police patrols drop to zero during police strikes, the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) points to scientific studies that show that "all hell breaks out." But the same NIJ report admits that "The strength of police effects on crime is generally moderate rather than substantial." Traditional police efforts help to prevent crime, but they don't have enough of an impact to transform a crime-ridden neighborhood into one that is safe and functional.

The problem is that police are generally reactive. They respond to reports of crime. That prevents some crime because potential criminals are afraid of being caught, but there are not nearly enough police to force everyone to obey the law or to catch every criminal. Police might also reduce the amount of crime committed in their immediate presence, but again, we don't have nearly enough police to be watching every street corner.

So, how do you transform a neighborhood that is a hot-bed of crime into a safe, law-abiding neighborhood? An even better question might be, "Why do some people who know they won't be caught by the police choose to obey the law?" If we could figure out why most people obey the law most of the time, it might help us find ways to create that same culture in crime-ridden neighborhoods.

Malcolm Gladwell encourages us to look at crime the way we look at epidemics. Epidemics progress in a non-linear way. That means that small changes might have big results and big efforts might yield only small results. In his 1996 article and his 2002 book, both titled The Tipping Point, he points out small differences that can lead to huge changes in the rates of violent crime. 

For example, a Stanford professor placed two similar cars in two different neighborhoods - one was a ghetto and the other was affluent. In each case, the license plates were removed and the hood was propped open. The car in the ghetto was the subject of 23 separate vandalism episodes and was completely stripped within three days. The car in the affluent neighborhood was untouched after a week. But, once the professor broke one of the car's windows in the affluent neighborhood with a sledgehammer, the car in that affluent neighborhood was quickly destroyed. The broken window in the car was the tipping point - a small change that had a huge effect on the crime that the people in the neighborhood would commit.

The police in New York applied this "Broken Window" theory to graffiti and turnstile jumping in the subways. By focusing on these relatively minor violations they dramatically decreased the number of violent crimes on the subways. By removing these signs of disorder, they reached a tipping point in the signals of disorder that gave people permission to break the law.

Clayton Christensen identifies another cultural tipping point: religion. He relates a conversation he had with a scholar from China who came to the United States to study democracy and capitalism. He pointed out a necessary condition for democracy and capitalism to function properly: "Democracy works because most people most of the time voluntarily obey your laws. . . . Capitalism works only when nearly all people voluntarily keep their promises." How do you teach people to voluntarily keep their promises and obey the law?

The Chinese scholar echoed Alexis de Toqueville when he said, "I had no idea how critical religion is to the functioning of democracy  and capitalism.” Americans, traditionally, learned to be honest in church. They learned that even if the police did not catch them breaking the law, God would catch them. "Some of these teachings have become a part of our culture." But Christensen believes that religion is much better at teaching those values. "[I]s culture a stalwart, active protector of democracy’s enabling values? I don’t think so."

I believe that there is hope to prevent the breakdown of neighborhoods and communities. Little things like graffiti and broken windows can have a bigger effect than we might intuitively think. On the other hand, society has to teach people that they should voluntarily be honest and obey the law. Religion is by no means the only way to teach those principles, but it is very good at it. As our society becomes increasingly secular, we need to be sure that we are finding ways to preserve and teach our foundational values. We also need to be careful not to completely discount the value of religion in public discourse.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Are criminals more creative than the rest of us?

Steve Jobs guided Pixar and Apple to extraordinarily creative heights. But, by many accounts he was a jerk. Bill Clinton is one of the most brilliant political minds of his generation. But he repeatedly lied to the American people and justified all kinds of immoral behavior. Hollywood simultaneously bleeds both creativity and immorality. Is there a connection between creativity and bad behavior?

A new study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology suggests that those of us who follow the rules might be too stupid to think of justifications not to. Five studies conducted by professors at Harvard and Duke show that "creative individuals are more likely to be dishonest." It's not because they are smarter. It is because "creativity leads people to more easily come up with justifications for their unscrupulous actions."

That made me think of a new excuse that my criminal defense clients can use for being dishonest: "I'm too creative to tell the truth." Sometimes, as a lawyer, I need to be creative when I am explaining my clients' behavior.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Bringing your copy of Wikipedia to court

Jesus Malverde is the patron saint of illegal drug traffickers in Mexico. He has achieved a sort of "Robin Hood-like status." At least that's what Wikipedia says. And the Utah Supreme Court relied on that information in a footnote in a 2006 opinion citing Wikipedia directly.

This morning, the Wall Street Journal Law Blog had a piece on federal appeals courts citing Wikipedia as authority. According to their Westlaw search, since 2007, "federal courts of appeals have cited Wikipedia about 95 times."

That made me wonder, "Have the Utah appellate courts ever cited Wikipedia?" A Google Scholar search reveals that the Supreme Court has.

In State v. Alvarez, police officers were investigating a suspected drug dealer when they looked into his car and saw some sort of representation of Jesus Malverde. Based on that and other evidence they observed, they questioned Alvarez about drug dealing. The Supreme Court decided that based partly on their possession of a representation of the "patron saint of drug dealing" it was reasonable for the two police officers to question Alvarez about whether he dealt drugs and to ask him to open his mouth to see if he was hiding drugs.

Here are the results of the Utah Supreme Court's internet research:
The topic of the personage Jesus Malverde was a subject of extensive discussion at the suppression hearing. While this court professes no special expertise in hagiology or folklore, some independent research reveals that Jesus Malverde is not exclusively or historically associated with the drug culture. He is a regional folk hero, in the tradition of Robin Hood, who is popular among the poor and disadvantaged of the Mexican state of Sinaloa. Jesus Malverde, Wikipedia, (last visited October 6, 2006).
Maybe criminal defense lawyers should start citing to Wikipedia in their legal briefs. If you want to cite Wikipedia, here is a helpful article with some tips on how to make sure that the judges see the version of the entry that you want them to see.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Answers to the 10 Most Common Questions in Criminal Cases

1. Who can I talk to about my case?
You should only talk to your lawyer about the charges against you. Almost anyone else that you talk to could be subpoenaed to testify against you and tell what you told them. Your lawyer cannot tell anyone what you tell him.

One of the biggest mistakes you can make is talking to people at the jail about your case. The other inmates might decide to see if they can make a deal to be in jail for less time in exchange for testifying against you.

The telephone calls at the jail are all recorded, so you can't even speak to your family about your case over the phone because those conversations could be used against you.

It is hard to do, but don't talk to anyone but your lawyer about the charges against you. Blame your lawyer. If someone asks you about your case, just say, "My lawyer doesn't want me to talk to anyone about the case until it is all over. I wish I could."

2. What should I tell my lawyer?
Your lawyer is on your side and can't tell anyone what you tell him. Your lawyer needs all the information he can get to defend you. Some people think that a lawyer won't fight as hard for his clients if he knows they are guilty. That is not true. Your lawyer's job is to make sure that you don't get convicted unless the prosecutor can prove the case. To defend you, your lawyer needs all the information.

3. How do I get my bail reduced?
When you get charged with a crime, you can be (1) released on you own recognizance, (2) allowed to pay bail, or (3) held in jail until trial. The judge considers the severity of the crime you are accused of, the likelihood that you will come back to court if released, and the danger you present to the community if you are allowed to be released.

In Salt Lake County, there is a program called Pretrial Services that monitors people while waiting for trial. Usually, if you are approved to be supervised by Pretrial Services, you won't have to pay bail.

If the judge allows bail, it will be either cash only, or bondable. If your bail is bondable, you can use a bail bondsman. They usually charge 10% of the amount the court requires. So if your bond were set at $10,000 bondable, you could pay a bail bondsman $1,000 and they would be responsible for the rest.

Your lawyer can argue to the judge that bail should not be required or that it should be reduced by presenting evidence that you are not a flight risk and not a danger to the community.

4. Do I want a preliminary hearing?
In Utah, criminal defendants have the right to a preliminary hearing in all felony cases and in all cases where they are charged with a Class A Misdemeanor. At the preliminary hearing, the judge has to find probable cause that a crime was committed and that you committed it. Probable cause is a very low standard, so if the prosecutor has any evidence, the judge will probably find that there is probable cause.

If the judge finds probable cause, the judge binds the case over for trial.

However, even if the case gets bound over for trial, preliminary hearing is very helpful because it gives you and your lawyer a preview of the prosecution's case. Your lawyer usually gets to cross-examine some of the key prosecution witnesses. So, if a case is going to trial, preliminary hearing can be a valuable tool in learning more about the weaknesses and strengths of the case against you.

5. Should I testify at my preliminary hearing?
At preliminary hearing, the judge is only interested in whether there is any evidence to support the charges against you. The judge is not deciding if you are innocent or guilty or even if you are likely to be convicted. Because of that, the judge has to view all of the evidence from the prosecution's perspective.

There is usually no point to testifying at your preliminary hearing and it can be very dangerous. If you agree to testify, you can be cross-examined by the prosecutor and you might say something that will hurt you at trial. Even the best evidence on the defense's side probably won't help you at preliminary hearing, so it is probably better to wait until trial to testify or present much evidence.

6. Can the victim drop the charges against me?
No. The victim can ask the prosecutor to drop the charges, but the prosecutor can go forward with the case even if the victim does not want to.

The prosecutor can also force people to testify by subpoenaing them. That includes the victim. In some cases, the victim or witness can refuse to testify by claiming a privilege like spousal privilege, but in most cases, the prosecutor can ask the judge to jail a witness who refuses to testify or who gives false testimony.

7. Should I go to trial?
You always have the right to go to trial. If you are innocent and the prosecutor cannot prove the case against you, you should definitely go to trial. Some people think that the prosecutor must have a great case if he filed the case against you. That is not always true. When I was a prosecutor, I was forced to prosecute cases with very thin evidence. So your lawyer needs to do a thorough investigation and decide whether there is enough evidence to convict you.

In cases where there is strong evidence against you, you might need to decide between taking a plea bargain or going to trial. Our firm's philosophy is that if the prosecution isn't offering a good deal, we should go to trial even if our chances are small. You don't have any chance of winning if you plead guilty.

However, in many cases, the prosecution has good evidence and offers a fair deal to resolve the case without trial. In the end, your lawyer can't decide whether to take a deal or go to trial, but he can give you advice. Every case is different. If the deal is good enough and the evidence against you is strong, you might want to consider taking a plea bargain.

8. How do I get the best deal?
I frequently get asked by my clients, "Are you a bulldog? Do you fight for your clients?" My answer is, "Yes, I fight. But I fight smart."

Your lawyer has to be able to negotiate with prosecutors or you are going to get a bad deal. Your lawyer needs to be able to understand the prosecutor's concerns about the case and have the creativity to address those concerns while protecting your interests. Otherwise, you might end up going to trial with a bulldog lawyer and a mountain of evidence against you. If that happens, you might not be happy with the result.

Throughout the State, different offices have different policies on making offers and different schedules for when they make the best offer. You need a lawyer who knows the local procedure and can use it to help you.

You also need to provide your lawyer with a detailed picture of your health, employment, family, and school history so that your lawyer can present you to the prosecutor as a person and not as a faceless police report.

9. How long will I be in jail or prison if I lose?
If you get sentenced to a jail term, you will be given a specific sentence. The maximum jail term for a Class A Misdemeanor is 365 days, a Class B Misdemeanor has a maximum of 180 days, and the maximum for a Class C Misdemeanor is 90 days. You can't go to jail on an infraction-level offense.

For prison terms, Utah uses an indeterminate sentencing system. That means that you will be given a range of years you could serve. For Third Degree Felonies, the range is 0-5 years. For Second Degree Felonies, it is 1-15 years. And for First Degree Felonies, the range is usually 5 years to life in prison.

If you get sentenced to prison on a felony, the judge will tell you the range of years you could serve. Then, after you have been at the prison for at least the minimum time required, you will have a review hearing with the Parole Board. They will decide when you are released from the prison.

10. What should I do if my lawyer isn’t doing a good job?
You should not settle for low-quality legal representation. At this time in your life, you need the best. If you don't believe that your lawyer is doing a good job, you should schedule a time to speak to him or her and see if you can resolve the problem. If that doesn't work, you should get a new lawyer.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Marijuana, Prosecutors and Cancer

The defendant stood outside the courthouse, a joint of marijuana in his hand as he puffed furiously to get as much as he could before coming into court. I was a young criminal prosecutor and had only dealt with a few marijuana cases, but I guessed that it probably was not a wise decision to smoke pot in front of the courthouse.

The bailiffs, who are indeed law enforcement officers, came out, questioned him, cited him, and then let him go so he could come inside the court and deal with his previous charge; which was of course, marijuana.

The courtroom was warm and the air conditioner only worked occasionally. I heard it click on as I rose from the prosecution table and went out to the space in between the two double doors leading to the courtroom and spoke to this man. He was older, maybe sixties, and had oxygen with him as well as a cane. There was something wrapped around his belly that looked like a weight belt.

"So Mr. ____, looks like you're here for marijuana charges that arose at your house on April the 22nd. Is that right?"


"And you don't want an attorney to represent you?"


"And looks like you just got cited for some marijuana you were smoking outside the courthouse. I gotta say, I have not seen that before."

He grinned and said, "Yeah, sorry about that. I don't want you to think I'm disrespecting you or the court at all."

"Why would you smoke pot right outside when there's twenty cops in here?"

He was quiet a few moments and I could see tears well up in his eyes. He cleared his throat and said, "I got cancer. It's in my stomach, that's what this thing is. Inoperable. I only got a few years left and this helps with the pain. I understand you do what you gotta do, so I'm not mad at you. But I want you to know that it helps with the pain. Without it I'd be in a hospital bed somewhere just trying to die."

I closed his file. "I'm sorry."

"Yeah, thanks. So, is there gonna be jail time or something?"

"No, follow me."

We walked into the courtroom and when the judge had finished with the case she was handling I stood up and called Mr._______'s case.

"Your Honor," I said. "I would move to dismiss this case in the interests of justice."

The judge replied, "It is so dismissed."

I walked the man to the door and said "Good luck." He looked at me, and I could see tears in his eyes again. All he managed to say was, "Thank you."

There were moments that I enjoyed being a prosecutor but they rarely involved getting convictions. They were the moments that I was able to bring help to somebody that didn't have anyone else to help them. There was no victim in this case. Just a dying man trying to prepare himself for the hereafter. I was proud of what I did.

The County of Salt Lake was not so proud and that's when I began to see that perhaps being a criminal defense attorney fit my personality far more than being a prosecutor. Crimes are charged everyday that have no business taking up space in our courtrooms. I understand that what this man did was illegal, but so is adultery. How many adulters do you see in court facing charges? The reason is because of prosecutorial discretion. The prosecutor is usually the most powerful person in the courtroom. Justice usually is what he believes it to be.

Unfortunately there are some prosecutors that abuse this power. The power itself gives them a feeling of superiority over the people they are prosecuting. I have met many intelligent, sensitive, decent, moral prosecutors. Practicing as a defense attorney across the state, I have also met some petty, angry prosecutors that take out their pettiness on the people coming through the courts.

I still think of that man in court even to this day and the soft Thank You he gave me before leaving. Dismissing unjust cases were some of my proudest moments as a prosecutor. Hopefully, if we're lucky, many prosecutors out there now feel the same way.

Why did you go to law school?

I had been a prosecutor for less than a week and I was standing in front of a jury arguing a DUI case. I had a list of questions on the podium in front of me and a veteran police officer sitting on the witness stand, but I was lost. My mind was racing. “What does actual physical control mean? What is the Baker rule?” I tried to pretend that I was in control.

I’m not sure everything that went through my head at that moment, but one thought must have been, “Why did I go to law school again?”

Why law school?
I didn’t really know any lawyers before I went to law school. There aren’t any in my family. I’m embarrassed to say it now, but one of the big reasons I chose to be a lawyer was that the LSAT (Law School Admissions Test) doesn’t have any math on it while the other graduate school tests do. I had a bachelor’s degree in history and I didn’t want to be a history teacher, so graduate school was pretty much a foregone conclusion. It’s sad that my fear of math partially determined my career path.

I guess that I had thought about being a lawyer before my fear of math set in, though. My wife recently found a little journal I kept in elementary school. In it, I said that I was excited for a mock trial project we were doing because I was going to be able to use the Constitution as my “sword and shield” as I argued for my client. Totally embarrassing, but maybe I had a premonition.

So, I must confess that I had stupid reasons for going to law school. Most people probably do. Now I have to decide each day whether I want to keep practicing law.

Why practice law?
I took a weird path to law school and an even weirder path to my current job. I spent less than a year as a real estate litigator, a little over a year as a prosecutor, and now three years as a private attorney in my own small firm. There have been many times when I thought that going to law school might have been a mistake and I have discouraged my brothers from going to law school. But I actually love my job.

It’s corny, but I actually enjoy helping people. Every now and then, one of my criminal clients writes me a thank you note. I keep them all. No criminal defense lawyer wins every case, so some of my clients are mad at me no matter how hard I fight for them. But I do my best to help them and I make a big difference on their cases. I especially love the notes that come from the mothers of my clients.

I do get to use the Constitution in my practice as well and I love that. I majored in history as an undergrad because I loved studying the founding of our country and the wars that tested our commitment to American ideals. Now I get to help people take advantage of the promises in the Constitution. That’s not half bad.

Lawyers aren’t as bad as you think.
Lawyers have a somewhat deservedly bad reputation. There are some jerk lawyers. But there have been some super cool lawyers too. Lincoln was a lawyer. So was John Adams and most of the other delegates to the Constitutional Convention. A lot of the lawyers I work with are great people who want to do what’s best for their clients.

When you understand the legal system, you have power. You can use that power to help people like Abraham Lincoln and John Adams did, or you can use that power to harass and hurt people. Good lawyers are like superheroes. They rescue their clients from disasters and fight for justice. So, I’m glad I went to law school. And if you’re thinking about going, I’d recommend it to you too.

Related post: How can you be a criminal defense lawyer? People ask me that all the time. This post is my answer.