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You Have the Right to be Stupid

thinking.jpgHere’s something to remember about criminal defense work: your client has the right to be stupid. We criminal defense attorneys work FOR our clients, they do not work for us. So, we must live with their decisions–even if they’re making the wrong decision. Sometimes a client makes a decision that we KNOW is a bad choice, and it’s painful to obey a client’s decision, but that’s our job at times. It can be frustrating to work hard for a client (and the client pays good money for that work) yet only to find that–in the end–the client decides not to follow that advice. Why pay for advise you’re only going to ignore?

On the other hand, criminal defense does not involve precise calculations like calculus, defense work is more like calculus applied to card counting in blackjack. Defense attorneys ‘count cards’ for the defendant and give him the best chance of winning against the house–but the house can still win a hand or two. I can think back to several occasions where my clients have made risky, ill-advised decisions, that turned out to be the right call. Recently, I represented a client on a firearm charge in which I filed a Motion to Suppress. The motion got us a great offer on the firearm case, but against my advise, my client turned down the blue light special and requested that we argue the motion to suppress (which had only had a slim chance of success). The motion was granted. As you might expect, now all his friends assume that I can dismiss any sort of firearm minimum mandatory sentence–after all–I did it in his case!

Remember, it’s everyone’s right to make a stupid decision, as long as that decision is well informed, and it’s our job to make sure the client is well informed. Communication with your client is key. You have to respect your client’s decision, no matter what. When a client is intent on a course of action that is destructive, a defense attorney must make it clear the consequences. That’s all you can do. This is especially true in the medical field, where a doctor may make a recommendation for radiation treatment (or whatever) and the patient doesn’t want to do it, the patient would rather die early. From the doctor’s perspective, it’s a stupid decision, why not prolong your life via a few months of pain or surgery? Well, because it’s our life, it’s our body, and we have a right to make the “wrong” decision. Same goes for the bad decisions of those accused of crimes. The good news is that, sometimes, even when you tell a client the count is down and he has no chance of winning–the house busts. It happens.