Ask a Criminal Lawyer

How Do You Defend Someone You Know Is Guilty?

January 30, 2015 Seattle criminal defense attorney

Seattle criminal defense attorney

September 11, 2001.

I am sitting behind a table in a big classroom waiting for my criminal law class to begin.  It is only my fourth day of law school.  I am still in shock, wide eyed, surrounded by incredibly smart people, and honestly a little unsure of my decision to try and become an attorney.  In addition, I have just arrived at school after having watched the news of the horrific events that took place in our country earlier that morning.  I’m not even sure why I went to class that day, but in retrospect, it is probably because I felt the need to speak to my peers, console one another, and try and make sense out of what happened.  Little did I know, I was going to be challenged to view the events through the eyes of what I would eventually become; a criminal defense lawyer.

Right on cue as class was about to begin, our professor walks through the door, and down the stairs to the front of the class to the white board.  Without looking up at us, or acknowledging us at all for that matter, he begins writing.  When he is finished he turns back around and walks out of the classroom, never uttering a word.  Confused I turn back towards the front of the class to read the following written in all capitol letters:

“WHAT WOULD YOU DO IF IT WAS YOUR JOB TO DEFEND THE PEOPLE THAT DID THIS?”

It sent a tingle down my spine.  Then, as we all looked around the room in disbelief, I slowly started to let the gravity of the question wash over me.

So, what IS the answer to this question?  The truth is, this very poignant question, asked to a class full of scared future-attorney-hopefuls, has developed into a question that I get almost every time someone asks me what I do for a living . . .

How Can You Defend Someone You Know Is Guilty?

The easy answer is this – as a criminal defense attorney, it is my job to represent people that are accused of crimes, regardless of it they are guilty or innocent.  This is what I hear most attorneys who practice in this arena say in response to the question.

While this is the truth, for me it is much more than that.  Every attorney, no matter the practice area or specialization, wields a certain amount of power that most people don’t have.  This is just a reality and part of the reason we take our oath to do what is right, just, and good when we are sworn in as lawyers. (If you would like to actually take a look at the official oath click here).

I believe this power comes from the the influence that we can and do have on our clients’ lives.  A prosecutor has the power to charge a person with a crime, thereby possibly taking away their freedom.  A family law attorney might be responsible for taking someones child away from them, or getting their child back.  A personal injury attorney is often the only thing an injured person can count on to make sure their financial needs are taken care of after an accident.

Sure, as a criminal defense attorney it is my job to advocate and fight for my clients against criminal charges levied against them.  Many of them would tell you that they hire me because they believe I can keep them out of jail.  These things are both true; however, over my years of practice I have learned to develop a much greater understanding of what I do and why I do it.

I love being an attorney.  I love fighting for my clients.  I am good at what I do.  I also truly believe that most people are inherently good.  The overwhelming majority of my clients over the years have really been good people who simply made bad mistakes.

Far greater than these obvious sentiments about my job, I have also learned that I have a greater responsibility.  While I am not what you would call a “civil rights” attorney, it surely is my job to fight for my clients’ rights and to ensure that those rights are not infringed upon throughout the judicial process.

Beyond advocating for the rights of the person in court with me on any given day, I AM ALSO ADVOCATING FOR THE RIGHTS OF ALL OF US.  Big rights and little rights.  This includes the rights we have under the Constitution of the United States, the rights that we have under the Washington State Constitution, individual cases that have set precedent and the individual laws that make up our criminal justice system.

It is a very slippery slope.  I often feel like I am standing on a ledge fighting to keep those powers that I was discussing earlier in check for the benefit of us all.  You see, it REALLY DOESN’T MATTER IF A PERSON IS GUILTY OR INNOCENT.  What is important is that I do everything in my power to ensure that the process is fair and that rights are protected and upheld.  That is what people on an individual basis really want and that is the cornerstone of our system on a much larger scale.

If my client can be taken advantage of by the powers that be, then it can happen to any of us.  Next it might be a friend or a colleague.  Some day it could even happen to my daughter.

THIS is how I answer the question when someone asks me how can I defend someone I know is guilty.

Arrested?  Call Us Today at 206.973.0407

My job is to help you get out of trouble.  And I am very good at my job.

If you need my help, just call 206.973.0407 to set up a time to come in and talk about your case. The consultation is always free – I’ll let you know my thoughts about your case and be able to determine if I’m the right criminal defense attorney to help you out.

Stryder J. Wegener is the author of this article, the co-founder of Emerald City Law Group, and a damn good criminal defense attorney.

 


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They Don’t Want To Press Charges. Shouldn’t The Case Just Go Away?

January 14, 2015 criminal lawyer case dismissed

criminal lawyer case dismissed

The police are called to a domestic violence call at a private residence. The person who called meets the officer at the door and says everything is okay and that they don’t need any help: “Nothing happened. I was just mad and called you to get back at my boyfriend for yelling at me. Thank you for coming, but everything is fine and you can leave now.”

Shouldn’t The Officer Just Leave?

No. In fact, they are not allowed to simply leave. When a call of this nature is made, the police have a community care taking obligation to investigate, check for signs of altercation and ensure that the parties are safe. In Seattle, the officer actually has the obligation to separate the two parties by taking one of the parties into custody. It is not necessarily even going to be the person who called the police, it could be the other, but either way, someone is almost always going to be taken into custody and arrested at this point.

I Don’t Want to Press Charges.  Now Shouldn’t The Case Just Go Away?

While it may seem surprising, it is just not that simple.  In fact, the alleged victim’s desires with regard to the prosecution of the now defendant has only minimal influence on how the case will be handled by the prosecution.  A COMMON MISCONCEPTION IS THAT A PERSON HAS A CHOICE WHETHER CHARGES ARE PRESSED AGAINST ANOTHER PERSON OR NOT.

After the arrest and booking into jail of the person that was taken into custody, the officer will write a report.  This report will be based on the investigation that they did prior to taking the person into custody and any comments made by that person while in custody (please see my “Don’t Talk To The Police” article).  After this is completed, the report will be filed with the prosecutor’s office.

It is then SOLELY UP TO THE PROSECUTOR TO FILE FORMAL CHARGES AGAINST THE DEFENDANT OR NOT.

Usually the prosecutor will simply look at the police report and make a decision based on that alone.  After the case has been filed they will usually use what is called a “victim’s advocate” to communicate with the alleged victim in the case.  Whatever is reported to this advocate is sent to the prosecutor to help guide the case.  The person may even say that there was no physical abuse or that they don’t want to prosecute the defendant, but that doesn’t mean that the case won’t proceed.

The prosecution will move forward based on what they feel they can prove or not prove, not primarily on the desires of the alleged victim involved.  If they feel that they have enough evidence to convict the defendant of the charge, then they almost always pursue that end.  Yes, it makes it more difficult for them to get a conviction in a case if the alleged victim isn’t there to help them with testimony at trial, but that certainly does not mean that the case will simply be dismissed.

I’m The Victim Here.  Why Won’t They Just Listen To What I Want?

A large part of prosecution’s job is to do what it thinks is best to protect the community by keeping what it believes to be criminals off the streets.  While I would never purport myself to be an expert by any stretch of the imagination on domestic violence, I know that in this realm a lot of the time people just simply don’t want their spouse to get in trouble.  This is whether it is good or safe for them or not.  Many times this might not be the first time something like this has happened, just the first time they called the police.  Also, there is a power struggle involved.  Most victims of domestic violence are in a position of weakness, duress, and under the influence of their partner.  They can’t protect themselves.

Similarly, when a case like this is filed, THERE IS ALMOST ALWAYS A NO-CONTACT ORDER PUT IN PLACE BY THE JUDGE at the very beginning of the case.  This order is designed to protect the alleged victim while the case is pending.

These orders are almost never lifted until the case is either dismissed or some other resolution has been reached. Sometimes things like treatment or a domestic violence evaluation are required. A judge will usually not agree to lift an order like this until they are either required to do so because they no longer have jurisdiction over the defendant (i.e. a case dismissal or an acquittal after trial), or until they feel assurances have been put in place to ensure that the defendant no longer poses a threat.

So After All This What Is Going to Happen?

Each case is completely different.  As the attorney for the defendant in the above described case, I would treat it VERY carefully.  I have represented many people in cases similar to the above example.  Sometimes we never know what actually took place prior to the phone call being made to the police.

What I can tell you is that domestic violence cases are unlike any other.

Yes, I am going to do everything in my power to protect my client.  I am not going let them give a statement to the police and I am going to advise them not to say anything to anyone about the the case without me being present.  The case is going to come down to what the powers that be feel can be proved or not proved.  I am going to ensure that the prosecutor handles this case fairly and that my client’s rights are protected.  I am certainly going to fight for my client using all of the tools that I possess.

However, it is my duty to do this in a fashion that is extremely cognizant for the safety of all of the people involved in the case – this means my client, as well as the alleged victim and their family.

Arrested?  Call Us Today at 206.973.0407

My job is to help you get out of trouble.  And I am very good at my job.

If you need my help, just call 206.973.0407 anytime day or night and we’ll set up a time for you to come in and talk to me about your case.  The consultation is always free, and I’ll let you know what I think about your case and see if I’m the right criminal defense attorney to help you out.

Stryder J. Wegener is the author of this article, the co-founder of Emerald City Law Group, and a damn good criminal defense attorney.


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Should I Bail Out Immediately? Call a Criminal Defense Attorney First.

November 13, 2014 criminal attorney bail bonds

criminal attorney bail bonds

When someone is arrested, their first inclination is usually to figure out how to get out of jail as quickly as possible.  This is perfectly natural.  JAIL SUCKS.  It is scary.  It is cold.  It is hard.  The food is terrible.  It is designed to be as uncomfortable as possible.  You are supposed to want to get out!

However, what you decide to do after your arrest is an extremely important decision that should not be made without a serious amount of careful thought.

SHOULD I CALL A BAIL BONDSMAN?

Again, people’s first inclination is try and get out immediately.  The logical step is to call the first bail bondsman they can find.  I CAUTION AGAINST THIS.

The most important, and very first thing you should do is call your criminal defense attorney.  

Whether or not to post bail is a decision that should be made with the assistance of an attorney who knows both the bail process and the court process, in that particular jurisdiction.  This is especially important at the beginning of a case. There are factors that go into deciding if it is best for you to spend the money on posting a bail, or not.

HOW THE BAIL PROCESS WORKS

Say you are arrested in downtown Seattle in King County.  Depending on the nature of the arrest, you will likely be taken to the downtown jail where you will be processed and booked into jail.  At this time, again depending on the type of crime for which you are arrested, a bail might be set.  Say the bail is set at $100,000.  You can get a bonds company to bail you out usually at a cost of 10% of the bail; therefore, in the above example you would be paying $10,000 to get out.  THIS IS MONEY YOU WILL NOT GET BACK.

YOU MIGHT NOT NEED TO BAIL OUT

  • The fact of the matter is that you might not even need to bail out.  YOU MIGHT GET OUT FOR FREE.  This can happen in a number of ways.  After being booked into jail, you would be given a first appearance court hearing within 48 hours of being booked.  In King County, they usually give you a first appearance the day after your arrest, or sometimes even the same day depending on the time you were arrested.
  • The first appearance is a hearing that takes place at the jail and is definitely something that you want to have your criminal defense attorney at.  Many times your attorney will discover that the State (i.e. the prosecution) has not actually filed charges yet.  As a result, they may let you go right there or they might keep you there and set a second appearance date.  Again, this has to happen within a very short period of time.  In King County, it is usually set the day after or two days after your initial appearance.  This extra time gives the prosecution a better chance to look at your case and decide whether they are going to immediately (or “rush”) file your case.  If they don’t, guess what? You get out for free.
  • If charges have been filed against you by the time of the second appearance, your criminal defense attorney may be able to get you released on your “personal recognizance”.  This is basically a promise that you won’t get into trouble pending your next court date and that you will show up to court when told to do so.  The factors that go into this kind of decision are 1) your danger to the community; and 2) your risk of flight.  I always argue as many points as possible to urge the judge that you pose little risk in each of these categories.  Again, this is where an experienced criminal defense attorney is important.
  • If you call me early enough, in certain cases I can meet with the prosecutor and convince them not to file charges.  This is not always the case, but it can happen.  When a person is arrested it doesn’t always mean that they should have been.

YOUR BAIL CAN GO UP OR DOWN

After your initial bail amount is set, the amount can change when charges are filed.  After more evidence is gathered by the police and the prosecution and is presented to the court, the judge can decide to either increase or decrease your bail.  This is based on the arguments of your attorney, as well as those of the prosecution.

If you have already posted bail, and then your bail amount is decreased or eliminated entirely after going to court with your attorney, YOU DO NOT GET THE BOND FEE BACK.

CALL A CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY

It is very important that you consult your criminal defense attorney before deciding whether to post bail or not.  I always go over the risks and benefits of posting bail with my clients.  This has to be done very carefully and on a case by case basis.  Depending on your arrest I know which courts are likely to release you with your promise to return to court and which are not.  I also understand which cases are likely to get filed immediately, down the road, or not at all.

As you can see, this initial decision in your case isn’t just as simple as “I want to get out now.”  It is a very important and complicated one that needs to be made with the assistance of an experienced criminal defense attorney.  It really can be a life-altering decision.


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Don’t Talk to the Police.

October 24, 2014 seattle criminal attorney advice

seattle criminal attorney advice
Imagine this: It is 9 o’clock at night, and you are driving home from dinner. You don’t realize it, but one of your taillights has gone out. Just as you are exiting the freeway to go home, you see flashing lights in your rear-view mirror. Being the good and responsible driver you are you pull to the shoulder and turn off your car. 

Mr. police officer approaches you and gives you the reason for the stop (i.e. taillight out). He asks you where you are coming from, and you say dinner. He asks you if you have had anything to drink at dinner, and you being the honest citizen you are, say that you had a glass of wine with your steak. 

Guess what? You just arguably gave that police officer enough to ask you to exit the car and start doing some field sobriety tests.
(more…)


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