Who Are the People in Your Neighborhood: Criminal Defense Attorney
Talking to artists, actors, musicians and writers (or for the too shy to admit it -- "people who write") about their work usually involves a description of what else they do. Otherwise known as : the day job, the paying gig, what I went to school for. For many folks this is waitressing, DJ-ing, house painting, even teaching. But then I talked to a writer named, Joe. His paying gig was being a Criminal Defense Attorney in the Chicago courts system.
My interest peeked, I asked him some of my standard questions.
What is the best part of being a criminal defense attorney?
Joe was a little hard pressed on this one, but what he ended up talking about were those moments when a trial goes in an unexpected direction. For example, instances in which he was able to argue a legal point or discover a piece of testimony that might have gone unrecognized or been glossed over. He described those moments as one's chance to "see the spark of recognition in a judge's eyes" and acknowledge that something might have been missed if you had not been doing your job well. Making a difference, now there's something I can understand.
What's the worst part?
Apparently everything else. Amongst everything: the times (hopefully few and as far between as possible) when an innocent man you have represented gets convicted. Joe reports that the other side of the dilemma -- having a hand in a guilty man going free -- has a sort of built-in professional firewall. His job is to make sure everyone has their day in court, that each individual he represents get a fair hearing. In this way, Joe points out that knowing too much about a client can cloud one's ability to represent him. Dwell on that stuff too much, and you can't do the job. That kind of focus seems to require a mind like a steel trap -- something I certainly don't have -- the trap part maybe, but more like a drain-catch. And it ain't made out of steel, no way.
Anything funny ever happen?
Joe says, "I remember a million funny things but I don't know if normal people would consider them to be so."
I say, "Try me."
Joe told me a story about a guy who was hauled in by the police for driving under the influence of drugs (in the interest of confidentiality, lets call him Drugstore Cowboy). Joe found several ways to punch holes in the case against Drugstore Cowboy, and told his client not to worry -- he felt confident the could get him a "Not Guilty" verdict. Drugstore had different ideas though. He wanted to testify. He said the cop had been lying, that the street number in the police report was wrong, he had a story to tell and he was gonna tell it! Joe tried and tried to talk him out of it -- but no dice, and as Joe pointed out to me, Drugstore has that right, no doubt about it. So, with a heavy heart, Joe had to proceed.
Attorney: (Speaking to client) Sir, I want to direct your attention to the night of (whatever). Can you tell us what you were doing that evening?
Client: (Confident) Well, I was all high when I realized I was out of cigarettes. So I got into my car to drive to the gas station to get some more.
Joe admitted to staring, mouth ajar at the guy while the judge leaned forward and said - "Oh, by all means, counsel, continue."
So, I guess I fail the Normal Person Test. Gallows humor must be my thing.