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Sunday, May 27, 2012

Is principle worth your freedom

I joined a colleague that was going to speak to her client about his plea offer that was soon-to-expire.  This particular client had been in jail for 12 months, accused of stealing and selling copper.  He was adamant that he found the copper on the side of the road, he left it there for 24 hours to see if the rightful owner would come retrieve it.  When he went back the copper was still on the side of the road so he took it and sold it.  He was unemployed, his parents were sick and they needed the money. 

I sit there listening to my coworker and listening to the client for about 20 minutes and I realize they are having two separate conversations.  She is trying to get him to understand what the law says and he is trying to get her to understand what he is going through.  While he admits that something did not "feel right" when he found the copper on the side of the road, he does not believe he found and sold the $6,000 worth that was stolen from the power company.  He was willing to pay restitution in the amount of $1000 but not a penny more.

I explained to the client that as his attorney, I would fight on his behalf if he wanted a trial.  I would require that the District Attorney prove each and every element of the charge and I would closely examine every piece of evidence they intend to present.  But I also explained to my client that as a person, sitting on the jury, I would find it hard to believe that valuable copper sat on the side of the road for 24 hours with NO ONE else picking it up.  We then discussed his mother and the fact that he has already lost his father while serving time.  He explained that his mother was pretty much on her death bed and needed him home.  So I asked him to look at it like this....you can take the plea, get credit for time served, chalk the $6000 restitution up to a life lesson learned and be home taking care of your mother.  Or you can stick to your guns, take your case before a jury, sit in jail until your case is up for trial and risk being incarcerated when your mother passes. 

He decided to take the plea.

You may be reading this and thinking that was a dirty trick, to use his mother as a way to get him to take the plea.  But you must look at it like this: He DID take the copper, he DID try to sell it, he DID think it was possibly stolen.  Elements of a receiving stolen property charge met.  The DA agreed to drop the Theft of Property charges.  The DA was asking for 12 months, of which, our client had already served 12 months.  There was no dispute that the alleged victim was out $6000 worth of property.  The question was whether my client received all of it and only sold some of it, or if he sold all that he had and had no idea what happened to the rest.  The IMPORTANT question was whether he was willing to sit in jail until his case came up for trial while his mother's health was failing.

The important question was "is principle worth your freedom?"  My client decided it was not. 

As I write this he is at home, cooking or cleaning and caring for his mother in her last days.  He is an elderly man who does not have much time left himself.  He has the next 13 years to make payments of any denomination towards the $6000 and you can bet your arse that he will NEVER pick up any copper off the side of the road again.

As attorney's we have a tendency to want to bring the client up to the level of understanding what the law "says", often refusing to be brought 'down' to what the client is saying. What we should be focused on is ensuring there is a "meeting of the minds" if at all possible, with our client. When we can accomplish a meeting of the minds, then we can speak to our clients about what is in their best interest without sounding like we are selling them out, selling them short or sending them up the river to fend for themselves.

Until next time,

Be blessed, be careful, don't confess and don't consent.

~LT