I probably shouldn’t be writing this while I am still smarting from a particularly tough loss, but in one sense it just proves my point. My loss today resulted in a ten-day sentence, 170 days suspended, and a year probation. Before I got involved in defending criminal cases, I would have thought that was a small consequence, but I can assure you that it was not a small consequence to the person serving that sentence, and it is not small to me today.
I was talking with a friend the other day who is a partner at a large DC firm, and used to be a prosecutor. He was giving me some welcome encouragement, telling me how many great big-name defense lawyers started doing the “small” misdemeanor cases, etc. I told him how much I have to learn about putting on a defense case, and the major lessons I have learned. When I started on this journey, I thought that some of these misdemeanor cases were minor, and things to move through on the way to more important cases.
I have since learned that there are no minor cases. Most misdemeanors in DC, such as unlawful entry case (criminal tresspass) or simple assault, carry a maximum penalty of 180 days in addition to a fine. A person does not always actually get 180 days in jail, but can easily get 30-60 days depending on the criminal history, facts of the case, etc. I don’t know about you, but 30 or 60 days in jail would absolutely devastate me. Forget about the consequences to career prospects; my family could lose our house, and we could be driven into bankruptcy, etc. Every defendant deserves every ounce of energy in defending him or her (easy to say, as I am well over the statutory max for payment in the appointed case I tried today). I don’t have anything else to say other than I was wrong: there are no small cases.