Monday, March 15, 2010

Does Your Client Deserve Special Treatment?

Another post from one of our friendly Texas prosecutors:

The following post is anecdotal and may not apply to all prosecutors across the State.  It's just how I see things.

Justice is blind, or at least it’s supposed to be.  But let's face facts - prosecutors give special consideration to defendants whom they feel deserve it.  Special consideration may be in the form of a pretrial diversion, deferred adjudication, class C offer, or maybe even a dismissal upon the completion of certain requirements.  Is there is way you can help the prosecutor see that your client deserves special consideration?  Absolutely.

Now, keep in mind, this doesn’t apply to all of your clients.  Like it or not, the defendant who has been to state jail is not going to get the same open-mindedness from the prosecutor as the first time offender.  That should be obvious.  Maybe your client does have some history, but has really turned her life around.  This was just a stupid mistake.  Is the fact that your client is a first-time offender always going to get that special deal or is the fact that your client has a criminal history always going to preclude such a deal?  Nope.  What you need to do is…

Go the extra mile. Prepare a folder with mitigating information.  Yes, a folder.  Prepare it as if you were turning it in to a professor.  Why?  Can’t you just tell the prosecutor the information?  You may think that he probably wouldn’t have time to really look at a folder anyway…  Wrong.  Remember, you, the defense attorney, portray the image of your client to the prosecution.  Portray it in a professional manner.  And a folder full of mitigating information about your client will grab his attention.

What do you put in the folder?  Anything that demonstrates your client’s redeeming qualities: letters of recommendation, transcripts, proof of employment, recent accomplishments, anything.  The sky is the limit.  For the purpose of this post, I’ll focus specifically on these four:

 1)  Letters of Recommendation

If you recall, one of the important parts of the law school application was submitting letters of recommendation.  Not the “I know this person and she’s awesome” type.  Rather, the “Here’s who I am and here’s how I know this person and here’s a specific instance of character” type of letters.  Prosecutors see the former on a regular basis and the effect is usually minimal.  However, the latter is rare and much more effective.

2)  Transcripts

Prosecutors aren’t admission boards.  Grades aren’t really that important.  Of course, solid F’s won’t get you anywhere, but any records showing your client progressing through higher education is a plus.  Same goes if you have a client who is still in high school.  Proof of someone trying to obtain their GED should also be included.*

*I would like to point out if you ever have a client who has not completed their GED or is showing interest in college, have them do it.  The criminal process takes months.  During your first meeting early on, steer them in the right direction.  It is always a handy tool during PNC and the long term benefits for your client are clear.

3)  Proof of Employment

Working is key.  Someone who appears unemployed and lazy is never appealing to a prosecutor.  Provide proof of employment through either a letter from the boss (same rules as a letter of recommendation above) or payroll stubs.  Make sure payroll stubs are the most recent.  One from six months ago isn’t going to have much impact.  Again, if you have a client who isn’t working or going to school, encourage them to do so.

4)  Proof of Accomplishments

You may have a client who is a regular volunteer at the Salvation Army.  Get a letter and add it to the folder.  Maybe he was an eagle scout or former military.  Add it, too.  Any of your client's achievements or accomplishments can do nothing but separate them from the rest of the prosecutor’s caseload.  As before, if your client has no notable accomplishments, you should encourage her to go do something to help out the community.  Taking proof of the completion of 40 hours of community service by your client who has been charged with shoplifting shows the prosecutor your client is already accepting responsibility for his actions.  It will help her distinguish your client as being truly deserving of a favorable offer.

By now you get my point -  Provide hard copies of mitigation to the prosecutor.  And, if you’re going to do that, do it right.  Don’t throw a bunch of letters together into a 33 cent folder.  Do it right.  Keep that mindset of a college project that’s going to be graded.  After all, your client is, in some way, being graded.  Go for the A+!