Drive-By Lawyering

Since I started doing juvie, I sometimes find myself rehearsing my legal advice in my car on the way to work. My seven-mile drive gives me precisely the amount of time that I have to advise my clients on important legal issues. It’s easier for my clients to understand me when I am concise and using fewer words is always more difficult than foaming at the mouth with whatever feels good to say. Explaining the pros and cons of various courses of action to boys who often have only a third-grade reading level in such a way that they actually understand complex legal concepts in under twenty minutes cannot be done without practice.

With traffic, my drive to work takes about 18 minutes. A sampling of things that I explained to my client in under 18 minutes today:

1. You tell me that you didn’t know the car was stolen. But the police report says that you confessed, and that he tape-recorded the entire confession. No, I don’t know if I can get you out today. I’m genuinely touched at how much remorse you feel for not being a better father to your daughter, but I have no idea what I can do for you if you don’t tell me which version of your story is true.

2. So I know that you remember me. I got you a “not guilty” on your last case here. You see why I’m really, really unhappy to see you back, right? Yes, you will probably “get out” of juvenile hall faster if you plea guilty today, but that is really not a good reason to plea. Well, you’re right, I can’t stop you from doing it if you want to. You do have the absolute right to decide how you plea. Just remember your rights next time before waiving your right to remain silent and confessing EVERYTHING to the police.

3. I know you didn’t actually steal the car, but your little thuglet friend told you that it was stolen moments after the police pulled him over for running the red light. And when the cop walked to the window, you and the other kid ran. Since you ran in different directions, the cops could not catch either of you. You knowingly, and successfully, helped your friend get away with a crime. That makes you an aidder or abettor to the crime and thus equally guilty. No, “accomplice” is a word that only exists in TV shows. The real term is aidder or abettor. Look, if you finish the probation program, they’ll wipe out your juvenile record anyway.

It should be noted that I had to repeat much of Item 3 to the district attorney. The district attorney was “offended” that my client was pleading guilty in court despite the fact that he denied involvement. Why? Because my kid cares more about getting out of custody as soon as possible than having the “real” story told and so he will say whatever it takes to make that happen? It may be the first time I have ever had to argue my client’s guilt to a DA.  And I don’t need to tell you that took less than 18 minutes.

Respectfully submitted,

Norm DeGuerre

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