Field guide to clients, part 1: DV Defendants – men

This is my first in an occasional series in which I’m going to try to convey the essential nature of particular types of people. I want to explain how they really are in their fullest, darkest, and most hilarious sense out in the wild. Before you think I’m being too critical, I’m sure each and every one of these people has their good side too, as hidden as it may be.  I’m equally sure they have people who love them and overlook their faults for family holidays – unless, of course, that’s when these guys are most prone to victimize them.

So without further ado, let’s get right to my lineup of miscreants, blackguards, and reprobates.  First up is the domestic violence defendant who is male. Women who are husband beaters are their own special breed so I’ll deal with them later. I’m grinning just as I sit here thinking about writing that post.

You’re only going to meet these guys in two ways.  The first, and by far the most popular, is greeting them through the glass in the attorney visiting booth. I live and work in one of those states that has a mandatory arrest law for domestic violence calls.  That means that if the police are called out to your place because the neighbors hear some yelling and the cops think something was going on, one of you is going to jail.  How often do you think the women get cuffed and stuffed? Yeah right. Not too often.

So, these guys get a free taxi ride down to the county jail just when the night is really getting started. Then, for some unknowable reason, the release office almost always decides to hold them until Monday morning when the guy will get arraigned and the judge orders him released.

But wait a minute, you say.  That kind of sounds like the release office is working with the cops to give these wife beaters a little two-day punishment without a trial.  That doesn’t sound American! What about the presumption of innocenc? What about having a trial before he gets punished? Well, duh, dummy. Of course they’re getting a little informal beat down. The cops are trying to give their wives a break for a couple of days.

The funny thing is, one of the conditions of their release is that they agree to go live somewhere else until their case goes to trial.  They have to raise their right hand and keep a straight face while they PROMISE to not ever get within two miles of their wife/girlfriend/victim while out on release. Of course these guys are like you and me in that they don’t want to go live in their truck somewhere. Besides, their wives need their money and they know they can just call the cops and get these guys hauled away at a moment’s notice if they feel like it. Most of these domestic abusers around here are the only source of income for their families so the wives kind of cut a deal. He can sneak home and lie low for a while but he has to hand over his paycheck. Their wives almost always drop the charges, refuse to testify, don’t show up for trial, etc. so it’s sort of a farce.  However, domestic violence is no laughing matter and it’s probably good that the local police department is handing out weekends in jail as street justice.

The thing is, domestic violence is handed down among generations so it’s really frustrating for people trying to do the right thing.  Imagine you’re a prosecutor for a moment.  You know the wives back out of these cases every single time but you really want to do your part to end the evil of wife beatings.  So, you set the case for trial and subpoena the victim even though you know the odds are against you.  Then the day of trial you’re standing there twiddling your thumbs by yourself looking lonely. Of course the victim isn’t there, what did you expect?  What do you do next?  Do you think it looks good to throw a crime victim in jail for contempt of court because they ignored your subpoena?  It just doesn’t happen.

The cops know none of these guys are going to get convicted.  The prosecutors know they almost certainly won’t be able to go to trial without the victim, and every defense lawyer in town tells the guy to wait for trial so the charges get dropped.  I’ve seen the criminal history printouts of the guys who really enjoy the Friday night fights at home and they have pages of arrests. Not a single conviction.

So you the defense lawyer rushes in to see the guy on Monday afternoon after he gets arraigned. You got to be quick with these jail visits because the first thing he tells you is he can’t talk long.  He’s waiting for the release officer to come back and take him down for processing so he can get released.  Well, OK, guy, but I still want to bill for 30 minutes of work. Can we at least talk for a little bit?

Also – you have to talk to him today.  If he gets released you will never hear from him again.  You see, he’ll be working construction or farming or something so he can’t take your calls during work hours. He’s ‘living with a friend’ or something so you can’t call him at night, either. You might be inclined to send your investigator out to the mailing address he gave the release office, but don’t waste their time. He doesn’t live there. It’s the mailing address for his brother or one of his friends at work. Don’t even pretend to go to the victim’s address looking for him. He’s going to hide so nobody knows he’s living at home with his victim.

The case is going to get dismissed in a couple of weeks anyway, so other than running up the bill to pay for your wife’s anniversary present, there’s no reason not to put this guy’s file at the bottom of your pile. Send a couple of letters or something. You can bill a lot for those if you do it right.

I said there are two ways you’re going to see these kinds of guys so let me explain the only other way.  It’s not going to be at jail because this other guy will bail himself out the same night he gets arrested. He’s going to instantly put the full $5,000 bail on his credit card.  No, you’re going to see him in your office when he calls because he says he wants to retain you. He’s probably a small business owner, or he works for a bank or the state in some local office.

You’re only going to see him once for about a half hour. He won’t ever come back after you tell him that almost every one of these cases gets dismissed. Which, by the way, is why most local lawyers charge $500 for that initial consult and tell the guys that “the full amount is applied to the retainer” if you hire them. Pretty neat, huh?  That comes to about $1,000 an hour.  And you thought law school was for chumps.

About once a year you will actually get hired by one of these guys. Usually he’s worried about that federal ban on owning guns if he has a domestic violence conviction.  He’ll throw down $2,000 and give you an assignment of his bail he paid to get released. Remember that’s probably an additional $5,000. Taken together, $7,000 is enough to get me motivated even if I think the guy’s a dirtbag that deserves to get abused in the shower in prison. You only have to meet a couple legitimate victims of domestic violence to know exactly what each one of those women goes through.

Now, just because you’ve read this far I’ll let you in on another dirty little trade secret of defense lawyers. After we get hired, we wait until the next weekend. Then I send the investigator over to his wife with a small thing of flowers or cookies, or whatever he says she likes. We don’t say who they are from and for the record they’re from me. Then the investigator talks to her with a wry look on his face about how much the guy is sorry and he damn well should be. My investigator was a cop so he has no problem doing the whole head shaking sympathetic thing. She always agrees and kind of tears up. They talk for a little bit more than he asks her if he could tape record her statement so her husband can come apologize on one knee in front of the neighbors like he damn well better do.  She always says yes.  So then my investigator turns on the tape, starts asking her questions he carefully phrases so she points out that our client didn’t hurt her. He was actually defending himself because she was mad about something at work and she hit him a couple of times first. Before my investigator finishes up he has her go over and over about how she’s telling God’s honest truth today and was just mad and more than a little drunk the night she called the cops. She’s sorry she lied to the police.  It was really wrong but she was upset.  She knew better and it won’t ever happen again.

I have her interview transcribed and use a pink highlighter on the best stuff. I hand deliver it to the prosecutor. I don’t gloat when they read it and tell me they’re going to drop the charges. That would be rude.

You know what else is rude? After I tell the guy the prosecutor says they’re dropping the charges he acts like it’s not a surprise to him. He tells me I didn’t do anything to deserve my $7,000 fee. He always says he wants his money back. Yeah, like that’s going to happen.

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Author: Samuel Owen

This is my Lawyer Rant. I've put up with new associates trying to kill me, clients being dangerous idiots, and Judges being rude for far too long. It's time for me to tell it like it really is, and it feels good to give back.

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