There is a grave misconception or disconnect between what is portrayed on TV and what really happens behind closed doors; especially, here in Maine. On TV’s popular show, Law & Order, the DA, played by Sam Waterson, is often seen in chambers belittling defense counsel (or theclient) and arguing his case forthe death penalty. Neither the defense attorney nor the DA show each other much respect nor do they appear to have any common ground in which to discuss a resolution. Essentially, the relationship between the DA and the defense attorney is portrayed as adversarial at best and downright hostile and disrespectful at worst. This portrayal of the criminal justice system is so far from reality that it’s almost laughable.
In Maine, I’ve found the vast majority of prosecutors to be ordinary people (just like you and me) with extraordinary responsibility. They carry a heavy caseload and an even heavier responsibilitiy. For the true job of the district attorney is to meet out justice, which is a very different paradigm than what’s portrayed on TV.
When I meet with the prosecutor on a client’s case, it’s often like meeting with an old friend. I genuinely like the majority of the prosecutors that I deal with on a regular basis. Heck, a number of these folks are my friends. Now, that doesn’t always mean we see eye to eye or that I always get what I want. What it does mean is that my client gets a fair shake (in most cases) and the conversations conducted between us, behind closed doors, are respectful, congenial and most often, friendly. That’s probably averydifferent scene that I’ve painted for you than what you’ve come to expect after watching countless Law & Order re-runs. And that’s a good thing!
In most cases, I’m trying to reach a just resolution for my client. And so is the prosecutor! In many ways, we’re working together to craft a fair and equitable result for all parties, which is nearly always to the benefit of my clients. If all the prosecutor and I (and every other defense attorney in Maine) did was fight and act nasty towards each other, nothing would ever get accomplished. Every case would go to trial and both sides would soon be exhausted both mentally and emotionally. Being angry and confrontational is not only counterproductive, it’s exhausting!
That’s why I take the time to develop relationships and mutual respect with the person sitting across the table from me. Oftentimes, he or she holds the keys toyour freedom. And we need to ask for him or her to take your story and circumstances into account when trying to craft a mutually acceptable resolution. Now, that doesn’t mean we always agree; nor does it mean that we always get along. Sometimes, someone (me or the prosecutor) has a bad day and it makes negotiating a fair outcome for my client difficult or impossible. Sometimes, that means the case has to go to trial. And that’s OK because that’s howour criminal justice system is designed to function: the cases that can’t be resolved should go to trial.
The next time you watch Law & Order, think about what I posted in this blog. Just remember that the prosecutor is never the enemy and oftentimes, is an ordinary person who may prove empathetic to your plight. And that’s just another reason not to alienate the person sitting across the table from you. He or she might be your only hope for a brighter future.
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