While serious felonies get all the press—think armed robbery, rape, murder—a criminal defense lawyer in Washington, D.C. spends the bulk of his time defending misdemeanors. These include assault, domestic or otherwise, driving under the influence (DUI), hit and run, solicitation of prostitution, petty theft, drug possession cases, and the like. For many defendants, this is their first contact with the criminal justice system. That’s good, because first time offenders, if convicted, are very often sentenced to probation.
But for many defendants, jail time isn’t their only, or even primary concern. A criminal conviction can result in termination of employment and can make finding a new job difficult. Many Washington, D.C. employees have security clearances, and a criminal conviction may cause that clearance to be revoked. And finally, there is a psychological component to having a criminal conviction that many people have trouble dealing with.
To be honest, and this certainly may not apply to you, a high percentage of those accused of a crime, actually committed it. Some clients walk into my office and have admitted guilt to me even before they’ve sat down. And my response, in every case, is that “I don’t care.” Guilt or innocence is rarely a concern when good criminal defense lawyers assess a new criminal case. To quote A Few Good Men, “it doesn’t matter what I believe, it only matters what I can prove.” To be more accurate, it only matters what the government can prove, because they, not the defense, have the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that a defendant committed the crime they are accused of. So I don’t care if you assaulted the complaining witness, had a few too many drinks before driving home, offered $50 to a prostitute, or ordered the Code Red. I only care what the evidence will show, and whether the prosecutor can convict you of the charged crime.
What I tell every client, is that I can’t win your case if you plead guilty. Moreover, you probably don’t need me if you simply want to roll over for the government at the first opportunity. I’ll just send my 5 year old son, or a monkey of average intelligence to stand next to you while you admit your guilt. But most clients who want to pay me their hard-earned money to represent them want me to fight for them. And that’s what I plan to do.
So how do we fight? Well, we start by setting a case for trial. Here are the ways we can avoid a conviction if we set your case for trial: 1) the government fails to prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt; 2) the government fails to provide the discovery that your lawyer is entitled to, and the judge dismisses the case; 3) the witnesses against you fail to come to court, and your case is dismissed by the government; 4) the government simply can’t get ready for trial by the trial date, and the judge dismisses your case; and 5) the government sees that your lawyer is ready to go to trial, and they offer you community service, and a chance at having your case dismissed.
How often do these scenarios occur? A lot. In fact, an incredible amount. And the bottom line is that all of these things are possible when you set your Washington, D.C. assault, DUI, hit and run, or any other misdemeanor case for trial. None of these things are possible when you plead guilty.
So given all the possible paths to victory I’ve described, why do so many defendants plead guilty rather than set their cases for trial? One word: fear. The fear that, if they go to trial and are found guilty, that the judge is going to punish them for not admitting guilt. Clients often come into the system with this preconceived notion, and to be honest, many criminal defense attorneys perpetuate the myth. The simple truth, at least in most Washington, D.C. misdemeanor cases, is that if you get convicted by a judge, your sentence is likely to be no worse than what the government was offering you to plead guilty. What that means, is that you’ve got nothing to lose.
Now for the disclaimer: the facts of every case are different. There are times when the government makes a legitimate plea offer, that provides actual incentive to plead guilty. Only after hearing the individual facts of your case, can your Washington, D.C. criminal defense lawyer provide you with appropriate advice. If you’ve been charged with any criminal offense in Washington, D.C. contact Jay Mykytiuk Trial Lawyer for an assessment of your case.