The question that I am most often asked is how I went from being a police officer to a criminal defense attorney. While the transition may appear drastic to people on the outside, I believe that the change was actually quite minimal. Throughout my law enforcement career, I strove to always be fair, honest, and diligent in investigating any crime that I was working. The only thing that I could imagine being worse than not catching the bad guy would be "catching" the wrong bad guy because I took a shortcut or got lazy. I always tried to imagine how I would feel if the person being arrested was my sister, mother, or child. Would I believe that the evidence was substantial enough for another officer to book my family member with a crime? If not, then I had more work to do. My final years as an officer were spent training other officers to think this way. Not only did I attempt to instill in them this same sense of true justice, I taught my and other departments Ethics and Procedural Justice for Police Officers.
When I started law school I was sure that I could never be a criminal defense attorney. In my first year, though, I was given an assignment that required me to put together a defense for a woman that, upon initially reading through the facts, I believed to be guilty as sin. I worked for days to find cases that supported a theory that she was not, in fact, guilty of the crimes charged. I pieced together what I believed to be a strong argument, and bolstered it with statutes or case law that was consistent with my reasoning. When the day came that I had to stand up in front of the panel and defend my fictional client, a funny thing happened. The more that the panel tried to find holes in my argument, the more zealous I got about her defense. I had worked hard to build a case that was consistent with the law and supported a finding of Not Guilty. I was not going to let it be an easy task to dismantle that hard work.
Today, my first and most important job in defending a client charged with a crime is to make sure that everyone else has done their job correctly. Our Constitution ensures that everyone is innocent until proven guilty, so the District Attorney has the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused engaged in each and every element that constitutes the offense for which my client is charged. Just like I did, the police officers had a duty to well and faithfully investigate the crime and to ensure that their evidence, legally obtained, constituted probable cause that the crime had been committed by my client. If either of these parties failed in their duty, it is simply my job to point that out to the court. In that case, I can't take much of the credit for a dismissal or Not Guilty verdict. The ADA or police officer deserves the credit for that victory. So what happens when both of those parties seem to have done their jobs well? It's time to cobble together an argument, based in the facts and in the law, and to give my client the zealous defense to which he is entitled. And just like I did when I patrolled the streets of this marvelous city, I go to bed at night believing that I have spent my day working to ensure justice.