Before devoting myself to working in a family law practice, I worked as a criminal defense attorney for two decades. I tried speeding tickets, homicides, assaults, thefts and drug cases throughout Southern Missouri. For the first 5 years I worked for the state defending poor people, mostly working poor, charged with crimes. The remaining years of my two decades as a criminal defense attorney, I worked in private practice. People ask me why I left that field.
I left the field for a lot of reasons. But probably not for the reasons you think about. Most people think that the criminal justice system protects “us” from “them.” So the criminal defense attorney helps “them” against “us”. Who would want to do that? Really, criminal defense involved representing people.
For the most part, at least in our area, I realized the people I defended were not professional criminals in the sense people think of. I encountered very few Dr. No's, syndicate members, and professional thieves. The professional criminal is smart. Often works alone. They might work in a group from time to time, but they keep their plans hidden. They take calculated risks. They don't get caught very often. Thus they did not usually have any need for a criminal defense attorney.
Most of the accused I represented were ordinary. They were people who came to lead an addictive lifestyle, or made the easy and illegal decisions, or simply made one or two criminal decisions and got caught.
This included people working in the black market selling intoxicants: pot, meth, coke, ecstacy, etc. They worked as waitresses, bartenders, truck drivers, hair stylists, business owners and many were college students. They took the easy way to make easy money to supplement their income and afford their vice. You may be surprised to know that this group was not usually addicted, at least not yet.
I also represented those accused of driving while intoxicated, shoplifting, driving with a revoked license, or patronizing prostitution. It's easier to drive drunk than pay for a cab. Easier to steal a dress than buy it. Easier to drive without a license and pay fines and penalties than it is to “get legal” (if you are not working poor). Easier to get high than run a marathon. Easier to pay for sex than develop a relationship. They can cause harm, but so can an insurance company that won't pay a valid claim.
Taking life the easy way often leads to addiction. That means alcoholism, too. I represented a lot of addicts and problem drug and alcohol users. People in an addictive lifestyle are bottom rung thinkers no matter their IQ. Most of these people develop an impaired values system and skewed (to say the least) social views. Their conscious thoughts are only indirectly affected by reality. They can't work. Their relationships fail. They are terrible parents. Their sense of right and wrong is awful. They commit a lot of petty crimes, but they are far from pros. They hurt a lot of people, especially those close to them.
The police have informants throughout the black market. They constantly run sting operations. Police are also very good at getting them to consent to home and vehicle searches. They are exceptionally well-trained in finding drugs. The addicts also eventually get caught. And I represented them.
Then there are the people who make one or two criminal decisions that they end up regretting when caught. The knife fighters, the 17 year old kid who robs the country church of their amplifier; the murderer; the guy who gets in a high speed chase with the cops. These people may or may not have a substance abuse problem. But they are often working, may come from functional families and otherwise lived passable, law abiding lives. Many are young and dumb. Some are middle aged and inexperienced in crime. Some, for whatever reasons, lost their minds for a moment. They are amateurs and the police have a pretty easy time catching them. So I represented them.
As disagreeable as all this sounds, a lot of these people could be you, or someone you love, on a bad day. In criminal defense the people I dealt with were pretty easy on their lawyer. They got caught, and wanted to know if the charge could stick, or if negotiations might lead to a more lenient penalty, or whether trial may succeed. Some were over charged. Some were charged properly, but under draconian systems of punishment. Some were charged just right.
I really did not enjoy representing the innocent. No good criminal defense lawyer likes that. The system just is not what it's cracked up to be. Winning takes a lot of work, and you feel great when that happens. Losing a case for an innocent accused is hard to take.
I did not leave for that reason. I did not leave because of the pros. Nor did I leave on account of the horror some people's bad decisions created. The system works best with criminal defense lawyers holding the government to a high standard. I am OK with that. So are your better judges and prosecutors.
I left because I saw firsthand the serious problem alcohol and drug addicts cause their children. I hated the squalor. The destroyed values. The risk that the addicts placed in front of their children. Not just needles, but the house fires, the inattention, the malnourishment. The risk that came from people. Lots of people in their homes, around their kids, while the addicts concerned themselves with anything but their kids. You can find drug addicts in every class. You can find squalor or risk in every class. An addict's household is basically the same in any kind of neighborhood.
I valued the family members who pitched in to try to help. There is much to be said about an addiction being a disease. I also realized many of them were helping the wrong way. They did not hold their child, nephew, niece, cousin to account. They were too afraid to go to court and take custody of the addict's children. If they failed there, they reasoned, they would never see the children again. Most were threatened with that by the very addict they were helping. They hoped that by hiring the lawyer, paying for the rehab, that they could help the addict and the addict's children. That was usually incorrect.
That's why we do adoptions. That's why we do guardianships. That's why we do not represent addicts in custody cases.
I also left criminal defense for another reason. I came to loathe child abusers and molesters. They were awful. They just paid well, and molester paid really well. Their deeds were horrid. They would do it again. And again. And again. They like the power to crush kids. Change the kids for lifetime. A lot of it was nihilism. Harm for pleasure's sake.
The same thing for wife beaters and girlfriend destroyers and financial abusers. These jokers find no power for themselves anywhere else in life. They manipulate people who care about them, beat the tar out of them, and make them feel loved each time they don't beat them. Then beat them again. Other abusers steal their spouse's money, damage their spouse's businesses, even steal from their kids' trusts.
I cannot stand them. Molesters, beaters, abusers. So we sue them. We try to collect funds for our clients to replace what was stolen. We want to set up trusts for children who will need a lifetime of counseling to address the trauma they experienced.
I left criminal defense because for me, it all became too much. I got out. That practice was not why I went to law school. Protecting the individual from state power no longer cut the mustard. And that's the main reason our family law firm today exists as it does. I found like minded people. Or rather we found each other. We do not handle criminal defense. And we will not take the case if we believe the client is an abuser. We help families. We help children. We feel good about what we do. And if you know someone we might help, or if we may help you, let us know.
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