A Thought on Case Results
Some Law Firms religiously post their case results as a marketing effort designed to elicit potential clients by viewing their successes. For the the firms that post notable cases and legal accomplishments, this method shows the firms or individual lawyers skill in litigating trial and appellate issues. It also indicates their commitment to crafting new law and their creative legal arguments.
However, other firms post results of day to day cases on matters that have trivial legal significance. These results can often be misleading to potential clients because of the distinct difference in the facts of every criminal case. In my firms infancy I religiously posted its daily case results on Reckless Driving, DWI, drug possession, and other criminal cases handled in Alexandria, Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun, Prince William, Fauquier, Stafford, and many other jurisdictions throughout Virginia. I quickly realized that despite the warnings and disclaimers we used to comply with the legal ethics rules in Virginia, my clients struggled to understand that every case is different despite my repeated warnings. That success on one day does not equate to success on another day.
Every criminal case handled in Northern Virginia is different. The Client is different. The facts are different. The officer is different. The judge is different and the prosecutor is different. These differences are significant and affect the outcomes. These differences can be as much of a positive as they can be a negative. As a former prosecutor, I considered a wide array of circumstances when deciding what my plea offer would be to criminal defendant. Factors I considered were:
1. The facts surrounding the offense with a specific emphasis on egregious facts (e.g. in a Reckless Driving by Speed case, I would often ask about traffic and weather conditions. I would additionally inquire about whether other drivers were affected by the speed; in DWI / DUI cases, I was concerned about whether it was an accident case or not, traffic conditions, and possible interactions with other drivers).
2. The level of politeness and cooperativeness with law enforcement (Most prosecutors will ask the officer if you were polite and cooperative with them. This is important because if they are considering making you an offer where you would get a significant benefit of a reduced offense or no jail time, they want to ensure you did not give the officer a hard time or make his job any harder during the interaction).
3. Personal circumstances to the accused around the time of the offense. Everyone has life circumstances that can affect their decision making. For example, in Reckless Driving by Speed cases, a person who may have been rushing their pregnant wife to the hospital or dealing with a medical condition has a more sympathetic situation than a person who was simply late for work. In DWI cases, sometime the person is experiencing marital problems or a death in the family that affected their decision making. While these explanations were considered in trying to fashion the appropriate disposition in the case, they were always carefully balanced with the danger to the public that could have or did result from the behavior.
4. Personal and Professional Background of the Accused: As a prosecutor, I always found that the more the accused was personalized to me, the more inclined I was to work with the defense attorney to fashion an outcome that differed from my initial impression of the case. Learning about a person’s accomplishments and life struggles put the offense in perspective. Also, learning about how it would negatively affect their future was a factor that was carefully considered when deciding appropriate disposition. Certainly, good people can find themselves in bad situations and their background matters
5. Mitigation Efforts by the Accused: In conduction with their background, post-offense mitigation efforts like education courses, community service, substance abuse treatment, and others were considered. Often times, it showed to me the importance a positive resolution of the matter was to the defendant and helped mitigate any potential punishment I was going to request. Most prosecutors want to ensure that the accused receives an appropriate amount of punishment and education so they never find themselves in the situation again.
6. Direction: Prosecutors are often directed by the elected official to use their discretion sparingly in cases where there is a particular public interest in curtailing the behavior underlying the criminal charge. A good example of this is DWI cases. Many prosecutors offices in Northern Virginia take a very hard line view on DWI cases because of the particular danger and frequency that the public perceives surrounding this act. Similarly, many prosecutors will not negotiate a reduction on a Reckless Driving case that is over 90 MPH or they adhere to a very common rule in Northern Virginia of imposing a day in jail for every mile over 90. Prosecutors are sensitive to the public perception surrounding these offenses and are duty bound to enforce the law. Prosecutors are advocates for the government just like a defense attorney is an advocate for the accused. However, prosecutors have a duty to do justice but can ethically prosecute any case they reasonable feel is supported by probable cause. While this gives them great discretion in charging decisions, public opinion regarding their plea offers matters. Defense attorneys may call the direction of the prosecutor by higher ups policy, it is more accurately termed as a limit on their discretion regarding certain offenses where the individual prosecutor feels the evidence supports the offense.
As one can see, there are a variety of factors that can affect the disposition in your specific case. A person traveling at 110 MPH who was rushing home to spend the last few minutes with his mom before she passed may avoid jail time even in those jurisdictions where they adhere to a rigid rule of jail at that speed. If you saw that result posted on a lawyers website and you were charged with a similar offense, it would give you false hope that your case was going to hopefully be resolved in similar manner.
Attorneys are professionals and any attorney should be able to give you a reasonable expectation as to the result they may be able to produce in any particular case. However, understand that no attorney can promise that they can produce a particular result. Ethically, we simply can not make guarantees. All attorneys should advise you of the maximum punishment for the offense you are charged and discuss with you the legal issues in your case. A good and trustworthy attorney does not need to lure you in with the results they can produce. They should be able to establish trust with you and let you know they will fight to achieve the most favorable disposition possible based on a variety of factors.