This is a real-life criminal lawyer case study. All information is true and accurate aside from personally identifiable information. To protect our client’s anonymity, we change names and sometimes dates, times, and locations throughout, as well as certain personally identifiable details within the Brief and/or Backstory sections.
Our clients’ stories are as important as the facts of the case because they help us get others rooting for them; yes, even prosecutors. Our methods are based in science, refined through experience, and repeatedly proven by our results. This is one of those results.
Life has no shortage of hardships and trials for any of us. Sometimes bad things happen when we make mistakes, and sometimes bad things happen for no reason at all. We are all tested and the worst of these tests is when these “bad things” come in threes. Many people describe it as if God, the universe, or some other cosmic force is conspiring against them. This is a true story about one of those tests. For our client, this was by far her worst test.
We’ll call our client Mary to protect her real identity. Mary’s story starts on a cloudless Wednesday evening in mid-summer. On her way home she stops by a local pub to see her husband, let’s call him Joel, play a set. An accountant by trade, Joel’s real passion has always been music.
Bad Thing One happened as Mary left the pub around 7:30 PM. By that time the sun was setting. On her way home, Mary had a little trouble seeing because the sun was directly in her line of sight. She didn’t notice how fast she was going. Whoop whoop, she hears as the lights flash behind her.
Court went well for Mary on the DUI charge. She was embarrassed and ashamed, though, and often worried about who might find out. The good news, she reminded herself, is that after just a few short months on probation, life would be back to normal. She had no idea life would never return to normal.
Bad Thing Two happened on a Friday night. Our client, Mary, called the police on her daughter, Holly, who had just assaulted her during a heated argument. When Holly claimed to the police that it was the other way around, the officer noticed a smell of alcohol on Mary and she ended up being arrested instead of her daughter. Holly loves her mother but, to be honest, she’s always been daddy’s girl. Holly’s teenage years have been straining on her relationship with her mother, and it hit the breaking point that night.
Bad Thing Three happened before Mary even had time to hire us. It was the most devastating of all. Holly’s father and Mary’s husband, Joel, passed away in a sudden and completely unexpected manner. Then our phone rang.
Our client’s family was at stake. She was on probation from a previous DUI, and after she was arrested for domestic assault, her husband and the alleged victim’s father passed away. The possible penalties for this new charge, which violated her probation, were that she would have to serve both sentences fully in jail and/or have her probation period extended. Given the passing of her husband, this would likely lead to the collapse of her family by causing irreparable damage to her relationship with her daughter.
Our client desperately wanted to keep her family together and stay out of jail. This meant our goal was to have the domestic assault charge dismissed without causing further division between her and her daughter. Getting the charge dismissed was the only way to also get the violation of probation charge dismissed.
A trial was too risky without being certain the daughter would be 100% on our side. We were also fairly certain the DA would not dismiss this case based on the facts and supporting evidence. This left us with only one zero-risk path to accomplish our goals. The DA had to “feel” like dismissing the domestic assault charge was the “right” thing to do. Why? Psychologically speaking, we are all emotional decision-makers that rationalize our decisions only after our emotions have heavily influenced them. This is true for the cold-blooded killers, the soccer moms, and, yes, even DAs. It’s also true that we all, generally speaking, want to believe we are, at our core, a good person and we feel good about our decisions when we feel like we’re doing the “right” thing.
The plan was twofold.
First, we needed to find some common ground with the DA. The more in common we had, the more receptive she’d be to listening to our version of the story. Because both the mother and the daughter truly wanted to reconcile, we also believed having them attend counseling together would help repair the relationship enough to present them as a united front. As long as it’s safe, almost anyone can get behind doing their part to get or keep a family together; it’s just the right thing to do.
Second, we had to cast some serious doubt on the daughter’s credibility without making the daughter believe we were against her or turn her back against us.
In addition to the twofold plan, we always humanize our clients to build empathy. Empathy creates some moral obligation in our counterpart, which makes favorable decisions more likely to occur. You know the saying … the more you know, the more you care.
The DA was hung up on the notion that our client was intoxicated the night of her arrest and may have had a drinking problem. That night, her daughter had said something about her mother getting drunk and the arresting officer had noted the odor of alcohol and appearance of intoxication.
Unsurprisingly, the DA was initially focused on this being a problem. The DA told us, verbatim, “I think your client has a drinking problem,” before she said anything about the alleged assault. This was not unexpected because we knew about the DUI and the officer’s report; however, her dedication to her assumptions was impressive.
Initial negotiations with the DA led to an unacceptable offer for our client to plead guilty and complete a 26-week batterer intervention program while on probation. We showed the DA a video of our client’s daughter screaming at her and attacking her two nights prior to our client calling the police for the same reason and then being arrested herself. The DA remained unconvinced even after reviewing the court records we brought of the daughter’s case of aggravated assault against her mother from the year before.
The focus on our client’s drinking was collaterally associated with a general focus on her behavior. While she may have had some concerns about the daughter’s credibility, she truly believed our client had a drinking problem and the fact that the officer mentioned it in his report made her feel confident she could prove it in court. This presented a wall.
To get over this wall, we had to shift to the second part of the plan. A few weeks later, we decided it was time to shift the focus to the emotional side of things. We needed the DA to soften up enough in order to see what was best for the family. If we could get her to see that the relationship between the mother and daughter was more important than punishing the mother, we were confident that she’d really start negotiating.
To tug on her heartstrings and get the DA to see our client as a mother, we dove into the emotional toll this has had on the family. When we got to the part about our client’s husband and the father of the alleged victim passing away after the arrest, she really began to shift her opinion of what was best. She finally came around after we let her know that our client and her daughter were in counseling and had put their differences aside. They had become much closer and appreciated one another in a way they never had.
The DA finally saw what we saw. She could either dismiss the cases against our client or this family, including the DA’s alleged victim, may never recover. If she proceeded down this path she knew it’d force us to cross-examine the daughter and that we were obligated to do so zealously on behalf of our client. Ultimately, the DA realized that our goals were actually aligned and agreed to dismiss the cases.
The mother and daughter’s relationship allowed to heal! The domestic assault charge dismissed after completing an eight-hour anger management class. The associated warrant for violation of probation also dismissed.
THE STAKES: The stakes were high personally and legally for our client, Mary. A conviction would have cost Mary a lot of money along with her job, and if it wasn’t done right, she might lose her daughter forever.
THE GOAL: Our client desperately wanted to keep her family together and stay out of jail. We didn’t just have to win to meet Mary’s goal, we had to win in a way that helped Mary reconcile with her daughter. Luckily, we don’t shy away from the hard ones!
THE CHARGES: MISDEMEANOR DOMESTIC ASSAULT, VIOLATION OF PROBATION.
CHARGE CLASSIFICATIONS: Class A Misdemeanor; Violation of Class A Misdemeanor Probation
RELEVANT LAWS FOR CHARGE:TCA § 39-13-111; TCA § 40-35-311; TCA § 55-10-401
OUTCOME RESULT: Mother and daughter’s relationship allowed to heal! The domestic assault charge was dismissed. The violation of probation charge also dismissed.
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