During my years handling my own criminal case and now working on cases all over the U.S., I am certain that people have NO idea how our criminal justice system really works. This includes Judges and Lawyers. Nobody understands all aspects and while some are experts in their fields, none grasp how all of the pieces fit together. In some ways this is easier for me because I am an OBSERVER and an INSIDER. That as we say is true CRED!
As flawed as our system is, it does work most of the time. But, one needs to know how to work it. For example, my clients always tell me that the US Attorney or DA has it “out for them.” This is rarely true and the sooner they realize that these people are simply doing their jobs, the better our result is going to be. Similarly, lawyers often push so hard that they leave a prosecutor no room to save face and negotiate. Remember who has the power? NEVER the lawyer. They just have the large fee. Then we have judges. Judges, like lawyers, have no post conviction experience or understanding. This is why we often see judges order things that are not possible. For example, I had a judge order that my client be allowed certain medication to be brought into a Federal Prison by her family. Anybody who knows how the BOP works would understand that they would never allow this. But, how are everyday citizens supposed to understand the SYSTEM without a consultant like me, and is that fair?
The answer is that of course it is not fair and there are few people who can tie it all together, understand ALL sides and thus help the defendant, their family, the courts and society. The problem is that there is only one me. My understanding of The System has recently led to one client being able to undergo treatment for Lupus while in custody while keeping his disease under control, a possible life sentence that was reduced to probation and a woman being allowed to go to Rikers Island where they have a nursery for women with babies that is quite remarkable. These are versions of Alternative Sentences and just simply showing options to a judge can help. Another aspect that judges and lawyers do not understand is community service. My readers know that I write much about the benefits of Community Service– and urge my clients to get involved court order or not. What judges fail to see is that service empowers defendants and should ALWAYS be a part of a criminal sentence. Not the whole sentence, but a part.
The System is certainly a balancing act and a careful respect of various power and egos. That is one way to work it, and the other is to learn everything and develop a true passion for those who can change. The greatest thing about my job is that I get to help change lives. That does not mean that my clients have not done things that are wrong. It simply means that I choose to work with people who I know have learned their lesson and will go on to lead happy, productive and quality lives. This is what our system is supposed to be- part punitive and part rehabilitating. No, some people do not deserve this chance, but most do and the facts back this up. Remember that more than 95% of people incarcerated are coming home and most in less than 5 years. With this in mind I suggest we ALL learn a little more about our system. Knowledge is power and there is nothing better. Take time to learn a little everyday and in this election year and time of change urge your representatives to change also.
Wendy Feldman is a criminal justice expert, insider and family legal coach. She is available for private consultation on how to prepare for a successful incarceration, probation and re-entry. She is also available for media commentary and has appeared on shows from The Today Show, The CBS Early Show, E! News, People.com, Fox News, NBC News, CNN, NPR and Nancy Grace. She is a weekly featured guest on the syndicated America Now radio program. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org