Gun Excluded from Case - Client Spared Mandatory Minimum of Seven Years.
To be honest, I feel like I just blew up the Death Star.
I recently completed a pretrial suppression hearing in New York City that ultimately resulted in the judge excluding a gun from the Government's case.
Since a weapons possession charge was the only charge against my client, his case was all but finished by the ruling from the judge.
Winning exclusion of critical evidence in a serious case is a mighty rare occurrence, no matter the impression that people have of a criminal justice system constantly "throwing out" evidence as the result of "technicalities". The impression most people have is that the right, silver-haired, silver-tongued, slick lawyer can always magically "get evidence thrown out" on "technicalities".
Nothing could be further from the truth. Critical evidence in serious cases is in truth virtually never suppressed. The slick lawyers who always get critical evidence "thrown out" exist only in the minds of movie and television script writers. In the real world, we criminal lawyers are but warriors for the working day, and while we may have various ranges of success at trials, we as a whole are quite consistent at losing suppression hearings.
So, as I held the judge's written decision in my hand, and heard him say the words, "I granted suppression." I was initially at a loss for words other than to say "thank you."
Now I learned a long time ago in this business (the hard way), that it is never a good idea to jump too high for joy about any particular result in any given case. Disappointment and heartache are a natural byproduct of life as a criminal defense lawyer and can often be right around the corner, especially the moment you start to believe you are invincible. Therefore, in order to avoid going too low during the times of disappointment, it is important not to get too excited when things go your way.
And so, with this lesson in mind, I calmly explained the result to my client and his ecstatic family, I maintained a steady calm, and I quietly walked out of the courthouse back to my office just as if it were any ordinary day. To any observer who saw me that day, I would have appeared completely normal.
But inside, I knew that I had just been a part of something extraordinary. Among other things, I had a hand in saving my client from a mandatory minimum seven years in state prison. I had a hand in giving this person a new chance at living a life, at being with his family and friends who loved him, and at the same time being the instrument of the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution. I had a hand in holding the Government accountable for some of the fundamental principles of freedom established by the Founding Fathers. I was one, small time, simple criminal defense lawyer, and I had come up against all the power of the Government in a battle that statistically, I was not supposed to win.
Inside, all sorts of ecstatic, almost childish thoughts brewed inside me, even as I was sure not to let anyone see or suspect that I was having that sort of reaction. Outside, I was just calmly walking back to my office.
Inside, I was Luke Skywalker blowing up the Death Star. Inside, I was Gandalf squaring off against the Balrog in The Fellowship of the Ring. Inside, I was Roy Hobbs hitting the game winning home run.
This is what it felt like to win that hearing. I know it is a little childish. I know I wasn't supposed to get too excited about any victory because disappointment can often be just around the corner.
But it sure was fun to daydream like I was 12, if only on that walk back to my office. I was never much of an athlete. I never hit a game winning home run. I am no space fighter pilot. I can't even take roller coasters. And I certainly am no wizard.
But, at least on that walk back to the office I could pretend. Just like blasting womp rats back in Beggar's Canyon...
Don Murray: August, 2014
Some Special Situations
Every case we handle, from the most serious felony to the simplest pink summons is important.
Every once in a while, however, if you stay in this business, you come across a case that really has an unusually interesting and challenging issue or two. After more than twenty years of practice I am happy to say that I still get fired up about interesting cases and new issues. I love my job.
Cases like this get the blood flowing and help to remind me why I love what I do. In the case I discuss in this reflection, I handed in a 39 page memo of law after the pretrial hearing I ultimately won that raised a host of unexpectedly wonderful complex search and seizure issues. Some of my colleagues were horrified at the amount of work that they knew must have gone into this piece of work. But honestly, it was great fun. The opportunities to write meaningful memos about legitimately interesting issues are actually rare in this business. When the opportunity presents itself, it seems a shame to do anything less that an all out blitz.