In Les Miserables, Jean Val Jean serves twenty years hard labor as punishment for stealing a “mouthful of bread”. His sister’s child was close to death, they were starving…yet despite his altruistic motivations and desperate circumstances, the law treated him as mercilessly as if he’d stolen for fun.
While the United States is not 16th Century France, our criminal justice system can feel similarly cold. Everyone knows a story of a good person who found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Maybe they were suffering from mental challenges, maybe they trusted the wrong people, or maybe they felt they had no choice.
It’s possible that as you read this, you or someone you love is in this situation.
Facing the possibility of excessive fines, serious jail time, and/or a lifelong stain on your permanent record, you probably feel the punishment before you doesn’t fit your crime.
You might wish you could explain to the prosecutor how hard you’ve worked to get to where you are in life. You want them to know how many people are counting on you, and how your plans for the future will be impacted if you are convicted.
Well, you can.
As it turns out, prosecutors have discretion in deciding which cases to pursue. That is, whether the charges against you remain through trial is not a black and white matter of whether you committed the crime.
In fact, prosecutors may advocate the dismissal of a case largely because they feel it’s the right thing to do.
That’s right. You could get your case dismissed by proving what a wonderful person you are.
An experienced criminal defense attorney knows that getting your case dismissed requires a two-pronged approach. This article deals with the first prong, but you can read all about the second prong here:
Back to the first prong: it’s all about demonstrating to the prosecutor that convicting you would not be an act of justice.
To do this, your criminal attorney needs to:
(1) know who you really are.
(2) demonstrate who you really are to the prosecutor.
With the right criminal attorney, every aspect of your case will be handled, and your job is really just to cooperate.
But helping your criminal attorney understand and convey your story to the prosecutor is the biggest contribution you can make to your success. To do this, you need to create what we call a life resume.
Your life resume is the story of who you are, demonstrated through visual aids and real life examples. It transforms you from defendant to human in the prosecutor’s mind.
Whether you have retained a criminal lawyer or not, you can start gathering these materials and thinking through these considerations right now, so that you’re prepared to present them when the time comes.
Here’s what you want to include:
The best photos demonstrate the strengths of your personality and the depth of your relationships.
Think snapshots of you playing with your kids, laughing with your grandparents, or tearing up at your sister’s wedding. Photos of you graduating college, delivering an impassioned speech, accepting an award, or helping members of your community also pack a powerful punch.
Ultimately, the purpose of this resume is to tell the story of who you are. So when choosing photos, your focus should be on demonstrating qualities that make the prosecutor want to help you.
If a picture says a thousand words, a video says at least a thousand more. Recordings of the moments that matter in your life often reveal more charisma and quirk than a photo can.
As with photos, don’t be too concerned with looking attractive or cool. The goal isn’t to make the prosecutor want to date you, it’s to make the prosecutor see you for the wonderful human being you are
Messages from Loved Ones:
Photos and videos can go a long way in painting the picture of your life. But we all know that appearances can be deceiving.
That’s why including messages from your loved ones can be so effective.
It takes a lot more to commit your feelings to write than it does to smile for a picture or exchange a laugh. Reading that anniversary card from your wife telling you how lucky she feels to wake up with you every day, that crayon scrawled proclamation that you’re the best mommy on the planet, or that thank you note from a student you inspired, the prosecutor understands that the story you’re portraying is real.
You have people counting on you. Their messages to you show how much your life matters to them.
Whether it’s client testimonials, letters of recommendation or words of gratitude from your boss, messages you’ve received in a professional setting can transform you from advertising executive or accountant to person who changes lives in the prosecutor’s mind.
Whatever you do for a living, think about how it helps make the world a better place. By gathering messages that speak to your contribution and your character, you can help the prosecutor see you as an asset to your community.
Professional and Academic Accomplishments:
Continuing on the point made above, you’ll want to give some thought to what you’ve achieved in your education and career. How do your accomplishments tell the story of who you are?
Maybe you followed in your mother’s footsteps and graduated medical school because you wanted to save lives the way she did. Maybe you became the top-earning salesperson at a department store because you help make women feel good about themselves.
Whatever your background, be prepared to discuss with your criminal attorney not only your accomplishments but the motivation behind them.
So far, we’ve been talking about what makes you great. But unless you were wrongly accused, your criminal charges are likely a manifestation of some form of conflict in your life.
Whether you’ve faced health crises, lost loved ones, experienced poverty or struggled with addiction, it’s important to consider the types of obstacles you’ve been faced with.
Many people find it difficult to discuss such sensitive issues. However, understanding the challenges of your background will help your criminal attorney portray you as someone who may have made a bad decision under pressure, but who isn’t a bad person.
You should also be prepared to discuss with your criminal attorney the kinds of pressures you’re currently experiencing, whether it’s a sick child, divorce, financial distress or any form of mental illness.
On that note, to the extent that physical or mental health challenges are a part of your life story, you’ll want to start gathering records.
Evidence of diagnoses, treatment protocols, dates of treatment, prescription medication use, and surgical procedures may be needed at trial, but they can also be helpful in getting your case dismissed. You should also be prepared to speak generally with your criminal attorney about your medical history and how it has affected your life.
Again, while these conversations can be difficult, the more information your criminal attorney has about you, the better able he is to tell your story persuasively.
You’re more than your relationships, accomplishments, and circumstances. Who you are is largely about what’s important to you, and how your values inform what you do.
Help your criminal attorney understand the big picture by considering your larger motivations in life What’s most important to you? What kind of person do you strive to be? While these considerations are certainly woven into the larger sections, give some thought to the overall themes in your life and how they shape your character.
By understanding what you value, you’re in a great position to speak to what makes you special and important in the lives of others.
Ask yourself what you bring to the table in your home life, at work, and in your society at large. Consider the compliments you always get. Review what people thank you for. And if you’re still not sure, check in with the people you love.
As with everything else, the point here is to make clear that your presence in society is a powerful contribution.
Your Plans for the Future:
Let’s face it. How your case resolves is going to affect you for the rest of your life.
Prosecutors know this, and ultimately, they want to make the right decision. As much as they don’t want to interfere with a productive future, they also don’t want to set someone free to pursue the wrong path.
That’s why it’s so important to be crystal clear on where you are headed.
If you’re not sure, consider all of the people who count on you, the accomplishments you’ve achieved, the challenges you’ve overcome and the struggles you still face. What problems do you intend to solve for your loved ones? What goes do you hope to accomplish? How will a conviction interfere with your plans?
The point here is to demonstrate to the prosecutor that convicting you will be interrupting something good, rather than stopping something bad.
In summary, your life matters to more than just you.
The pursuit of justice is really about the pursuit of what’s good for society. If you can help your criminal lawyer demonstrate that you are an instrument of good, and you might just get your case dismissed.