Today, I was reminded that there are no “small” cases. With the large caseloads and limited resources, it is easy to fall into the trap of prioritizing the “big” cases for the attention and time. Trust me, after ten years as a public defender, I get it. But, obviously, the defense attorney is not the one who will live with the long-term consequences — the stigma, incarceration, collateral consequences, etc.
My example today was a criminal case, but the concepts apply to juvenile delinquency cases just as easily. The defendant was accused of a misdemeanor offense against the public order with many facts that are difficult to discuss in public. No one except the defendant wanted to bring in a jury and talk about body parts and sexual acts for a day or two when the case was “just” a misdemeanor, especially when there were multiple murder and child molest cases being tried in other courtrooms. The assigned prosecutor kept offering better deals to try to resolve the case with a conviction.
The defendant insisted over and over again that the only justice would be for a jury to hear the story. He said that he could not face his family with this embarrassing conviction. He would miss a Thanksgiving family reunion ten years in the making if he was incarcerated. He would miss many days of work, and was barely getting by. He appeared for the trial coming in from the cold with many sweatshirts on because he did not have a winter coat.
Today, the jury was seated and listened intently to all of the lurid details. After seven minutes of deliberation, the jury returned a verdict of not guilty. The defendant gave the defense attorney a big hug with a smile on his face and quickly exited the courtroom to resume his life. For him, it was not a small case. It was the most important thing happening in his life.