Russell Hebets June 15, 2018

On any given day in a criminal defense firm, any variety of innumerable hapless victims of the criminal justice system walk could through the door. My use of the word “victim” to describe criminal defendants will likely send prosecutors everywhere through the proverbial roof. In criminal justice parlance, “Victim” is generally capitalized and has its own identity. It denotes a class of individuals who have been grievously injured. These injuries could be physical, psychological, or property based, but in any case they describe someone who is treated with the utmost respect, deference, and reverence. The “Victim,” in the eyes of the criminal justice machine, is sacrosanct. So why then, am I calling criminal defendants victims?

Anyone Can Be Charged With a Felony

Because many are. When the average person on the street hears that someone has been charged with a felony, they immediately conjure images in their mind.Images of gangsters.Images of thugs.Images of bad men doing unspeakable things. The truth is that as I type I represent felony defendants who are middle-aged mothers, single fathers, and college freshman. In today’s America, it is relatively easy to be charged with a felony. Many of these felony defendants have no idea of what they are walking into when they appear in court.

What Is The Standard Of Proof?

The term “guilty beyond a reasonable doubt” is the standard of proof in all criminal courts in America, and the notion that a person is “innocent until proven guilty” is still a principle anchored in American bedrock. However, these Constitutional principles are given little thought in the early proceedings of a felony case. Pre-trial and bail conditions can include all types of constraints on a person’s constitutional rights including the right to bear arms, the right to associate with certain individuals, and the right to travel, among others. In reality, once a person is charged with a felony, they are presumed guilty until proven innocent. As our friends at The Innocence Project can attest, many, many individuals are falsely accused of felony charges every day. These felonies change the course of hundreds of thousands of lives every year, and take an incredible toll on families and communities.

Consequences Of Felony Charges

Even those who are technically guilty of crimes often face repercussions far out of alignment with their transgressions. For the privacy of my clients, I will not go into detail, but I have handled cases where my clients without any criminal history were facing potential life in prison sentences in cases that didn’t involve any significant injuries. I have represented clients who had a relatively small amount of drugs in their possession and were looking at decades behind bars. These are the cases, if not properly defended, that ruin lives, destroy families, and tear the fabric of society.

The United States currently has about 655 individuals incarcerated for every 100,000 residents of any age (860 individuals incarcerated for every 100,000 adults age 18 or older). That is a far cry from the incarceration rates of other industrialized countries. Germany comes in at just 77 per 100,000. There are many reasons why the American system of justice has far more prisoners than any other county on earth, but one of those reason is a lack of effective, aggressive criminal defense representation. An experienced, effective criminal defense lawyer can, and often does, make the difference in whether a person charged with a felony has any future at all. Describing the consequences of felonies as a matter of life and death is not just hyperbole, it is Truth.