Why I am a Criminal Defense Attorney.
By Dyke Huish
Dyke Huish is a California State Bar Certified Criminal Law Specialist in Orange County, California
The year was 1995 and I had just left the Orange County District Attorney's Office to take a lucrative job in a high-powered civil law firm. But in an odd twist of fate I found myself working for my old nemesis the Public Defenders Office. To this day I am not really sure how it happened, but it did. Within a few days I was standing in the jail-tank at the Courthouse talking through iron bars to my new clients, the defendants. I have to admit my heart was still focused on the business of blame, that is the stock and trade of being a prosecutor. I was struggling to understand the concept of being a defense attorney. I might be working as a Public Defender but my heart was someplace else.
On a cold February morning my boss, a nice man and an excellent attorney, slid a file across my desk and told me that he was assigning me a simple case that just needed to be resolved. I glanced over the police reports and understood his instructions. The client was an illegal immigrant who was charged with crashing into an off-duty police officer and then driving away. A case of hit and run with a veteran police officer as both witness and victim. It seemed like an open and shut case. What I couldn't know was how this case would change my career, the way I saw the government and my very life.
You see my client was truly innocent and was being falsely accused. I just didn't realize it yet.
A few days later I met him at the Santa Ana Courthouse and we sat down to discuss his case. To be honest I didn't listen closely to what he said that first day. After all he was guilty, the facts were all against him. His story sounded crazy. He forcefully claimed it was the police officer's car that hit him, not the other way around. He said that he pulled over and they actually talked "face to face." The police officer told him to leave and not worry about it. He drove away thinking nothing of it and went to work. Two completely different stories, one from a veteran police detective, and the other from my client, an illegal immigrant without a valid drivers license, no insurance and who worked as an undocumented day laborer in the parking lot of a Home Depot.
But there was something about this case that didn't make sense. It was gnawing on me and I found myself thinking about it all the time. I talked to a few other senior defense attorneys who told me to let it go and that sometimes defendants lie to their attorney. I couldn't let it go and the more I thought about it, the more I began to question not my client's story but the police officer's story. This may come as a surprise; it did to me at the time, but sometimes police officers lie. Not always but it does happens. I was starting to think this might be one of those times. I was starting to believe my client and I was changing on the inside at the exact same time.
The case was set for a Jury Trial in just three short weeks. I hate to lose, a lot. I also believe in total preparation so I visited the crime scene, re-interviewed my client, did a full accident reconstruction and subpoenaed every document I could. Funny thing about preparation, the more you do the more you learn. In this case the more I learned the more I realized that something was fishy. In fact it down right stunk. I became convinced that the police officer’s story could not be true. In fact, to this day I am certain he lied. His motive? Insurance companies don’t question fault in a Hit and Run and he caused this accident, not my client.
The one simple question that everyone, including myself, seemed to have ignored was how did my client know the person he hit was a police officer? He was off duty and in street clothes. Realizing I had misjudged my client, I apologized to him and together we took his case to the jury. Everyone thought I was nuts and that we had no chance whatsoever. None. But I now thought different.
After a four day trial in which I challenged everything and presented my case with youthful zeal the case was submitted to the jury. They took less than ten minuets to return a "Not Guilty" verdict on all charges.
Two things happened in that moment, my client was freed and I was re-born as a Criminal Defense Attorney. I can say with all honesty my heart was changed that day and I have never looked at the government, the police or the prosecution the same.
But more importantly I have never looked at my clients the same. They are not only entitled to a defense, they are entitled to be trusted, to have at least one person that will fight for them no matter the odds. As a prosecutor it was my job to point out the bad in a defendant. As a defense attorney my duty, no my honor, was to point out the good in people, to challenge the evidence and to make sure that justice is always done correctly.
In the end I learned valuable and life altering lessons. Justice must always be tempered with mercy. It is not expediency that we desire, it is truth and fairness. And most importantly, never prejudge a case - there are always two sides no matter how crazy.
Why am I a Criminal Defense Attorney? For me that is not the question anymore. For me it is how could I be anything else.