As a Criminal Attorney, I generally find myself involved with people at one of the worst times of their life. Since I don’t handle things like Rape and Murder cases, I usually represent good, decent people who have simply made a bad decision, or otherwise failed to exercise good judgment and wound up getting caught in a bad situation. Most of my Clients face things like DUI, Possession of Marijuana, or other “victimless” crimes. In that regard, they typically, (and correctly) feel that this instance of poor judgment does not present an accurate picture of the kind of person they are, or what they’re all about.
Thus, it’s not unusual for me to be asked by a Client facing a DUI, for example, “How long will this stay on my Record?” Then, when I have to tell them “forever…” they usually become a bit frustrated (not at me, thankfully) and respond with something like “So that’s it? I’m screwed if I want to apply for a different job?”
You can insert pretty much anything, from getting a job, to getting a degree, or using that degree, or going into some occupation or other, or getting a promotion, or whatever, into that last sentence after the part where the Client says “I’m screwed…”
And although they do, at that moment, feel utterly and truly “screwed,” the fact is, no matter how bad it might seem right then, it’s almost never as bad as they fear.
An example from my own past is serves as a good example:
Years ago, when my wife and I were buying our first house, we had applied for a mortgage, and had been assured that we would be approved. Based on that, we found our home, and made an offer, which the seller accepted. As the days wound down, our mortgage was still not formally approved. Days came and went, and we found ourselves very near the closing date, with no mortgage approval. The closing day came, and had to be postponed. That next date came, and had to be put off, as well. The seller was freaking out, and we were freaking out. The seller told us that the deal would either have to be closed right away, or it would fall through.
I called my mortgage broker, and explained to his assistant that my deal was about to collapse unless we got that approval right away. In response, he told me that he hears that every day, and not to worry. In truth, I became angry, wondering who in the heck this guy was to tell me not to worry when I darn well knew that my deal was about to fall through! I didn’t give a hoot about anybody else’s situation; I just cared about mine.
Fast forward: The mortgage was approved, the deal went through, and all ended well. Afterward, as I talked with my broker about my earlier concerns, he told me that in most financing applications, things always seem to “come up,” delaying the closing, and making it feel to the buyer like everything will fall through, even though it really never does.
The same thing, I think, holds true for people having to deal with the consequences of a criminal charge. Before I dismiss all of these concerns as unfounded, let’s be clear about a few specific things:
If you are a school bus driver, and you’re about to get your 2nd DUI conviction, then you’re probably “screwed.”
If you drive an ambulance, and you have gotten popped for a DUI which you cannot get out of, then you are probably “screwed.”
If you are an accountant, and you have been convicted of embezzlement, then as far as your accounting job prospects are concerned, you are probably “screwed,” at least until (and if) you can have the conviction expunged.
If you plan on attending the Police Academy and are facing certain kinds of charges, then it may be time to consider a different career.
There are certain consequences that may affect some people who have to deal with a conviction that cannot be avoided or deferred. The cold, hard truth, however, is what many of us have probably said a million times in other situations: “You should have thought about that before….” It sounds harsh, but someone hoping for a career in Law Enforcement, for example, should not be screwing around in a way that so seriously jeopardizes their career ambitions. Ditto for certain other careers.
However, the good news here is that, after 20 years of handling criminal cases, I can honestly report that the vast, vast majority of anxious Clients I have had, like my wife and I and our first house purchase, eventually learn that things were never nearly as bad as they had thought.
That DUI that seemed like the end of the world winds up having been a minor, if not expensive, inconvenience. No job is lost, or career ended. Future employment prospects are not hindered. If the DUI was truly an isolated incident, and not a symptom of a larger problem, like an alcohol problem, life goes on just fine.
In the midst of it all, however, it sometimes does seem like the end of the world is near. There are all kinds of cliché’s that apply here, but the bottom line is that in reality, things have a way of working out.
There is one cliché, however that is worth repeating: If a person takes the opportunity to learn from their mistakes, they really can move forward.
Whether you’re an existing or potential Client of mine or not, don’t despair. Remember that there’s always light at the end of the tunnel. Just work your way towards it.