As a local, Detroit-area criminal and DUI lawyer, I am in court just about every single workday, strategizing and speaking to make things better for my clients. however, lots of lawyers are in court everyday, so that alone doesn’t make any particular one better than all of the others, in the same way that the hot dog vendor is at the hockey arena almost everyday, but that doesn’t make him or her any kind of star player. It’s a matter of instinct and talent. If you’re facing a probation violation because you’ve messed up, you need to hire a real star, meaning the kind of lawyer who can talk the stripes off a tiger, talk you right out of trouble, and out of going to jail. In this setting, the ability to persuade is the most important trait you need on your side.
If we’re going to be honest about probation violations, then we need to recognize that the majority of them occur because a person has either done something prohibited (like consume alcohol, use drugs, or pick up a new charge) or not done something required (like fail to complete some kind of classes or counseling). Less frequent, but still common, are those cases that involve things like a missed test (the courts basically conclude a test was missed because it would have been positive) or a false-positive test. For the most part, how and why ever it may have happened, if you’ve been violated, you’ve probably screwed something up, even if that wasn’t your intent. Judges, for their part, spend an enormous amount of time everyday listening to excuses about all this. For example, one of the most common (and least accepted) reasons given for a positive alcohol test is the use of cold medicine. It is so worn out that it is known as the “NyQuil defense” and so widely disbelieved that you can practically read the frustration on many Judges’ faces as someone tries to use it. Beyond the NyQuil defense, every Judge has heard every other excuse in the book, probably a thousand times over, so to get the best result in a PV, you can’t walk into court and sound like everyone else.
In a very real way, I think of probation violation cases as the true test of a lawyer’s ability to communicate effectively and speak persuasively. There are some really great attorneys who can make brilliant legal arguments about things like evidence and legal procedure, but that’s all dry stuff. When you’re standing in front of the Judge for violating probation, your lawyer needs to be the exact opposite of dry. As much as this requires a superb extemporaneous speaking ability, there has to be substance to what’s being said, as well. There’s an old saying that “if you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bull$hit.” Neither of those things are particularly useful here, or, maybe, you need a little of both. Remember, your Judge, like every other Judge, has heard it all. As a lawyer, when I’m handling a probation violation, I have to explain my client’s situation, keep the Judge’s attention (by not sounding like everyone else), and then persuade him or her to not lock up my client. At the end of the day, it’s what doesn’t happen to you that matters most, so all of this stuff can sound real good, but it’s really only worth anything if it keeps you out of jail.