How to Survive the Trauma of Being Charged with a Crime

After almost 20 years of practicing law, one thing that has struck me is that emotional response of a client to being charged with a crime has no correlation to the seriousness of the charge.

Many times I have seen clients who have been charged with DUI seem to have an emotional and psychological response that is significantly greater than clients that have been charged with a more serious offenses such as robbery or aggravated assault. I believe it is generally understood that being charged with any crime can be a traumatic experience.

Accept What Happened and Seek Help

My first advice would be to accept that this situation is part of your life. A criminal charge may or may not have an effect on your future, but for right now, it does have an impact. Keep in mind criminal charges don’t just go away. You can’t just ignore it. You must deal with it. If you don’t go to court a bench warrant will be issued and you will go to jail so it is better to accept what has happened and do what you need to do to protect yourself.

Take responsibility for the situation and do whatever is necessary to resolve it. In a criminal case this usually means hiring a criminal defense attorney. If you learn that you are the target of a criminal investigation or have actually been charged with a crime, hire an experienced and knowledgeable attorney. Your attorney is trained to do what you can’t do for yourself.

Once you have hired an experienced criminal defense attorney that you are comfortable with defending your case, let go of the worry by trusting your attorney to guide you through the criminal process. I have told many clients, “Stop worrying and let me get started helping you.” It is a slow process and while you may want the whole thing to go away quickly, so you can get on with your life, it is in your best interest to let the criminal process work and that can take some time. I have had clients that wanted to “plead guilty just to get the case over with” and move on with their life.

Place Your Trust in Your Attorney

Inevitably the clients that just wanted to “plead guilty to get it over with” regret their decision. Slow down; get on with your life by putting the case in the hands of your attorney. That is part of what you are paying for. To do this you must trust your attorney. If you don’t trust your attorney—get a new one.

Don’t fall into the trap of believing the criminal charge defines you. Only a very small fraction of people caught up in the criminal justice system are truly bad people. Most are in the system because they’ve made a bad decision and some did so for reasons that relate to a problem they have been struggling for a period of time. It may be addiction to drugs. It may be learning to control anger impulses. There are as many reasons for making a bad decision as there are ways of acting badly. The repeatable success of specialized courts such as drug courts attest to the reality that addressing the cause pays off for individuals and society.

One Bad Decision Doesn’t Define You

If you have made a bad decision or acted badly it does not mean you are a bad person. It just means you have to take responsibility and work on resolving whatever caused you to make the bad decision.

Think about what outcome you need in the criminal case. Communicate that clearly to your attorney. Be realistic. Your attorney can help you understand what is and is not realistic given the facts and law governing your case. But only you can decide what outcome you can accept and live with in the long term. Don’t be the person who pleads guilty only to regret it minutes after leaving the courtroom. I have told clients literally thousands of times over 20 years—”I can’t guarantee that I will win your case and if you find an attorney that does promise you a win—he is either a fool or a liar, no one can tell the future.”

Ultimately, you may not get the outcome you desire and you need to accept that. However, you will have at least claimed responsibility for your situation and your own decisions which is far more important than being left with the feeling that you let yourself be bullied by the system, persecuted by the prosecutor, wronged by the jury or betrayed by your attorney. You are going to have to make the decisions and its best that you start to really think about your options before you ever get to the court.

Don’t Take Things Said in Court Personally

Don’t take anything that is said in court personally. Being charged with a crime is unsettling to say the least. It may feel like you are being personally attacked and in some ways that is exactly the situation. But understand that the system is large and rarely can it distinguish you from the masses of others similarly caught up in its machinery. The people who make the system work do not know you. You are a stranger to them. So don’t take anything they say personally.

A prosecutor once told a friend of mine who had been wrongly accused of DUI “I know your kind!” while pointing his index finger stiffly and aggressively at my friend’s faced. Well, if you knew my friend you would know the prosecutor couldn’t have been more wrong. He did not know anything about the person who stood before him. But to be fair to the prosecutor, he really wasn’t in a situation to know much about my friend other than what was written in the police report.

The prosecutor also been blinded by seeing hundreds of similar police reports in DUI cases involving similar charges. It’s very easy for people to become hardened by their own bias and prosecutors are no exception. I should point out here that I know many very fine prosecutors who are aware of this danger and actively work to avoid this kid of pitfall. My point is not that all prosecutors automatically assume you are a bad person. Some will and some won’t. But, the important point is that for you to try not to take the charge or what the prosecutor may say about you personally. You know who you are. Just remember, they do not know who you are.

Don’t Let Your Actions in Court Sway the Judge or Jury

It’s your attorney’s job to humanize you for the prosecutor, the jury and the judge. Don’t make the task harder by responding in a negative way in or out of court to what you perceive as a personal attack. This is especially important if your case goes to trial.

Clients can be their own worst enemy at trial by rolling their eyes during witness testimony, flopping back in their chair, or making noises during the trial. The judge sees it, and more importantly the jury sees it. The jurors have been asked to pass judgement on the defendant and unfortunately, they are provided little information about the defendant upon which to make that determination. It is very hard for jurors to think highly of a person who cannot control their emotions in court.

One of the worst things a client can do at trial is creating an emotional outburst if the jury comes back with a guilty verdict. The prosecutor sees it. The judge sees it. It sends a clear signal that the client cannot control himself or herself. It telegrams the message that this person is not a good candidate for probation and needs a structured environment such as prison or Probation Detention Center.

Being caught up in the criminal justice system can be frustrating, scary, and cause you to react in ways you never would otherwise. Being conscious of those feelings and beginning early on to manage them will benefit you in many ways as your case moves through the system.

It is never fun being charged with a crime, but if you take personal responsibility for your situation and the reasons you were charged in the first place, you are going to have a better outcome and you may just find out that you are a better person in the end than you were before, irrespective of what happened in court.

No matter what the criminal charge, I’m ready to defend you every step of the way. Contact me via phone or email to discuss your case further; 912-383-7581 or georgemccranie@mccranielawfirm.com

-George McCranie

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