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Up Close and Personal: What It's Like to be a DUI Attorney

Up Close and Personal: What It's Like to be a DUI Attorney

In response to a recent blog post by a fellow attorney, DUI attorney Jonathan Rands talks with Dillon Honcoop about what it's really like to be a criminal defense lawyer and how the stress of his job affects his personal life, especially when the case may not get the outcome everyone hopes for.


Episode Transcript

Dillon
Have you ever had to put your future in the hands of someone else? Guess that could apply to a lot of things, if you think about it.

Welcome to the Legal Docket this morning. We’ve got local defense attorney, DUI defense attorney in studio Jonathan Rands. And when people connect with you and say, “Hey Jonathan, I need some help. I've got a situation.” They're putting a lot of trust in you that's — that's a, good morning by the way. 

Jonathan
Good morning. Thanks for having me.

Dillon
Sorry to hit you with something so heavy, but this has to be on your mind. A lot. And you shared an interesting article with me that relates to this is well, but I guess my starting point here is just the weight that you carry as an attorney, you have a  big role, often in what is a very important time — good or bad — in somebody’s life.

Jonathan
Yeah, and it’s not easy. After years and years of doing it, I guess the appearance is that it can be an appearance of it looks easy. It can be an appearance of not caring because it is — from the outside looking in, that is.

Dillon
Aren’t you lawyers just jaded? You’ve seen everything, can’t be shocked, callous.

Jonathan
I’m sure a few are. I mean anything in life that is important and is a big responsibility, I think you always approach it with the care and concern and the  diligence that it needs. However, I also think there are situations where it looks as though the person isn’t acting that way or doesn’t care, and your original question, how do you deal with it? Among the highest rates of suicide and alcoholism are dentists and lawyers, numbers one and two. And it is a result of the jobs that we have and the burden that we bear. It’s a much different burden as a criminal defense lawyer than say a personal injury lawyer who specializes in insurance settlements and things like that. But those people in the industry certainly do have a lot of weight on their shoulders. There’s mass tort litigation where people are injured and things, and the outcome of those types of cases is you’re looking to make them whole and you’re looking for settlements. But in the criminal defense realm, it’s jail. And it’s anywhere from 24 hours in jail, which is the bulk of the type of charges that I deal with, to life imprisonment. Until recently, death penalty situations as well. 

And so, you know, I shared that article with you simply because it was an article written by a lawyer about watching a good friend of his who was a lawyer, and he indicates no slouch, for 20 years. And there's just certain things in the article that resonate, and it's probably a good reminder for anybody, whether you need a lawyer or don't need a lawyer, we do get involved when people come. They sit down, they make a decision and this is one of the reasons why, when people ask me how do you hire a lawyer, we've talked about this. You sit down and you interview them and you get a feel for them. You spend more than five minutes on the phone. You spend more than going through the yellow pages and making sure that you hit all the free interviews, or the free consultations. You have a choice to make in who you want to represent you and your interests, your life in certain instances. I mean second offense penalty for DUI is 30 days in jail.

Dillon
And they're trusting you on whether that happens for them or not.

Jonathan
And so there's a lot of interesting lines from this, but one of them that struck a chord was a quote, "despite our best efforts and the countless hours and sweat we invest in a case, it's in our client, despite the arguments with prosecutors and arguments we make to the court, we are sometimes unable to pull our clients unscathed from the mangled messes in which they put themselves." 

And that's not blaming anybody. It's a recognition of, we're here for a particular reason or as a result of a certain sequence of events. Generally it stems from a choice that somebody made. We've talked about this, how do you best avoid a DUI? My advice is that you don't drink and drive, but you make a choice to consume alcohol and drive, which is legal. So you make a choice to engage in legal behavior. You also put yourself at risk for potentially being in a situation where you need my services. And the system, especially when it comes to DUI cases, I think I've complained about this numerous times, about the DUI exception to the constitution, or the public policy message behind the creation of laws, or the exceptions to the rules that apply in every single case expect for DUI cases, or how easy it is, for lack of a better phrase, to prosecute them. Because the law is more favorably stacked in the States', or the cities' position. Maybe that's my jaded perspective.

Is not a process that is one where we can just magically make arguments. And that's where those comments of, despite negotiations or comments to prosecutors, despite arguments to the courts, despite motions to the court where numerous judges have said, hey, I think you make a good argument, and if the law was anything different I would be ruling in your favor, but it's not. So there comes a large responsibility with how do you handle these cases? And people don't know what they're getting into necessarily. Or just how rough and tumble the system can be. Or how blunt it is. And that's one thing that's really a problem is that the criminal justice system is the bluntest instrument out there. Then we have to shield our clients or support my clients as we go through it and do it in the best way possible. And we don't always get, for lack of a better word, appreciation despite best efforts. 

Dillon
Jonathan Rands our guest right now here on the Legal Docket. Dillon Honcoop with you Sunday morning here. Reasonable Doubt, the name of the blog, Exposing injustice in the system, the blog post that we're talking about is by Brian Roberts, an attorney. It's called "Beasts of Burden". Give a little background here. What's the story he's telling and the situation he finds himself in as an attorney. It's kind of an attorney opening up a little bit.

Jonathan
Yeah, well it's an attorney opening up but he's opening up after watching a case that a friend of his handled. And that particular case, I believe the attorney made a deal essentially to save his client's life.

Dillon
He was facing life in prison, right?

Jonathan
He was facing life in prison, and the deal that was made was 25 years. And it's the — what the lawyer friend struggled with was what happened after that, in terms of mostly the family's reaction of the person who accepted the deal. We've always got to be aware of the situation which is, the client always makes the decision. So what we are supposed to do, and I don't know that everybody does this, but what I do is we set the stage for results that a client can potentially choose from. We assess the strength of the case, the legality involved in it, and if there are weaknesses in it, we generally present the client with options in terms of saying, hey there's a problem with the case. Talked to the prosecutor, they realize the case may not go their way and let's use this case, for example we're talking about, and as a result we may not win at trial, but we think 25 years is a reasonable result. And sitting here thinking about 25 years of your life is mind boggling, but that is a reality that some people face. And in this particular case, the family really reached out to the defense attorney and did not have a lot of good things to say. Did not have a lot of good things to interact with that attorney. And they felt that he was, for lack of a better word, didn't do his job. And it wasn't a result of lack of trying. It wasn't anything other than from the outside looking in. And remember when you look outside in, you're not privy to the attorney-client privileges that we're having to keep sacred. 

Dillon
Even family doesn't know — you think you know someone, you don't know what is discussed between a person and an attorney.

Jonathan
And nor should you. I mean it's one of the most sacred relationships and any sort of leaking of that or treating it with less respect than it deserves — does your client a disservice, does the integrity of the profession a disservice — and so when you're trying to assess what happened and all you see is, oh this person is charged with this and ultimately pleads to this and is now gone from our lives for 25 years, doesn't necessarily look like a great result. And it's despite everything a defense attorney will wrestle with. Trial attorneys especially, and this happens to me all the time, when we make a decision to go to trial because our client has made the decision to go to trial, there's nothing worse than the two days that follow, at least in my life anyway. Of course there's nothing better than the week that follows when you win, but yeah, for a win you get a "not guilty". But when you deal with a guilt verdict, even though it's, I mean there's one of two options in a trial, right? Not guilty or guilty. So even though when you start the trial you are in this position of forcing yourself to recognize that one outcome is very possible over the other. When you prepare for a case, however, you have to get in the mindset that there's just no way I can lose this case. Because if you go into it not thinking that, not with a winning mentality, then you don't have anything to work with. You look at things and you make mountains our of molehills essentially and that's just the way the trial work is. But you always have decisions to make and you're making decisions on a split second. You'r listening to a witness testify. You're trying to decide whether the rules allow you to object and with the outcome — . So you're always playing chess and you're on the edge of your seat and it's the longest, but shortest 8 hours that you ever spend. And trial attorneys certainly understand this. I don't expect listeners or non-attorneys to understand it. 

But at the end of the day, you go home thinking, what else could I have done? If only I had said "x". If only this witness had not done... if only the judge had ruled this way in response to this argument. Those are the longest two days ever when you just can't really wrap your brain around what you could have done. And the reality is you do everything you can. And it's not necessarily "your fault". It's a culmination of events. It's a culmination of this, that, and other things. And any one thing you think that might have changed the tide, generally wouldn't have. And if you ever take time to read transcripts and look at everything, you go, I understand how this happened. But in the middle of it I'm just doing what I think is right.

Dillon
You can only do your very best.

Jonathan
Yeah. And you know, the physical task, not the physical task. The physical toll that it takes on a person. I don't eat during trials. I don't eat as I lead up to them because it's just time prepping. I drink very little, water that is, or liquids. So you end up going through a trial over the course of a couple days and not only are you physically exhausted, but mentally you're even more exhausted, but your body is sort of beat up as well, because you just don't do regular things. I don't exercise, I don't take coffee breaks, I don't spend much time interacting with the family. My wife says, you're in trial this week, you get a pass on everything. Fortunately.

Dillon
That's nice that she does that. That's neat. And what you're saying right here, I think people don't realize, oh it's just another day at the office. No, it's not for you. And you've been doing this for years and years.

Jonathan
There's nothing more exhilarating than trial, but there's nothing more terrifying for the same reason. It's one of those situations where you're just scared out of your wits, but for your client. Not because at the end of the day whatever the decision is, I'm affect in terms of I don't get hauled off to jail. I don't get an order to spend 30 days or 45 days, but it sure feels like my life is on the line because you invest in your clients. And clients can tell that. There's nothing more helpless than sitting next to a trial attorney watching events unfold and having no control over it. Which is funny because attorneys are control freaks and yet we're in an uncontrolled environment. 

Dillon
Right right. Jonathan Rands our guest right now. And Jonathan, I knew that you took trials seriously, but this is interesting to me to hear just the affect that this even has on your personal life. And the toll that all of this takes representing people, and the burden and responsibility you carry. We've got to take a quick time out. I want to come back and talk a bit more about this. Again, we're bouncing off a blog post — a recounting by an attorney of another attorney, and attorney friend of his. Telling a story about a trial that didn't go the way the defendant and the defendant's family wanted, and dealing with the anger and the frustration that they had. Were things done right and all the weight the attorney carries. Interesting look at a different angle at it.

Jonathan Rands, by the way, practices in Bellingham. His offices are in Fairhaven. They're at the corner of, I always say this wrong, Old Fairhaven Parkway and 12th, right? Am I right?

Jonathan
You are correct.

Dillon
Ok. New offices, by the way. Kitty corner from where he used to be. (360) 306-8136 is the phone number for the office. Again (360) 306-8136. jrandslaw.com is the website. And all the contact info is listed there. Blogs of his own, and his own stories and his own analysis and info for you there as well. jrandslaw.com the website. 

Back with more with Jonathan Rands in just a moment here on the Legal Docket.

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Dillon
We're getting a little bit personal this morning, I think with our topic. And talking about your side — local DUI attorney Jonathan Rands is with us. And this applies to DUI law, this applies to any criminal defense and even someone beyond criminal defense, what an attorney goes through. Just how seriously you take this and a lot of attorneys take their cases. You just got done talking with us about what you do during trial. I didn't realize it had that big of an affect on your personal life where you don't even eat, you hardly drink any water, your wife realizes, hey, this is all-consuming for that day or that week or as long as the trial takes. That's huge for you.

Jonathan
I'm not even required to answer basic questions during trial because my wife knows that every moment of my waking, I'm running scenarios or thinking or even at a computer doing some research trying to figure out anything that is going to help. And so, like I said before, it's a pass. Can I read something from this?

Dillon
Yeah, we've been talking about this blog. By the way, I should mention, the blog is Reasonable Doubt: Exposing injustice in the system. This post from Brian Roberts, it's called "Beasts of Burden". You can find it online; you can Google it up telling his story that he went through. Share this last part.

Jonathan
And I think it encapsulates what we've talking about here today perfectly. It reads as follows:

"I don’t think any of us anticipated what we were getting ourselves into when we chose criminal law as our calling, and I don’t know how many of us would have continued forward had we known what awaited. Not because we don’t believe in what we do and the fundamental right of every human being to a vigorous defense when charged with a crime, regardless of the crime. But because too often the work we do is not appreciated and often criticized. Like my friend who was vilified by his client’s family after doing everything he could do for his client. I didn’t write this piece in the hope that regular folks would feel sympathy for criminal lawyers."

And I'm not speaking about it here today for that reason either.

"Frankly, we don’t expect it. I wrote it for my friend and my colleagues and for myself as a reminder that if we have done everything that could be done for our client, if we have truly fought for them, if we left it all out on the field, we have carried the burden required of us. We don’t have to carry the burden of the client’s unrealistic expectations or disappointment."

Which is all very true. I chose what I do in terms of criminal defense mostly at the outset because I didn't really like the other topics that I could embrace as a lawyer. Real estate law, trust — and all the things you frequently find yourself in need of or interested in as a lay person. I liked being in court. I liked advocating for causes and clients. And that is what criminal law really the attractiveness of it was. And then the field of DUI defense gives me a little bit more of everything in terms of we have some science. We have some constitutional law. But you are in court pretty much every day. There's almost no day of the week, on a work week, that I'm not in court in some capacity. And then trials happen less frequently. But I love doing what I do because I'm essentially the person that stands between prosecution and a person's liberty. But it's not easy.

Dillon
You ever have a case where it was so hard, so emotional, that you're like, I don't know if I can keep doing this? I don't know if I can handle this?

Jonathan
There are two types of cases that I really dislike handling. You know, as a criminal defense attorney there's not a defense case or a criminal case that I'm not qualified to handle. But I've chosen to do what I choose to do mostly because there's some areas of law that there are two areas that I really really dislike. And that is anything to do with domestic violence. I find those cases to be really difficult mostly, well, they're difficult scenarios to deal with. And generally speaking, you have more difficult clients in that scenario than any other area.

Dillon
Who said what. Who's telling the truth. One person's word versus another. Very difficult stuff.

Jonathan
And usually you have two people that are equally responsible. I'm not saying it's ever ok to touch somebody or strike somebody, but there's a lot of situations where a person, for lack of a better phrase, is hitting back. And that's the person that's getting charged. And yeah, they're difficult cases to handle and I have a lot of respect for people that are able to do it because I think they're a little bit more difficult than this. And one of the hardest cases to ever deal with in my line of work, is vehicular homicide cases. I'm not to the point, or I've never been to the point where I will say I won't take them. But I think long and hard before I do, and I even consult with my family in terms of saying, if I'm going to take this case, it's going to be about a year or year and a half, and it's going to be not all-consuming, but these cases generally go to trial and are you ok with me being absent for potentially a month when the trial happens, in terms of preparation and the actual trial. And then living with the outcome when you're finished.

Dillon
Fascinating to see kind of the other side of this. We don't often talk about what, as attorneys, what you go through and how seriously you take this. Jonathan Rands, our guest, we're out of time. We need to talk about this more again, though. I guess I'm just blown away by how big of a deal it is for you and I know you aren't alone. I know there are a lot of good attorneys in this town of people who take it like you do. Who take it that seriously. It's not a joking matter. They realize someone else's life, some cases livelihood and their future and their family and so many things, are in the balance. So thanks for what you do. I think that's fitting at this point. And thanks for being here with us this morning.

Jonathan
You're welcome. It's best job in the world, as far as I'm concerned. I'm happy to be here and share it and look forward to next time.

Dillon
Just to share his phone number one more time: (360) 306-8136 to reach his practice. 
(360) 306-8136 and the website jrandslaw.com. Just the letter j, his last name rands r-a-n-d-s, and then law l-a-w, jrandslaw.com. And have a great little bit left, I guess, here of your weekend.

Jonathan
Thanks, you too.


Call now for your free consultation (360) 306-8136

“Being charged with a DUI is scary and often makes you feel alone against the unknown. Jonathan made himself available after hours to have a 'consultation' of sorts, to meet with me and hear my story, at no cost or commitment.”
Amy
A DUI Client, via Avvo