It’s a pleasure to represent a criminal. Not a criminal because he’s been charged with a crime, but someone who, as a matter of course, commits crimes for a living. A pro. A regular. A guy who knows what he’s doing, knows the risks involved and takes them in stride as a cost of doing business. He gets it.
But what of the good guy, the person who has spent his life abiding the law, doing what he’s supposed to do, working in a normal job and perceiving himself as one of the good guys? Not only is he ill-equipped to be a criminal defendant, but everything about his new status flies in the face of his world-view. He’s spent his life on the good side of the curve, and suddenly find himself on the bad side. He has no clue how to manage it.
When a good guy wants information, he asks questions. He engages in conversation, without guile, and is just as free in telling his story as he is in seeking information. If you ask a good guy “why?,” not only will he tell you, but he’ll tell you at great length. Good guys don’t engage in guarded conversation, crafted to get information without giving anything away.
They aren’t practiced in the art of deflection or obfuscation. If anything, they want to do everything in their power to make sure you know what they’re trying to say, usually repeating themselves over and over, and giving examples drawn from their own experiences to make their point.
And when they seek the answer to a question, the solution to a problem, they accept whatever someone tells them as gospel. They believe. They’re honest (or at least they believe they are), and they believe others are honest as well. If they call someone in their official capacity, they fully expect the person to be both helpful and truthful. The notion that someone may be playing them, putting them off, telling them a story to pacify them, doesn’t cross their mind. Why would they do such a thing? Good people don’t do such things.
It’s part naïveté, part normalcy. The reality is that good people, like all people, fall along the spectrum of honesty and normalcy, with some having more larceny and treachery in their heart than they realize or care to acknowledge, but that’s really not the point. Compared to the criminal, who knows how to live on the bad side of the curve, they’re still babes in the woods.
These are the people who explain themselves by saying, “but I didn’t know,” or “I trusted him,” or my personal favorite, “but the man said…” When you instruct them not to discuss the matter with anyone, they don’t realize this includes their mother, the neighbor and the guy down at the bowling alley.
They have little tolerance for ambiguity, and so they seek out answers that their lawyer can’t give them. We respond, “it depends” or we “can’t tell what will happen in the future,” and so they go to people who are more than happy to give them answers. The complexities we see mean nothing to the guy at the supermarket, who has a story about the nephew of the guy at the gas station. And this forms the good guy’s frame of reference as he listens to what his lawyer says and filters it through his understanding of the legal system.
The lawyer may be told the story about the gas station guy’s nephew, but may never know that his advice is conflicting with a story from the supermarket. In the competition for comprehension, the lawyer may well prove suspect, as there is no reason for the guy at the supermarket to lie. They’re friends. Friends don’t tell each other untrue stories. Lawyers, as the good guy learns from the stories he hears, aren’t always so honest, having motives that may be inconsistent with the good guy’s interest.
And the good guy believes, with all his heart and soul, that the system will ultimately bear out that he is a good guy. Sure, he’s heard the nightmares, the tales of how the system can fail and make mistakes, but his world is grounded in the platitudes, the foundational beliefs that the system is sound and that good guys will eventually prevail. Somehow, someone will realize that it’s all a big mistake and it will all go away.
We do what we can to explain to the good guy that, at least for now, he’s got to learn to live on the bad guy side of the curve. We tell him not to talk to people. We tell him not to act on the thoughts that run through his head about how he can fix the problem. We let him know that he can always talk to us, to ask us, to bring his questions and concerns to us, rather than anyone else in the world. We explain why, but our explanations don’t seem to satisfy him.
Sometimes we defend good guys. Sometimes, they’re really good guys, the sort of people we would be friends with under other circumstances, hang out with, talk about life with. But when their life is in our hands, they aren’t our friends. They’re our clients, and we need to protect them from both the prosecution and themselves.
They just don’t understand how to live their lives on the bad guy side of the curve, and that too often tends to be a root cause of their undoing. And as hard as we may try to prevent it, we don’t always succeed. The sense of waste can be brutal. Good guys just aren’t very good at living on the bad side of the curve, and there is little we can do about it.