Nicole Valera – Criminal Defense

Fighting the system, one case at a time…

War Veterans and The Trenches of Criminal Defense


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Yesterday I finally resolved a very emotionally difficult and legally complicated case. As a criminal defense attorney you try to maintain a professional distance as much as you can, but I do believe that any good criminal defense attorney should put at least a little emotional skin in the game. No one wants a robot for a lawyer.

Anyway, my client was an Iraqi war vet and had completed 2 tours of duty. He had some difficulty transitioning back into normal society and ultimately picked up a serious felony. I had been frustrated with this case for many reasons – the case had dragged on nearly a year – some of it due to my work up of the case and some of it not.

This client was a young vet, mid 20’s. This is not the first time I have represented a young client (I represent minors as young as 12), nor is it the first time I’ve represented a war veteran. However most of the vets I have represented have been from the Vietnam War. A majority of them have been homeless and suffering from substance abuse problems. I’ve had to work with the VA on numerous occasions.

Deep down inside I was afraid this client could’ve turned out like many of my Vietnam War vet clients.

At first blush, that seemed unlikely to happen – my client was young, physically healthy, enrolled in school, had many friends and lots of family. He was not going to end up one of my tattered war vet clients that had been marched into court in handcuffs and jail jumpsuits. But I always wondered what those vets had been like when they were young, just returning from war. What did they do? How did they live? Did they have loved ones to come home to? Did they ever know they would not be able to leave the war behind? Or while in the trenches where some politician had sent them, did they harbor that fear of what their life would become if they made it out alive?

With the President‘s announcement that 50,000 troops will be coming home, the legislature needs to figure out a way to deal with the new generation of vets that may become involved with the criminal justice system. Many will come home with depression, substance abuse problems, and other types of psychological disorders. In California there is no evidence or penal code section that specifically recognizes the admission of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder during the guilt phase. There are some useful sections for sentencing purposes but I do believe criminal defense attorneys need a tool for trial. My research turned up similarities to the battered women’s syndrome – perhaps we could use that as a model. It is a very real problem that needs a very real solution.

In the meantime, I have hope for my client. He is a good man with hopes and dreams and despite this setback, I think he will make a wonderful life for himself. We were able to resolve this case in a very just manner and I am thankful for that. I had to fight hard for him, but really, it was the least I could do.

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August 26, 2010 Posted by | The Latest, THIS is why it's worth it, Wins | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Saved by the Bell


I was having a really rough week.  As a criminal defense attorney, you deal with all sorts of cases:  sex crimes, juvenile cases, DUI, domestic violence, drug possession, etc, etc.   And on top of that you often have to be in 2 places at the same time (if you’re lucky enough to be that busy, which thankfully, I am).  Because of the hurdles and hoops I must sometimes jump through, along with the constant demand for my time and attention, it can be easy to lose sight of why I am a criminal defense lawyer.  And today on the way back from criminal court, I was starting to feel that way – distracted with daily procedure and protocol.  Frustrated and stressed out.

Then the phone rang, but I was unable to pick it up in time.  They left a voicemail.   It was the mother of a juvenile client I had represented in a potentially life changing case. She was calling to thank me and left a heart felt message that almost brought tears to my eyes.  Cheesy I know.  But it snapped me right back onto the right path and reminded me of why I love being a criminal defense attorney – even through all the procedure, the stress, the frustration, the anxiety – I am able to make a difference, and that feels good.

March 19, 2010 Posted by | General Thoughts, Juvenile Criminal Defense, THIS is why it's worth it | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Criminal Defense: Vile? Or Necessary?


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I had known in law school that I wanted to practice criminal defense and the minute I passed the bar I applied to and was accepted for employment with the Los Angeles County Public Defender‘s Office. I had clerked there for 2 years in law school and was so excited to be able to finally do what I was sure I would love.

And I did love it. Only when I told other people (even other lawyers) that I was a criminal defense attorney, most people looked at me with shock in their face. This shock did not come from the fact that I was young (I was 26 when I started practicing law), but from the fact that I was practicing (in their opinion), a vile and despicable area of law. I fielded (and continue to field) questions like, “How do you sleep at night?” “How can you live with yourself?” “Aren’t you scared of your clients?” “Well you plead them all guilty automatically if they’re guilty, right?”

I don’t really look at criminal defense that way. Some people have the luxury of making it a black and white issue. I do not. My job is to make sure that the constitution is protected. My job is to make sure that the constitution isn’t just a lot of words written down in a book, but an actual way of life. My job is to prevent the police from just stopping you on the street for no reason. My job is to prevent the government from locking you up without probable cause or reasonable suspicion. My job is to prevent us from living in a police state. My job is to make sure that laziness and bureaucracy do not take precedence over your rights and what is just. My job…is hard.

I am in private practice now and my philosophy hasn’t changed. Of course there is a business aspect to it, but I make sure that my clients rights come first, sometimes before my own needs, and of course, within reason. It is easy for the people in ivory towers and the talking heads to brand someone a criminal, call them guilty, and move on to the next news story about the latest celebrity scandal. But people are not perfect, and you never know when a simple mistake, a bad decision, an unfortunate circumstance, or bad timing, can put you in a position where you or your loved one are forced to defend your reputation, your freedom, and even your life. If you or someone you loved were ever to be in that situation, wouldn’t you want someone who didn’t pass judgment on you? Wouldn’t you want someone who treated you like a human being, and respected and revered the constitution and all the rights and liberties it bestows on everyone here in America? I would.

So, to answer one of the oft asked questions – I sleep just fine at night.

January 22, 2010 Posted by | General Thoughts, Minor Infractions, THIS is why it's worth it | , , , , , , | 3 Comments

   

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