I am a criminal defense attorney because Defendants are not numbers, they are human beings. They are community members, family, and friends and they deserve a voice. They are often frightened, confused, and nervous and they deserve comfort, support, and zealous advocacy. A person is neither defined at their lowest point, nor by the crime someone accuses them of committing. We are all better than that. We all deserve to be treated as our best.
Although I decided to become a criminal defense attorney when I was 16 years old, it took me 25 years to become that person. When I was a juvenile, I had the misfortune of finding my way into the justice system. Although my trouble was minor, I was afraid. I had never been in this situation and neither had my parents. My attorney answered our questions, provided support, and, most important, fought for me. I walked away from that experience wanting to help others caught in the justice system, like my attorney did for me.
While in law school, I had the opportunity to work as a certified student attorney with a county prosecutor’s office. I remember how in my interview I talked about wanting to protect public safety while upholding the constitutional rights of defendants. After law school, I landed a job prosecuting at the State level. As a prosecutor, it is easy to get caught up in group think. You feel good about your role in “protecting public safety.” Doing your job effectively often means dehumanizing defendants by viewing them as the crime they are accused of rather than the person they are, and their rights can get lost in the shuffle. Having a view of “justice” that differs from your colleagues is difficult and your discretion to do the right thing is never boundless. Your boss is an elected official and the public, driven by newspaper headlines and sensationalized local news, has a hard time sympathizing with “criminals.”
Please understand that I am not saying prosecutors are bad people. I have many friends who are prosecutors, and they are good people with strong morals. But my moral compass steered me in a different direction – back to the lawyer I dreamed to be as a 16-year-old kid. People sometimes ask how morally I can defend “criminals.” My answer is always the same, it’s easier to stand up for the rights our Constitution affords ALL individuals, than throw a human being behind bars for someone else’s version of “justice.”
My career experiences have given me many opportunities. I have had the fortune of many wins (and losses). I have appeared in over 60 of the 87 Minnesota county courts, argue cases in front of over a hundred judges, and argue numerous cases at the court of appeals. I even had the opportunity to appear in front of the same judge I appeared in front of as a juvenile defendant and to argue against the attorney that stood by my side and argued for me as a kid. I have been named a “Rising Star” by Super Lawyers and “Top 10, Under 40” by the National Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys. But I am proud to be an attorney, not because of these accomplishments, but because there is no better feeling and no better success than standing tall beside someone and fight for them. I get the fortune of seeing my clients as human beings. I hope 16-year-old Adam would be proud.