The Intense Highs and Immense Lows of Criminal Law
Let me tell you about the first acquittal that I ever experienced. The client was charged with a sexual assault and forcible confinement. If he were found guilty, he was going to go to jail for years and have his life and reputation destroyed. He wondered aloud to me whether this experience would be survivable (both the conviction and the jail). If he were found not guilty, he was going to be free and have the opportunity to rebuild his life. It was a judge alone trial and we were anxiously awaiting the verdict.
The judge came in and said “For the following reasons, I find the Crown has not met the burden of proof in this case and proved their case beyond a reasonable doubt.” I looked over at the accused and he was crying.
The judge read her judgment and at the end of it, she took off her glasses and said, “It has been a long trial. I thank both counsel for their submissions.” Then she looked at the accused and said, “I find you not guilty of the offence of sexual assault. I find you not guilty of the offence of forcible confinement. And you are free to go. Court is dismissed.” And she left.
The accused looked right at me, but you’d never guess what he said. Neither could I have. I hadn’t been in criminal law long enough to know what he would be feeling.
The accused was a man who had been on bail for three years and during that three years, his relationship with the state had changed and he had become fearful. He became so used to being under the power of the state that he looked at me and said: “Where do I go to sign out, now that I’ve been acquitted?” And I looked at him and said, “No, it’s over. You’re free. You can go.”
I remember thinking that whatever happens in my life, I will always take it with me that I got to tell him that he was free.
Now imagine a conviction and the exact opposite of what I just described. The case is lost. The client’s reputation has been destroyed forever. His or her freedom will be lost forever and never regained. A court officer comes over and puts the handcuffs on. I never look at the process, but I always hear the *clink* of the handcuffs.
You have to learn how to enjoy the highs and survive the lows and be grateful for the experience. This is very important if you are able to succeed as a criminal lawyer. The system is imperfect and we have all seen people we thought would be acquitted get convicted and people we thought would be convicted get acquitted. You learn to live with it. It’s the only life I could live.