The surprising reason I became a Criminal Defense Attorney

Growing up I always wanted to be an FBI agent. I grew up on the old Hollywood movies and thought it would be a really meaningful and fun job. Even into the 1990s, shows like the X-Files made it seem interesting; though I didn’t think I would work on those cases.

Well, that goal was shattered on the night of May 25, 1996. This was the night before I was supposed to graduate from high school. A friend and I had decided to spend a relaxing evening shooting BB guns at targets in my backyard. For reasons that I still don’t understand, he decided to go the school down the street from his parents house and he began shooting at one the windows of the school. Now, keep in mind that this was after dark, on weekend, no one was in the building. And no one got hurt. In fact, the bbs didn’t even penetrate through the glass. He fired 14 shots, I fired one.

Some neighbors nearby called the cops and within moments, 5 or 6 police cars showed up. And we got arrested. And the way I was treated during that process changed me forever.

I had always thought that I was a “good guy” and we were on the same side. But I learned that night that once the system thinks you committed a crime, you are made to feel like dirt. It’s like your rights don’t even exist.

I remember the cops telling us we were going to do 4 years in prison for this. And being your and naive and not really knowing how this process worked, I wasn’t sure I would see the light of day again until that time was up. I was so stressed and frightened, I never thought about bonding out or having a trial or probation or any of that. These cops were mean. I think they may have been trying to scare us straight.

When we got to the jail, I think they realized we weren’t delinquents and said “Hey, you still got a future. Don’t worry about it too much.”

Remember, this is before all these school shootings. Nowadays, if someone called a said two teenager were shooting at school, there would probably be SWAT team sent. I have to imagine that whoever called 911 failed to mentioned that the shooters were armed with run of the mill BB guns.

Well like many of my clients, we were not read our Miranda Rights. We confessed to what happened. I never ever said I wasn’t guilty.

But the thing that changed me was the feeling of being a “bad guy.” That I was no longer part of the system and now I was an outsider. And all I had done was essentially help break a window. I am not saying it was right but I felt as though I was treated like a crime lord or something.

The police drove us to jail. I got processed. I had to call my parents. My friends parents had already let my parents know so when I called them, they already knew. They weren’t too upset but were understandably shocked. My dad was up in town for my high school graduation and was worried that I would’t be able to walk in it. I was worried about that too. And how do you explain that to people?

I spent the night in the jail. And that was the longest night of my life. The cell was cold and I barely slept. At 6 AM an alarm went off for breakfast. I didn’t get to my cell door fast enough so I missed it. I am sure I could have eaten it anyway.

Later in the morning, a detective from the Grand Rapids Police Department came to see me. He reassured me that this was not a serious crime and that he would seek a division program for us. He also made it clear that we weren’t getting our BB guns back.

A short while later, my friend and I were let out of jail. I told at the time, that the charges were dismissed. I was not sure what would happen next. But at least I wasn’t going to sit there for up to 4 years.

I was able to attend my graduation. I was pretty tired but go through it.

A few days later, I got a call from the detective and that the diversion program he had been pushing for had been denied and that we had to go back to jail and get arraigned from the jail. We met the detective and his partner at the jail the next morning and went in.

Arraignment is where a judge reading you the charge and then setting bond. Despite all the advice to the contrary, I might have actually plead guilty or tried to plead guilty at the arraignment. I am sure the judge issued not guilty plea for me. I was let out on a PR bond, meaning I didn’t have to post any cash.

My family hired an attorney for me. A really good guy and great attorney, who at the time of this writing, is still practicing law in West Michigan. I see him in court all the time and pretty sure he has no recollection of me being a client which is probably a good thing.

My attorney was able workout a deal for me under HYTA (Holmes Youthful Trainee Act) where I did probation, fines, community service and restitution and, at the end, my record was clean. I was given a year of probation was but let off in 5 months and haven’t been in trouble since then.

But this experience has shaped me ever since and I think it helps me relate to somethings people are going through when they call me.

I know what it is like to be in jail and how stressful the powerlessness is.
I know how the police treat people.
I know how our rights are often trampled upon.
And most importantly, I see the value in hiring a good lawyer. My family never, ever though about getting a court appointed attorney. I can’t imagine why on earth anyone would if you have any choice at all. And my family did not have money but my future was worth it. If I had been stuck with a felony on my record, it is highly unlikely I would be writing this today.

It’s ok to make a mistake, it’s not ok to not do everything you can to make it right.