A recent event triggered my memory of a case I was involved in more than 20 years ago. The case involved a man who had been charged with a serious crime. For the purpose of this article, I’m going to call him “Ray.” Ray was arrested in Peoria and charged with committing a felony. Prior to the initial hearing in his case, he hired me to represent him.
The crime Ray was accused of committing occurred in Peoria so the formal criminal case was filed against him by the Peoria County State’s Attorney’s Office. Under the Illinois Code of Criminal Procedure, the State’s Attorney’s Office is required to share all of the evidence it has in a case with the attorney who represents the person who has been charged with the crime.
About a month after the case was filed, I received a package from the State’s Attorney’s office. Inside the package were the police reports and other evidentiary documents that were related to the case. After I reviewed the documents, it was clear to me that a jury would find that Ray was guilty of the crime he was charged with.
I called the assistant state’s attorney who was assigned to prosecute the case and scheduled a time to meet with him. For the purpose of this article, I’m going to call the prosecuting attorney “Frank.” When I met with Frank, I proposed a plea agreement that provided he would agree to reduce the felony charge to a misdemeanor charge in exchange for a plea of guilty from Ray. Ray would then be required to pay a fine and would be placed on court supervision for 12 months.
I knew that Frank would not agree to court supervision because with court supervision, after the person who pleads guilty complies with all the requirements of the plea agreement, the case is dismissed. My ultimate goal was to convince Frank to reduce the charge to a misdemeanor with Ray agreeing to whatever terms and conditions that Frank wanted.
When I proposed that the charge be reduced to a misdemeanor, Frank laughed. He said that a reduction of the charge was not an option and that if Ray wanted a plea agreement, he would have to agree to plead guilty to a felony. Frank made it clear to me that he would never agree to reduce the charge.
A few weeks after my conversation with Frank, I called him on the telephone and provided him with some additional reasons why he should agree to reduce the charge from a felony to a misdemeanor. After talking about the seriousness of the crime that Ray was accused of committing, Frank told me that he wasn’t going to change his mind about reducing the charge.
A couple of weeks later, I saw Frank at the courthouse while I was taking care of another case. After I finished with the case, I talked to Frank again about working out a plea agreement on Ray’s case. I repeated the reasons why he should agree to reduce the charge to a misdemeanor.
After I was done talking, Frank lectured me about how he had already told me on two previous occasions that he was not going to agree to reduce the charge. I told him that he needed to give it some more thought and that we could discuss it again at a later time. His parting words to me were, “Don’t bother bringing it up again for discussion.”
Prior to the scheduled trial date, I filed a motion to continue the trial. The judge granted my motion and I again scheduled a time to meet with Frank. When we met, I told him about Ray’s family history, the problems that Ray had in school, and the reasons Ray was different than most of the other individuals who committed crimes. Frank wouldn’t budge. He again refused to agree to reduce the charge to a misdemeanor.
About a month before the trial was scheduled to begin, I called Frank and in a teasing and condescending tone of voice told him that I thought that he had lost his ability to empathize with other people’s situations. I told him that when he started working at the State’s Attorney’s Office, he was easier to deal with because he was more open to considering the difficulties and struggles that individuals who were charged with crimes had been through. I also told him that he had become cynical and hard-hearted because of all the criminals and defense attorneys he had to deal with on a daily basis. I then repeated all the reasons I had previously given him as to why he should be willing to reduce the charge from a felony to a misdemeanor.
Frank listened to what I had to say. After I was finished talking, there was a long pause. Then he blurted out, “I have never met a lawyer who whines as much as you do. You are the biggest whiner I’ve ever met. Is that all you can do is whine when you don’t get your way?” I responded by saying, “Does that mean you’re willing to reduce the charge?” He replied, “I don’t know if I can tolerate any more of your whining. I’ll think about it.”
I called Frank a week later and after he ridiculed me for being an incessant whiner, he told me that he was willing to reduce the charge to a misdemeanor in exchange for an agreement from Ray that he would pay a fine, spend some time in the county jail, and be placed on probation for 12 months. We later presented the plea agreement to the judge and the judge approved the agreement.
I had forgotten about my experience with Frank until last week when I was listening to an audio recording of an interview of Donald Trump. The interview was conducted by Chris Cuomo and was posted on the CNN website.
I’m not a fan of Donald Trump, but there’s a lesson we can all learn from my experience with Frank and from what Trump said in the interview.
Next week, I’ll tell you what Trump said and the lesson I’m referring to.