Wednesday, December 29, 2010

How I became interested in Criminal Law and Criminal Defense.

For my first post to my new blog, I thought it would be fitting to tell my readers how I became interested in criminal law and criminal defense to begin with.  I say criminal law AND criminal defense because being interested in criminal law does not imply that your are interested in criminal defense.  The prosecutor's office is full of attorneys who are very interested in criminal law, and to say they are "uninterested" in criminal defense would be an understatement.

The first time I can remember being involved with "the process" was when I was a freshman in college.  During my freshman year of college I lived in the dorms.  And as is so often the case, it was customary for us to leave our doors unlocked, if not wide open, all day long.  Foreseeably, one day, I had a good sum of money taken from my wallet that had been left in my unlocked dorm room.  I immediately informed my dorm manager about the theft, and my dorm manager instructed me to report the stolen money to the campus police.  I had never had any real substantial contact with law enforcement before this, and was reluctant to get them involved when I knew the chances of finding the money were slim.  However, I followed my dorm manager's advice and reported the money stolen.

Shortly after reporting the money stolen, law enforcement arrived at my dorm room.  They began their investigation by questioning any possible witnesses, including myself.  At the close of their questioning, they asked me to "come down to the station for some further questioning."  Being the naive 18 year old that I was, I happily honored their request.

Upon arriving at the police station for "further questioning", their "further questioning" turned into a full interrogation, with me as their prime suspect.  I was in shock!  I was now being accused of submitting a false report to the police.  They informed me that they were absolutely confident that I had not had any money stolen.  They had several alternative theories about how I had lost the money, or spent the money, and how I didn't want to tell my parents, and so I had concocted this story to get out of trouble.  They told me that they had been trained to detect when people are lying, and that I exhibited all the behaviors of someone who was being deceitful.  They used the "good cop/bad cop routine".  They told me they wanted to "help me," but that I had to tell them the truth before they could.  They were so aggressive and convincing that I almost wanted to agree with them just to remove myself from the situation.  Fortunately I was speechless, I couldn't find any words to say, I had been caught completely off guard.  All I could do was wait for them to excuse me, and then leave.

This event turned my world upside down.  Prior to this, I had believed that all the police were good people.  I believed that all the police had good judgment.  I believed that all police were the heroes of the community.  I believed that the police were professional.  I believed that they were there to help and protect the community.  I had been raised to believe all of this.  Now in one moment, all of these beliefs came crashing down.  The hero had become the villain.  The victim was re-victimized.  I would rather have had ten times that amount money stolen from me, than to have been subjected to that brutal attack on my reputation and character.  It was humiliating.

Luckily they gave up their wild goose chase.  However, they don't always give up their wild goose chase.  I learned some important lessons that day.  I learned that the police are not infallible.  I learned that the police are not always careful in their investigations.  I learned that the police can be very wrong in their theories about a case.  I learned that anyone can fall prey to false accusations.  I learned how quickly a situation can get out of your control, and how you should never go up against law enforcement alone.  Today I cannot help but look back and laugh at the absurdity of it all.  But rest assured, I was not laughing that day.

I remember wishing that day that someone was there to protect me from these false accusations, someone who could speak for me when I was speechless.  As I advanced trough my education, I began to realize that I could be a powerful advocate, and that I could help others who cannot help themselves.  I ultimately made the decision to go to law school.  During law school criminal defense was my ultimate focus.  I knew then that if I was going to be an attorney, it was going to be a criminal defense attorney.

I ended up working for the Ada County Public Defender's Office, and then I spent time working for the Gem County Prosecutor's Office.  I left the public field and entered the private field of law.  I was employed by Senator Curtis McKenzie of the Idaho State legislature to handle his criminal cases for his private law firm in downtown Boise.  Now I own my own law firm.

Through my career I have seen stories like mine over and over again.  Good people who have either been falsely accused, or good people who have made a mistake, but the state has over charged them, or wanted an overly harsh penalty.  I love defending the accused who have had this happen to them.  My experience has taught me that the system can be cruel and unfair, and I am happy to fight against it.

Welcome to Idaho Criminal Law by L. Craig Atkinson

Welcome to my new blog.  I am a criminal defense attorney practicing in Boise, Idaho.  I wanted an outlet where I could share my ideas, thoughts, suggestions, advice, and other information regarding the practice of criminal law in Boise, with the general public.  The internet has provided an excellent medium for attorneys to interact with the public in ways that were never possible before.  That's why I started this blog.  I hope you come back often for a peek into the world of the practice of criminal law in Idaho.