Fear Of The Unknown: What Is The Outcome Going To Be?
Humans innately fear the unknown. In a criminal case, the unknown is a slow, imperfect legal system that often produces a result that includes jail or prison time. It is this fear of the unknown, combined with a basic understanding that jail or prison time could lay ahead, that drives people to seek out someone, anyone, who can answer one question with certainty, “what is the outcome going to be?” I see in people’s faces the anxiety and fear that comes with not knowing, and the sheer desperation of wanting, needing to know what the outcome is going to be.
Over the years, I have struggled to answer this question. My struggle has been, and continues to be, between the proverbial unstoppable force and the immovable object. The unstoppable force is my overriding desire to help people. The immovable object is the inability to predict an outcome in a legal system consisting of multiple steps, competing interests, various personalities, laws, and other factors beyond anyone’s control.
To illustrate the problem, I generally use the following analogy to explain why it is impossible to predict an outcome in any given case. Pretend that, instead of a legal problem, you have a health problem like a serious illness or disease. Pretend that, instead of seeking help from a lawyer, you seek help from a health care provider, like a medical doctor. During the first visit with the doctor, you tell the doctor what happened, when you first began having symptoms, what your symptoms are, and other facts about your medical history. The doctor asks you some questions like “have you had any fever,” or “have you experienced any dizziness or nausea?” You answer truthfully. Before the doctor orders any diagnostic procedures, before any lab work has been completed, before any results have been returned, before any prescriptions have been written, and before any therapy, drugs, surgery, or other treatment has been prescribed, pretend that you ask the doctor, “what is the outcome going to be?”
The doctor’s answer will be something like this:
I don’t know. No one can predict what the outcome will be at this stage because treating a health problem is a process of diagnosis, treatment plan, and recovery. If everything goes perfectly, and I make the correct diagnosis, refer you to the appropriate specialists, you abide by our treatment plan, and you recover without any complications, then you will be cured. But, if things do not go perfectly, if you have an allergic reaction to a medication, or if you do not follow the treatment plan, or if you develop unforeseen complications, you may not recover. You may be left with a permanent scar or other impairment or disability.
Now, back to the legal problem, here is my answer to the question “what is the outcome going to be?”
I don’t know. No one can predict what the outcome will be at this stage because treating a legal problem is a process of investigation, strategic planning, and implementation. If everything goes perfectly, and if you follow my advice on what to do and not to do, all of the evidence is in your favor, and your case is dismissed and your record expunged, then you will be “cured” of the problem. But, if things do not go perfectly, if you do not follow my advice, or if our key witness changes his story, or if the videotape appears to show you committing a crime, or if one or more of a multitude of other bad things happen that are beyond our control, despite the fact that I used my best skill, education, training, and experience, the outcome in your case may be unfavorable, and you may end up with criminal sanctions, such as jail time, probation, a fine, or a permanent criminal record.
This answer applies to any case from speeding to robbery, from underage possession of alcohol to trafficking cocaine, from DUI to murder. In our criminal justice system, there simply are too many factors and variables outside of our control for anyone to be able to predict the outcome of any given case. All I can do, all any lawyer can do, is use his or her best skill, education, training, and experience to achieve the best possible outcome based on all of the facts and the law.
Despite my inability to predict an outcome with absolute certainty for the reasons listed above, what I can do, and what I will do, is predict a range of possible outcomes based on my experience in similar cases, together with my knowledge of similar cases handled by other lawyers. My nature is to make every effort to exceed my clients’ expectations. My goal is to “under-promise and over-deliver.” I go to great lengths to avoid disappointing a client by over-promising and under-delivering. Based on the feedback I receive and the reviews posted on various sites, my clients seem to appreciate this approach.