Defending People after the Worst Day of Their Life

Criminal defense attorney Margaret Sind Raben of Gurewitz & Raben shares stories of incorrect paperwork, double jeopardy and the legal definition of a dating relationship. 

Q: Did you do criminal defense from the start?

Raben.jpgA: When I first started practicing, I did a small amount of family law-primarily divorce and some insurance defense work. The end of my family law practice occurred when I was representing a young man who was in the process of divorcing his wife, and they'd only been married a couple of years, no kids. They were dividing up their property, and neither one of them was willing to give up the microwave oven.I remember saying to my client, "This is absolutely stupid. You are paying me $100 an hour to fight about a kitchen appliance that you can buy at Kmart for $100." And he kept saying, "It's the principle of the thing," and I kept saying, "No. There's no principle here. We are going to end this. I will buy you a microwave oven."When we got done with it, I remember looking out the window and thinking, "I can't do this anymore. I just cannot be fighting over kitchen appliances."

Q: Do your clients often offend again?

A: Some do. Some don't. [Many] recognize that they are on very thin ice. People get charged with crimes often as a result of the worst day in their life. Here's a good example.My client was charged with assaulting her boyfriend with a knife during a fight. This is felonious assault. It's a four-year felony. My client has no criminal history, and frankly, if she gets convicted of a four-year felony, she's going to have a terrible time getting a job and getting into school.The case is being charged under one of Michigan's domestic violence laws. In order for her to be convicted under domestic violence assault, rather than simple assault, they have to prove that these two people are in a dating relationship. That doesn't require that you be married, but it requires that you be in a relationship characterized by affection and involvement.

Q: What's one of the challenges of your job?

A: Many times federal clients have prior state criminal histories, so I have to know what to look for in the documentation on that, which is sometimes wrong. It is not uncommon to find mistakes in the documentation of a case. In fact, in state criminal cases earlier than say 1980, the paperwork, I'd say, is probably wrong a third of the time: transcription errors, incorrect references to charging statutes. It was at a time when everything was done by hand.I've had judges say to me, "Well, how did this happen?" I feel like saying, "Look. It's your court, OK? You tell me." 

By: Emily White Photo: Scott Stewart