I have a hearing today on a serious case with serious charges. It's a routine hearing; nothing too complex or interesting will happen at the hearing. But, this is a case that breaks my heart. It's one of the cases that drains me emotionally and has since I was first assigned to the case. It's one that will continue to drain me emotionally until it's over, and possibly, even well after it's over.
The charges are serious. The defendant is young, just out of high school. A good kid, by all accounts. Never been in trouble before. Freckle-faced, sharp, good-looking young kid. And now he's facing 2 felony charges.
We've met before the hearing. We've talked pretty excessively about the case and about the facts/information. He's scared. No, scared doesn't even really capture it quite right. He's terrified. He's terrified and trying to wrap his head around what's happening.
He shows up to court today in a suit. A full suit and tie, complete w/ dress shoes. He looks nice. After court, I'll describe him as "a little cutie-patootie." He takes this seriously. He should, all defendants should, but not many come to a routine first appearance in a full suit and tie. I'm impressed. And it breaks my heart a little more, to see how much he wants this to be okay.
I don't know if I can make it okay. I don't know if there's a way for me to fix this for him. I want to, so badly. The charges are unfair; they carry a consequence well beyond what they should, but I can't change what the statute says the consequences are. He trusts me; he is willing to listen to whatever I advise him to do and has followed through on getting me the information I've requested so far. He is a rarity--the helpful defendant who doesn't try to take over, but does work with me in getting things together for his case.
His whole family comes with him to court. There are a lot of them there. They all smile and wave to me when he introduces me. They look very nice; a typical, warm, welcoming family. They are here to support him. He's so young, but according to the law, he's an adult. They are here to find out what will happen to their family member, the little guy in the suit next to me, looking like an oversized kid.
This case will determine the rest of his life. The case isn't fair. The charges aren't fair. The situation isn't fair. It's a classic case of the statute overreaching and making people into criminals who aren't and should be, but they end up sitting by me at counsel table in court.
He's counting on me to get him through this. He is trusting that I can help him, that I can get him through this relatively unscathed. I don't know if I can. Legally, there's not much to work with because the statutes are fairly cut and dried. The real life people involved, they are not. Their lives are not so cut and dried. But I have limited options as to what I can do to help him. It's killing me that I can't do more.
He's a good kid. Anyone would agree with that. He's polite and nice and affable. He's smart and one day, he'll be able to make something out of himself. If I can help him through this. If I can't, then things will be very different for him. If I can't find a way to fix this for him, to get him through this, then his life will be very different than what he's got planned.
I'm protective of him because he's so young; because he's never been in trouble; because he's got so much going for him; because he's not supposed to be here but the laws are so draconian that he is; because he's trusting me to protect him. I want to wave a magic wand to make this go away, so he can get back to where he was a month ago, before he was arrested. Before he was involved in all this courtroom stuff.
He's scared. I'm scared, too. He's scared because he doesn't know what to expect. I'm scared because I do. But I can't let him know that I'm scared. I have to be the one who isn't, so he can turn his fears over to me and let me take them from him for awhile. I've got to be the one who doesn't look nervous in court, who doesn't seem rattled by the possible outcomes. I've got to be the confident one. But, I'm scared for him. I'm scared for what will happen to him.
I worry about this case long into the nights, after work. I worry about it throughout the day. I worry about what more I can do, what options there are that I haven't explored, what else is there that can be done.
I worry in silence. I worry alone.
The silent worry can become very deafening.