A Client’s Moral Courage

By | April 1, 2016

I recently received a very kind card from Mary S. which had on the front a Malayan proverb: “One can pay back the loan of gold, but one dies forever in debt to those who are kind.” On the inside of this card, she wrote “words are too small to convey the thanks and appreciation for your strength & effort for M____ … Sincerely, Mary.”

Much of the credit for the outcome in that client’s case goes to his moral courage. He was innocent of the offense charged. As many of you may know, merely being innocent does not mean that you will not be arrested, charged, prosecuted, and ultimately convicted or placed on some kind of probation.

I would put it this way. Physical courage is rare. When someone displays physical courage, such as intervening to stop an assault or a robbery, that is often done instinctively. By “instinctively,” I mean the person showing physical courage reacts quickly and doesn’t pause to consider the risk at which he puts himself.

Still more rare than physical courage is what I would call moral courage. With moral courage, a man or woman has an opportunity to consider the risk they run.

In this particular case, my client displayed considerable moral courage. He had been charged with two counts of felony assault family violence.

At one point, the State offered him a deferred adjudication to a misdemeanor. Many clients would consider that offer and consider the evidence and conclude that discretion is the better part of valor and I don’t blame them.

That is why I am in awe of those who say, “you know what? I’m innocent. Not only did I not commit this crime, but nobody committed this crime. This crime never happened. The victim is lying. The police got it wrong. I know the State has considerable resources and that it will try very hard to secure a conviction in my case, but it will never, ever get me to say that I did anything wrong. Because I’m innocent.”

In other words, my client was willing to risk a felony conviction rather than accept a probation to a misdemeanor assault family violence. He knew that the life that he wanted would be very different from the life he would live if he were convicted of a felony. But he also knew that he could not live with himself if he lied and said he did something wrong when in fact he didn’t.

Ultimately, the State dismissed his case.

Witnessing moral courage makes practicing criminal law a privilege. Without it, the State would never have dismissed that case. Did I do my job? Yes. Did I work hard? Sure. Would all that have resulted in a dismissal without my client’s moral courage? No.