A criminal charge is incredibly traumatic. The emotional wreckage that ensues as events spin out of control is unimaginable. The phone call from the police, the F.B.I. pounding down your door, your college-aged child calling from a jail? Suddenly, a malignant icing infuses the layers of contentment of your seemingly good life. A good night’s sleep is replaced with tossing and turning, your mind filled with scattershot speculation about how the case will unspool and the devastating penalties that eventually must be confronted. Anxiety, depression, anger, substance abuse—all of these could get worse in the face of criminal charges.
Yet there are ways to fight back, to grow, to learn, and most importantly, to flourish in the darkest of times. Here is a list of DO’s and DO NOT’s that I share based on my decades of experience:
Seek support. We are social beings. Reach out and round up all the usual suspects: family, friends, support groups, and psychologists. Double down on those groups and efforts.
Practice self-care. Meditation, exercise, and medication monitored by a psychiatrist can all help you to safely and responsibly “take the edge off” and manage your emotional turmoil.
De-link yourself from drugs and alcohol. Chances are that either drugs or alcohol were a contributing factor in landing you in this situation. It is also likely that any pre-trial supervision will include drug and alcohol monitoring. Manage these problems head-on and as soon as possible.
Fake it ‘til you make it. We all have a love-hate relationship with this one but it works. Pretend to deal with criminal charges like Mark Cuban. Mark laughed at his insider trading charges, hired a crack trial lawyer, posted the cross-examinations that took place during the trial on his blog, and told everyone he was going to win. Then he won. Not everyone has Cuban’s resources and hubris, but just because you are charged does not automatically mean the government is going to win. At the very least, try to stay positive.
Do not do your own legal research. Do not Google the penalties and contemplate that you or a family member will be sent away. Do not catastrophize. That will only trigger anxiety. That extra anxiety will make you want to do more research, creating a feedback loop of fear and panic.
Do not rush to hire an attorney. Take your time and find an attorney that you are comfortable with. Hire like your life depends on it—because it does. You want a lawyer with “mud on her boots,” who is used to dealing with the swaggering belligerence that so many prosecutors exude. These kinds of lawyers usually did a significant tour of duty in the public defender’s or prosecutor’s office. Online reviews can help you find the vanguard of the vanguard. Interview them and hire one with whom you connect.
Do not hire a large law firm attorney that has a variety of practice areas. Hire a trial lawyer that specializes in criminal law. There is a world of difference between civil and criminal attorneys. Just ask Martha Stewart. She started with a large, prestigious law firm. Her lawyer invited the F.B.I. into the conference room with a great view of the Manhattan skyline, served the agents coffee, and allowed Martha to interview with them. She was later charged for lying to the agents at her lawyer’s law firm. Stewart fired that lawyer and found a criminal law specialist.
Once you have wrestled the basics to the ground, take a moment and remember all you are grateful for, and all the things in your life that are luminous. Know that you are stronger than the situation, and you are ultimately going to move forward as a better person.
Kenneth Eichner was part of presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s defense team during the congressional email inquiry and has been handling high profile criminal cases for 25 years. His cases have been covered in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Huffington Post, 60 Minutes, Denver Post and The Washington Post. One of his recent victories has also been chronicled in a podcast called Trial Team Notes. He is the founder of The Eichner Law Firm and can be reached at [email protected].