What Would Perry Mason Say?


                What I remember most about Perry Mason is that he never lost his cases.  Just before the end of the television hour on Saturday nights, someone, usually in the back of the Courtroom, would stand up and say he or she did it and was responsible for the killing.  Mason would stare at the person, the folks in the Courtroom would be stunned, and Lt. Tragg would lose once again.  You see, Perry Mason never had a guilty client.


                In today’s real world, many people who are charged with crimes are guilty…at least of something, and acquittals in criminal trials are not so common. They sure don’t happen every Saturday night.  So what is a lawyer to do?  Go to trial?  Plead someone guilty, and if so, to what?  Get the best deal you can?  Say you did the best you could with the facts and client you had?


                Some time ago, Wade Smith and I were talking about what separated great lawyers from good ones. He believes, and I agree, that there are few circumstances where a lawyer can’t help make a client’s situation and life better at the end of the representation than it was at the beginning.  But I don’t believe that happens by accident. Rather, the great lawyer, in my opinion, is someone who looks early at the big picture and tries to determine, based on the evidence, how he or she wishes the final outcome to be determined.


                I am convinced that if you have a client or situation where there is guilt involved, as Robert Frost once wrote “the shortest way out is through”.  In other words, I believe in full acceptance of responsibility, without casting blame or ceaseless whining. 


                A lawyer from Wilmington told me several months ago about a case where several young men were before a  District Court Judge on charges of underage drinking. One by one each one stood in front of the Judge, pleaded guilty and promised never to drink again until he was of legal age. And one by one, the Judge entered a sentence that carried a fine and community service work.  Then, the last young man stood up, and to the horror of almost everyone in the Courtroom but his lawyer, told the Judge he didn’t think he could promise he would not drink again before turning twenty one years of age for that would simply not be true.


                The Judge looked squarely at the person standing before him and quietly said in effect, he believed this one was the only person who had told him the truth that day and and the only one who had really learned his lesson, and for that, his case was being dismissed, and he was free to go.


                There are stories like this happening all across the country…probably every day.  They are relevant to all walks of life, not just the legal profession. And…they are relevant at every age.


                Could you do that?  If Perry Mason was the lawyer for this young man, what would he do?




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