The names in the following events have been changed to protect those involved but the story is completely true:
In 2011, I was approached by a man in desperate need of an attorney for his son who was locked up in the Gwinnett County Jail. It seems that the young man, John, had been arrested for possession with intent to distribute marijuana after police conducted a search of his residence where they found several ounces of marijuana. In an effort to be helpful, John let the police know that he had been selling the marijuana because he couldn’t find a job while on felony probation for a Terroristic Threats charge. Great. John was in a precarious position. He was on first offender probation, was facing a revocation for violating the terms of that probation by possessing drugs with the intent to sell them, and faced a new charge that could lock him up for an additional 10 years over whatever time the judge revoked. This, I knew, was going to be messy. The family wanted John to get out of jail and they wanted him to get through all of this without a felony conviction on his record. I explained to them that I am a darn good lawyer but not a miracle worker – I didn’t see that happening.
After getting John out on bond (okay, that was a small miracle considering the pending probation revocation), I went to work on the case. John’s father told me something that gave me a glimmer of hope. He believed that John never should have pled guilty to the Terroristic Threats charge to begin with because what he said wasn’t really a threat. If I could make his previous conviction go away, then we had a shot. Of course, if we withdrew the plea on the Terroristic Threats charge we also stood the great possibility that the District Attorney’s office would simply try John on the Terroristic Threats and whatever other charges he faced originally and he could be in a much worse shape afterward. I quickly determined that John had been arrested for Aggravated Stalking along Terroristic Threats but the prosecutor dropped the Aggravated Stalking charge during plea negotiations and John pled only to the Terroristic Threats charge. After looking into the case, I actually agreed with John’s Dad – his previous lawyer should never have advised John to plead guilty to the charge.
So, I filed a Motion to Withdraw Guilty Plea and contacted John’s previous attorney. Suffice it to say that she was not thrilled that I challenged her advice to plead out on the case. In her opinion, the State had a strong case and she had worked out a tremendous deal for John that avoided jail time for him. She was a veritable hero. Clearly, she was going to be absolutely no help to me in getting the plea withdrawn. Nonetheless, we went forward with the Motion.
At the hearing, the assistant district attorney and I engaged in lengthy discussions about the case. It became clear that he wanted nothing to do with the original charge against my client because he didn’t want to deal with the extremely challenging ‘victim’ in the case who happened to be my client’s ex-wife. I had a strong feeling that if the judge allowed the plea to be withdrawn, I could convince the prosecutor to drop the charge completely, which is exactly what happened. Once that case was gone, there was no reason why my client couldn’t now plead guilty to the VGCSA charge once again under the First Offender Act. At the end of the day, John, who should have had two felony convictions and one probation revocation on his record, now had NO convictions (a first offender sentence is not a conviction unless the defendant gets the probation revoked for failure to complete probation) on his records.
We, however, did not avoid jail time. John had to complete the boot camp program as punishment for his criminal conduct. I have seen John several times since his release and I believe that completing that program likely saved his life. He was heading down a long, dark path that was only going to get worse and jail time stopped it. He’s been clean and sober for over a year and a half, is employed and is happy. It turns out that I was right – I’m not a miracle worker but I consider myself privileged to be able to watch the miracles that happen when people finally make the changes they need to make in their lives.