What happened when a defense attorney prayed for help while listening to the sickening crimes of his client


In this week's episode of This Is the Gospel, Brett, a defense and prosecution attorney, shares that he is used to hearing the many terrible crimes a person can commit. But on one occasion in the courtroom, he hears 13 pages of heinous crimes his client has committed, and he can't help but feel sick to his stomach. In fact, Brett feels so terrible, he isn’t sure he can stay in the courtroom. But at that moment, he offers a prayer that changes how he sees his client—and future clients—forever.

An adapted excerpt from the story is below. Listen to the full podcast hereor read the transcript here. 

There was a time when I was on the defense side, and [this case] started like many cases, with the judge reading the things that [the defendant] was accused of. It was something like 13 pages long, the indictment, and my client had chosen to plead guilty to just about everything. And even just the nature of the things was pretty lengthy.

But in this forum, before that court . . . my client, was not allowed to simply say, “Yes, I'm guilty to charges 1 through 13 and I accept whatever punishment you deem appropriate, judge.” But rather, the judge needs to go through the conduct in what we call “providence inquiry,” where the judge needs to make sure that my client understood what the law was, understood all of the definitions, and then agreed to his actions and agree that his actions actually violated the law.

. . . . And so we were going through this, and usually that doesn't take too long. You can always do that in waves. You can do it for 20 minutes, 30 minutes at a time, take a break, and come back to it when you're feeling up to it.

But in this case, because it was so long, we had just pressed through. And for about two hours, we had been listening [to] and seeing some of the most disturbing things that you can be subjected to.

And as we're going through this, I started to feel literally sick to my stomach. I was getting to a point of almost panic because it was incredibly unprofessional to throw up in the middle of a courtroom. But what I was more concerned about was my client, because one of the great things that I do love about being a defense attorney is that you get to help some people go through some very difficult things. In many instances it is the most difficult, embarrassing, humiliating experience of their lives. And this was that for my client, and for him to see how much it affected me, I thought, could undermine his confidence in me and my belief in him. He had already lost so much. He lost his family, he lost his job, he was losing his freedom. He had some elderly parents, and it was unlikely that he would see them again before his prison term ended. And I wanted to be there for him.

And so when this was happening, I knew that I had to get up in just a few minutes after that was done and argue for him, both to argue for leniency—to paint a picture of humanity for him—and also to argue about different things that he was alleged of, that he had not done, and defend him in those.

Not knowing what to do, I thought, “Well, maybe I just need to ask the judge for a recess, or you know, maybe the feeling will just go away.” Then I realized that it wasn't. It was getting worse. And so I did the only thing that I [could] think of. I decided to say a prayer. In that prayer, I just prayed for Heavenly Father to be with me to help me to know what to do in that situation.

I looked over at my client, and I felt the Spirit enter my mind and body [in] great waves. It was amazing. It kind of lit up my whole soul. I could see the love that my Heavenly Father had for this young man. It was regardless of the things that he had done, it was regardless of the harm and pain he had caused so many. It was a pure and powerful love. I felt that the nausea, the sickness—it just evaporated, like instantaneously.

I was calm, I knew what I had to do, and I was able to get up and argue for him, for mercy, and to paint a picture for the judge to see who he was—not just the things that he had done.

For the rest of this week's episode, listen to the full podcast hereor read the transcript here. 

Lead image courtesy Brett
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