My Experience as a Criminal Defendant marc victor

My Experience as a Criminal Defendant

My Experience as a Criminal Defendant – by Attorney Marc J. Victor. I’ve been a criminal defense attorney for over 25 years representing countless people in major felony cases.  I’ve always thought I could truly empathize with my clients.  Although I had never been charged with a criminal offense, I thought I could imagine how horrible the experience must be for the person charged.  I was mistaken.  Like many things in life, imagining what an experience would be like is far different from experiencing it for yourself.  It wasn’t until I was actually beaten by the police, charged with a criminal offense, arrested, jailed and prosecuted that I could truly understand the experience.  It changed my perspective forever.

My Experience as a Criminal Defendant

My Experience as a Criminal Defendant

My experience began as I was exiting a cruise ship in Miami, Florida.  During the cruise, I had purchased two Tag Heuer watches from the on-board duty-free shop.  As the watches were “duty-free” and purchased at sea, I was unaware I was required to declare the watches to U.S. Customs upon my arrival back to Miami.

After checking my passport, I passed through the U.S. Customs checkpoint without incident.  As I was standing on the sidewalk with my family looking for our scheduled shuttle, a U.S. Customs Agent came to the sidewalk and rudely informed me I was required to immediately return back into the terminal for questioning.  Confused, I asked what was wrong but was informed I simply needed to follow her immediately.

After arranging for an adult to watch my kids, who were now standing at the curb, I walked back into the terminal and was escorted to a secondary U.S. Customs location, where I was greeted by a very kind and reasonable U.S. Customs Officer.  He was entirely professional.  The Officer showed me the Customs Declaration Form and asked me about declaring the two watches.

After briefly reading the form, I was unsure whether watches purchased aboard a ship in international waters were considered purchases “abroad” as the form indicated.  In an effort to resolve the matter, the Officer produced a blank U.S. Customs Declaration Form and suggested I simply sit down and read the form carefully and resubmit a corrected form if necessary.  This seemed like a reasonable suggestion and opportunity to correct any error I may have made, so I immediately accepted his offer.  Neither I nor the Officer raised our voices at any time.  I expected the issue was resolved at this time, and I had full intentions of sitting and carefully reading the U.S. Customs Declaration form and declaring whatever was required to be declared.  It all seemed like no big deal.

My Experience as a Criminal Defendant

The Officer kindly handed me the blank U.S. Customs Declaration Form which I took with one hand.  I then picked up my previously filled out U.S. Customs Declaration Form from the counter I had returned there after previously holding it.  I needed the previously filled out form because it contained my passport information which I did not have at that time.  At the time I picked up the filled out Customs Declaration form, nobody was reviewing or holding it, and I understood it was given back to me so I could use the information to resubmit a new one.

By this time, a huge, overweight, sloppy Neanderthal style U.S. Custom’s Officer had arrived and appeared by his mannerisms to be extremely hostile towards me.  He was hovering over me in an intimidating manner.

As I began turning to go sit and read the blank form, the big Neanderthal, who had not been involved at all until this point, attempted to grab the previously filled out form from my hand.  I did not give the form to him.  I was confused about why he seemed to want it.  I thought possibly he was unaware of my agreement with the reasonable Officer who I expected would simply inform the Neanderthal of what transpired and that the issue was resolved.

As I turned, I felt hands strongly grabbing me from behind.  I was startled. As I attempted to turn to see who was grabbing me, I was being shoved more violently.  I then saw the Neanderthal had grabbed me and was pushing and shaking me like a rag doll.  Shocked, I twice said, “what the heck are you doing?” The Neanderthal neither responded to my question nor did he ever say I was under arrest or give any direction at all.  I can only speculate he was irate at me because I failed to previously hand him the U.S. Customs Declaration form as he wanted.

I was then immediately picked up off the ground by the Neanderthal and violently slammed on the floor.  I recall my head being smashed onto the floor as the rest of my body also hit the floor.  I was injured and pinned on the floor by the huge Neanderthal.  As I hit the floor, the Neanderthal loudly yelled, “Stop resisting!”  This was the first time I heard him speak.

I was in complete shock as a result of being violently attacked by the Neanderthal.  Squished on the floor, I was not resisting in any way at all.  In disbelief, I responded by yelling, “I’m not resisting.”  I had neither the will nor the ability to resist in any way.  Although I could not move my head, I felt additional Neanderthals smashing into me while I remained squished on the floor.  The main Neanderthal again yelled, “Stop Resisting!”  I again responded with, “I’m not resisting.”  I also said, “None of this is necessary.”

My Experience as a Criminal Defendant

Because of the crushing weight on my back, I was unable to breathe. I used my last breath to quietly squeak out, “I can’t breathe.”  The Neanderthal then yelled, “Flatten out your hand!” As my head was facing my left hand, I noticed my left hand was loosely cupped on the floor.  I immediately flattened out my left hand.  The violent assault on me then stopped, and I was immediately handcuffed behind my back and taken into a small room.

At no time did I ever resist, threaten, use force or become combative with anyone.  At no time did I ever strike anyone.  From the moment I hit the ground, I was entirely submissive throughout the ordeal.

While in the small room, I was handcuffed behind my back in a very uncomfortable position.  As the handcuffs grew tighter, I began yelling for help. Eventually, the Neanderthal entered the room with a cup of water.  He tauntingly put the cup of water an inch from my lips for a moment then placed it next to me on the bench I was sitting.  Given that my hands were cuffed behind my back, the Neanderthal knew I couldn’t drink it.

As the handcuffs grew tighter, the pain on my wrists became excruciating. My left-hand fingers became numb, and I feared permanent damage to my wrists.  I was informed my kids were now present outside my room, and they could hear my constant pleas for help.  I was informed my kids were crying.  I then remained silent despite the excruciating pain.

After approximately 2.5 to 3 hours of being handcuffed in the small room, an “investigator” arrived to talk to me.  It was immediately apparent to me the “investigator” was absolutely convinced I had assaulted a federal agent.  After I requested that he simply obtain and preserve the video of the incident, the “investigator” informed me there was no video of the event.  Shocked that there could be no video at an international border checkpoint, I felt like I was being held in a jail located somewhere in the third world.

My Experience as a Criminal Defendant

Instead of being released to fly home with my family, I was instead detained and eventually checked into a federal holding facility.  I was strip-searched and placed in a very small filthy cell where I remained in solitary confinement for two long miserable days.  During my two-day solitary confinement, I was given minimal nutrition, not afforded any doctor’s care, denied any phone call or non-legal visits, and generally treated as if I had been convicted of a horrible crime.  I had great difficulty obtaining even a cup for the filthy water I was required to drink from the filthy faucet.

During my two-day miserable ordeal in solitary confinement, there was indeed one high point.  I was fortunate enough to have the experience of being an incarcerated criminal defendant and having a jail visit from my lawyer.  Mere words can’t convey the wonderful feeling of relief and gratitude I had knowing a criminal defense attorney on the outside was working to help me.  I no longer felt like I was simply lost in the belly of the beast.  I’ll never forget the role of the criminal defense attorney from the perspective of the incarcerated client.

At my initial hearing in federal court, I was humiliatingly paraded out in leg chains and chains around my midsection as if I was a convicted death row inmate. I was informed of my serious felony charge of assaulting a federal agent; who was now also incredibly claiming he was personally injured by me during the event.  Thankfully, I was released by the federal magistrate and allowed to return to Arizona.

After fighting the case for approximately a year, the Assistant United States Attorney who was prosecuting the case obtained a video of me calmly walking through the terminal which clearly contradicted the Neanderthal’s version of events.  Although despite my best efforts, the video of the actual incident was never produced, the video of me calmly and quietly walking through the terminal demonstrated the Neanderthal’s version was erroneous.

Incredibly, the Government offered to dismiss the federal felony aggravated assault case against me in exchange for my written agreement not to sue them as a result of the incident.  I was presented with a detailed writing releasing the Government from any liability whatsoever arising from the incident.

My Experience as a Criminal Defendant

In my opinion, this was an unjust resolution, and I didn’t want to accept the deal.  However, as is frequently the case in criminal prosecutions, I accepted the deal to avoid the huge transaction cost and risk of trial.  That the Government was willing to dismiss a serious felony criminal case against me in exchange for me not suing them for excessive force seemed a telling admission from them about the injustice I suffered.

It was a real-world experience in every way.  I suffered all the uncertainty one suffers through when a serious criminal charge is pending.  I experienced the dehumanizing experience of being incarcerated by people who assume the worst about you.  I experienced the tough choices faced by criminal defendants every day in weighing risks associated in resolving a serious criminal case.  I was beaten by Neanderthals wearing badges who were willing to lie to protect themselves.  In short, I experienced first-hand what many of my clients experience.

To be fair, I haven’t allowed the experience to jade me.  I certainly recognize that most people who wear badges are not Neanderthals, but some truly are.  I’m not so fast to discount my clients’ stories about excessive force, lying police officers or even totally baseless criminal prosecutions.  I now relish even more the opportunity to be that lawyer who comes to visit my client housed in the jail.  I harken back to my experience every time.  I know what it’s like, and I’ll never forget.

 

    My Experience as a Criminal Defendant