Spotlight On: Matthew M. Evans - October, 2015

Please tell us about your background, where you practice, and how long you have been a criminal defense lawyer. 

I took an unconventional route to get where I am now.  I earned a BBA in accounting from Western Michigan University in 1980.  I progressed steadily in Accounting/Finance holding several senior management positions.  My last position was Vice President – Controller of Michigan National Bank’s mortgage subsidiary.

The excitement of accounting was taking its toll so in 1992 I began law school at the Detroit College of Law.  I graduated in 1996 and was in the first graduating class after the merger with Michigan State University.  I took the February bar exam and began practicing criminal law in May of 1996.  My criminal law practice has been the majority of my work ever since.

Please tell us about one of your interesting cases.  What was the theories of the parties?

People v. Raphael Hearn [Wayne County Circuit Court] was the most interesting, as well as the most heartbreaking.  It involved the shooting of a two year old.  My client was merely a passenger in the car and his co-defendant was the shooter.  My client was convicted as an aider and abettor with scant evidence.

This case had numerous legal issues, including the challenging of a search warrant of a jail cell, numerous motions in limine, and dealing with known perjury of a prosecution witness.

This case was the perfect example of how when the facts of the case are horrendous, the level of proof required for conviction decreases.  What makes this loss hit home is the fact that my client was the best client I ever represented.  He was polite, honest, and very trusting in my efforts.

Did the case require expert testimony?

The prosecution had a cell phone tracking expert who we totally destroyed on cross examination.

What trends have you noticed in criminal practice in recent years?

The revolving door of attorneys who take assignments is troubling and is indicative of the financial realities of legal education.

Our current fee schedule is virtually unchanged since 1982.  Coupled with the increased cost of a legal education, it is almost impossible for young attorneys to build a criminal law practice while meeting the substantial financial obligation of student loans, which can total more than $200,000 when undergraduate loans are added to the law school loans.

How can our criminal justice system be improved?

We need to first of all adjust fees to represent the efforts required to properly represent a client.  The approach seems to be to come up with standards of practice first without addressing the costs of meeting those standards.  These efforts need to happen simultaneously.

What specific advice do you have for new lawyers?

Know the basics.  A lawyer who thoroughly understands the rules of evidence can give fits to the prosecutor.

View yourself as you would a physician.  You didn’t put your client in the position they are in and you can only deal with the facts that you are given.  In practicing criminal law, the victories are more often measured by the mitigation of consequences as opposed to outright acquittals.

Just as a physician gives advice to their patients, it is the patient’s choice as to whether to follow the advice.  Because a client doesn’t follow your advice does not mean you are responsible for the outcome of their choice.  Lead your clients down the path that you think is best and let them decide.  Rarely do I tell a client to take an offer; I let them make the decision after I lay out in a rational and professional manner the possible outcomes.

Develop a sense of humor.  You will see some of the most despicable acts that another human can inflict on another person.  You need to keep yourself from getting dragged down in the mud.

by Neil Leithauser
Associate Editor