I've been getting hit lately with huge blunders by my clients - that is, blunders my clients make as my clients, not blunders they make that turn them in to my clients. I guess that I'm not down about it, even though it is resulting in much longer sentences for them, which occur on my watch. I hadn't had a client get a life sentence in a long time, and I had only a few of them (less than ten) in my career, somehow I had been lucky and managed to avoid too many.
Then I did a trial a little while ago where the defendants (three of them) were offered 17 years for an attempted murder of 5 people in a shooting. Their maximum exposure was about 5 life sentences and 120 years (meaning, first you do the 120 years - 85% of it, then you do 5 life sentences (minimum time of 7 years each, then you're eligible for parole. Hint for the math impaired - they would never be getting out).
At first, none of the defendants wanted the deal. It was a package deal, meaning all take it or none take it. The DA's perspective is that they were offering the deal to avoid trial, and if one of them wants to go to trial, then they weren't getting their end of the bargain. Since the case was an attempted, premeditated murder, then the judge had no discretion to give them that deal in the absence of the DA's consent.
As we got set to start trial, the other two defendants decided they wanted the deal, but my client didn't. So, they were forced to go through trial. Honestly, my client's case was much better than the co-def's case, but my client was closely associated with the co-defs, and he was arrested at the location, and he was identified as being with them during the shootings (the DA's position was that he shot, but my investigation had revealed that he had probably not, and that his involvement was minimal). Based on my investigation, the Def said he wanted to fight the case, and therefore forced the co-defs to have to fight their case as well.
Trial proceeded, and it went very good for us, just as it was going very badly for the co-defs. However, there was still some evidence of my client's involvement. While arguing over the jury instructions, a light bulb went off in my client's head, and he realized (despite my repeated warnings to him about this) that he could be convicted as an aider and abettor based on his association with the co-defs. He then told me, right before closing arguments, that he wanted the 17 years. Unfortunately, that deal was now off the table (most deals are on the table up until trial only). The DA said no, the judge tried to convince her otherwise, but she stood firm - no deal, even for the co-defs, who were being dragged along against their will and facing a life sentence even though they had wanted to plead guilty.
Eventually, while prevailing on most of the counts, my client was convicted of 2 counts of attempted murder (but hey, they found that he didn't have a gun, so he only aided the 2 co-defs) and criminal threats (this time with a gun). Huge victory for me? Well, he ended up getting 6 years plus 2 life sentences (far less than he faced, but still more than he was offered at 17). Interestingly, he is actually eligible for parole in about 19 years (7 for each life sentence, and about 5 of the 6 years), but realistically, he will never be paroled (very few lifers actually get paroled in California, despite otherwise being eligible - but that's a different story).
Now, I didn't beg the def to take the deal when it was offered. I realized that his case was a shakier case, but based on his close association with the co-defs, coupled with his arrest at that location minutes after the shooting (just like the co-defs), I thought that he could be very easily convicted. I also thought that, technically, the evidence on his involvement in the SHOOTING (he appeared to be involved in some of the lead up to the shooting, if not the actual shooting) was thin, and evidence of his subsequent aiding and abetting was also thin, so I thought that it was close enough that I couldn't push him too hard to take a deal. It's a fine line, but when someone has a colorable claim of innocence, or lack of guilt, I don't feel too comfortable leaning on someone to get them to plead guilty. So, I laid it all out for him in a very clear manner, and let him decide, offering him my advice, but not pushing it on him (pushing your views on your client in a case like this can be a poisonous thing to do, and you have to be very careful about it).
So, a bad decision by my client, and now I have another person doing life.
Oh, that association with the co-defs I was talking about? The 2 co-defs were two of his three younger brothers. By his insistence on going to trial, only to change his mind at the end of trial rather than the start, he got both of his brothers life sentences that they would not have otherwise have received. Obviously, his close association was the fact that they were brothers, and the fact that they lived together, at the location where the shooting took place, of outsiders who were hanging around their neighborhood.
So, as bad as it may have been for me and my client, it was far worse for co-counsel and their clients.