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My name is Ms. Van der Linden and I am a lawyer who is specialized in criminal law. In this article I would like to tell you how a normal evening can take weird turns when I tell people what I do for a living.


We have all seen the scenario where at a birthday-party, you are chatting about general subjects until the question comes up: “And what do you do for a living?” Several answers suits well here. You might ask yourself why criminal lawyers even need several answers. The truth is that lawyers in criminal law don’t do very well with the public, not even at small parties. I thought it might be interesting and informing if I tell you how I need to defend myself at social occasions.


The first question people usually ask is “why do you defend a guilty person?”


The first thing here is that not every person who is being accused is really guilty. That also implies that not every innocent man is really innocent when it comes to criminal law. The second thing is that even if someone is really guilty, that person still needs to be defended. Of course that does not always mean you can and will tell the judge that your client is innocent and did not do anything, but it can mean that the lawyer will be closely watching if the law is applied right. If someone did something really horrible, it does not mean this person should not get a fair trial. A trial could point out the motive someone had to break the law, and can therefore be important. A crime can also be an accident. The conclusion of this is that a trial is always needed before someone should get the stamp “guilty”. And what defines guilty is not always a matter of right or wrong.


If you think I can get back to chatting about the weather, you are wrong. It is at this point questions turn into accusations about the good life of people in prison.


Dutch prisons are like the Hilton!


Oh really? I can imagine people think it is like a hotel. Your food is being served, you can watch TV all day long and you can even have the first version of a Playstation. People do tend to forget that prisoners are being held in there for the majority of the day. Sometimes they are only allowed to go out for one hour per day. The worst part of it all is that people cannot decide for themselves where they want to go or what they want to do. Others decide how their lives should look like. Even though prisons in the Netherlands are not such a horrible place where you share your cell with 12 others and need to be scared of numerous diseases, the Dutch prison is still a place where you would not want to be.


So after you convince the party people that your job actually is honourable, the next thing comes up. They assault you with the question of why the Dutch judges are “soft” and criminals receive “low punishments”.


Between guilty and prison


The first question here is if every guilty person needs to be sent to jail. My objective would be to keep people out of prison. Of course, some people can cross the border of the law and do something they are not supposed to do. People end up getting harassed by government officials; they can feel intimidated by interrogations and so on. This means the whole process of research after a crime can be so impressive someone will never ever break the law on purpose again. It is being felt like very unfair to put someone in prison that can learn from mistakes in another, less restricting way. After all, the judge will only send people to prison if they cannot see any other way. It is seen as the last resort for a judge. Instead, when possible, you might get fined, or you will need to work for free as punishment. My opinion is that alternative punishments do more good than detention. And I am not the only one who believes people will not get better when they are detained.  So what you need when you are being accused of breaking the law, is someone who stands by you, no matter what. This lawyer will see to it that your rights as a suspect are being respected and, in case of conviction, a reasonable punishment will follow. This person is a lawyer, specialized in criminal law.


And the party goes on…


So the chat at the party goes on. While many people do not see the value of a lawyer who specializes in criminal law, it is the person who is accused that sees how important it is to have someone on your side against the mighty government. Sometimes people start to understand what I am talking about and that is the moment where people must admit that lawyer and accused are valuable for each other. It is all about not standing alone in harsh times. No matter if someone is guilty of a crime or innocent.


How to reach the lawyer after the party


If you ever get into the situation where you need a lawyer, several ways are open. If you get arrested, the police will ask you if you have your own lawyer. If so, this lawyer of your own choice will be contacted straight away. If you do not have your own lawyer, the police must make sure that you get a lawyer anyway.


If you are free and you need a lawyer, you can always contact one yourself. If you are not being held by the police, it is easy enough to find a lawyer and give a call. Consultation in most cases is free.


* Ms. J.C.G.J. van der Linden is a lawyer in Criminal Law with the Law Offices of Schuurman Kleijweg de Vries Advocaten. She can be reached on  or tel.: 070 427 32 15.


NEXT EDITION: An article on cases similar to that of Mauro Manuel (the Angolan youngster who came to the Netherlands as unaccompanied refugee), and how people with similar cases can approach the problem. Those with similar cases can make an appointment for a FREE legal counsel in our law office. Thanks. - A. G. Kleijweg

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