In this insightful interview on The Legal Odyssey Podcast we delve into the remarkable journey of a Criminal Defense attorney in Colorado, uncovering the twists and turns that led them to this impactful career. Attorney Esteban Martinez’s deep-seated passion for justice and an unwavering commitment to honesty drove him to advocate for those facing legal challenges, particularly within the realm of criminal defense. Through this interview, we gain valuable insights into Esteban’s motivations, his perspective on the criminal justice system, and this advice for individuals seeking the right criminal defense attorney in Colorado.
Why did you decide to become an attorney?
I did not decide to become an attorney. I decided to go to law school. I was a teacher. I was an English teacher at a community college. I had what they called tenure, so I guess I was a professor. In the beginning, I never wanted to actually practice law. I didn’t know the depth of what lawyers did, but I used a lot of law review articles in my composition classes to teach argument and rhetoric. Usually the law review articles were hot topics amongst the students. I was teaching critical race theory in the 90s. Back then, my focus was on teaching and on critical race theory, so I thought lawyers were these really smart people that wrote critical race theory articles.
Later, my ex-wife, who has now passed, had become sick and that mixed with my life experiences at that point, led me to go into law school.
When you went into law school, what sparked your passion for criminal law?
That felt natural to me and it connected to my teaching and it connected to my life. My life experiences as a young teenager, then as an adult and even as a law student drove a passion for justice within me. I was constantly getting harassed. I say constantly, like I thought it was normal at the time, but it was unacceptable. I could just be doing something and the police would want to talk to me. When I was an English professor, I’d go downtown and eat lunch. I taught at the Community College of Denver and had decided to go to lunch with another teacher one day. Sure enough, a cop went up to the teacher and said, “Are you OK?” She was like, “What do you mean?” “We’re friends,” and he thought that somehow I was accosting her.
Then I would see my students getting in trouble. They were just a lot of working class people and they would be getting in trouble. A lot of the time it seemed like they were getting in trouble just because of their status as brown people or as working class people. There were times where it seemed like they were getting singled out because maybe they did not look right to some police officer for some reason. I had enough of seeing unfair treatment. I wanted to do something to make a difference for people, for people like me.
Throughout my life I have always been intervening in things and almost getting beat up by cops when I was younger because I’d see something wrong and I would just go to make sure everything was okay. I would ask, “Hey what’s going on,” before people started doing the stuff with the cameras. Next, I would always find myself thinking, “Oh god I’m going to get beat up by the police.”
I believe in honesty. Unfortunately, I don’t think everybody believes in honesty. I’ve always, regardless of the consequences, I just love honesty. I felt like a lot of the time when I saw criminal cases, that something or someone was not honest.
Since becoming an attorney in Colorado, I have been lucky to find that most criminal defense lawyers here have the same attitude. I love the criminal defense lawyers in Colorado. I think they’re all badasses. I feel like it might be DNA or something. We all were born with some kind of intervention gene. We are the kind of people where we see something wrong and we go and then eventually, some of us become lawyers. Some of us become other influencers in some other way to make change. But a lot of the criminal defense lawyers are doing it because they want to make change. Not all criminal defense lawyers are wealthy, it’s not all about the money.
When we think about people that are looking for a criminal law attorney in Colorado, what do you think is one of the biggest challenges that stops them from talking with an attorney?
I think some people, depending on the severity of any charges, I think it could just be fear, money, ignorance. I had a master’s degree. I was teaching at community college, and I had a title of professor, and I knew nothing about law. I myself was ignorant when it came to situations where I encountered the law. A couple of times I thought, “I’ll just handle it, it’s just small,” but now looking back, I know I should have gotten a lawyer. Sure everything came out okay, but still, I know now that the outcome could have been different with a better understanding of the law or an attorney by my side with that knowledge. I would have even saved a lot of my own time and frustrations if I just paid an attorney and went about my business.
Another important thing is people think they can’t afford a lawyer, but even if it’s a misdemeanor charge, at least in Colorado, if you’re indigent and there’s prison time or jail time, we have to appoint counsel. I’ve actually been appointed myself. I’ve had a court call me multiple times and ask me to do a misdemeanor case.
I encourage anybody who thinks they can’t afford a lawyer to call and talk to them. Now not everyone will want to talk to you or take your case but if it’s a criminal situation, it’s worth gaining the knowledge and insights of an attorney. In Colorado, most criminal defense attorneys are very cool and they will try to help you at least find the lawyer if they can’t take your case. I occasionally get calls and I say, “I can’t do that case it’s either beyond my experience level, I’ve never done a case like that,” but I spend an hour or two understanding the situation to make sure I can recommend the most experienced lawyer I know for the situation.
I’ve even had multiple people call me back saying that person didn’t work out, can you help me and so I just continue to help them because I want the system to work properly and not to hurt somebody. I see it working wrong often and people getting sentenced too long or punished too badly.
Imagine someone searching for a criminal defense attorney in Longmont or Boulder, Colorado. What advice would you give them to help find the right attorney for them?
You don’t want to just go with the first attorney you talk to. You need to remember that you’re probably in an emotional state if you’re calling a lawyer. You need time to calm down. You’ve got to be self-aware, it’s a process. If you want to find the right lawyer, you should expect that it could take a few days. It might take a few phone calls. It might take a few weeks, but you do not want the wrong lawyer. The things that you want in a lawyer are:
- A strong level of comfort in discussing your situation with the person
You have to be able to reveal to them anything they ask you. You want to feel comfortable, like you feel safe with that person.
- An ability to easily communicate with and understand the attorney
You need to be able to understand when your attorney speaks to you about stuff. It is important to find someone that you communicate with in an easy way. So like I talk to people and they interrupt me and I just be quiet and I wait to talk back, right? But some attorneys will just not let you talk, right? You really want a lawyer who is a good listener because it’s not just a skill for listening to clients, it’s a skill for allowing your opponent to talk while you just listen and get a lot of good information.
- Willingness to be innovative and fight for you in any way
You want an advocate that you feel comfortable with, that is telling the DA, “Why don’t we do something different here, right?” You want somebody who works hard, and is willing to challenge the current narrative for your case.
- Someone who is easily available
You want a lawyer that lets you get in touch with them pretty quickly so if you have a question that needs answered, or somebody contacted you, and you need to get in touch with your attorney, it’s important to have somebody that you know can be there.
What are some important questions to ask a criminal defense attorney in Colorado?
Ask for my resume. Ask me if I’ve been disciplined, which is a great question. You don’t want to hire a lawyer who stole from clients, right? You can look disciplines like that up. So I actually tell prospective clients how to do that, how to look up if the attorney has been disciplined in the past.
I also think it is so important to get a good understanding of the attorney’s availability. I had somebody ask me a very specific question about, can I call you on weekends? If you have a situation where you can’t communicate with your lawyer during their regular business hours, you need to make sure that the attorney can be available outside of those hours.
At what point is it too late to call an attorney?
I have had people call me when their second or third appearance in court is the next day. While this is very late, it is important to know it is not too late. Some lawyers will charge a premium to show up on such a short notice, but you’re going to have a professional by your side. I say it’s never too late to call a lawyer. The longer you wait, the more difficult the solution will be, so the best time to call a lawyer is immediately. As soon as you think that you might be charged with a crime, you should call a criminal lawyer.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with someone seeking a criminal defense attorney?
Getting in a lawyer, sometimes it’s such a good, smart move. I’ve known of people who have been charged with serious crimes and then because they’ve got the right lawyer and the best one for their case, they will plead down.
Don’t be afraid to talk to lawyers. Don’t be afraid of attorneys. Lawyers are not exceptionally smart, and I don’t mean that disrespectfully to any lawyers either. I think we’re just people. Our intelligence is just like the rest of the population. Some are brighter than others, some aren’t, but we are just people.
The journey of this attorney, from an English professor with a penchant for critical race theory to a passionate advocate for justice, is a testament to the unexpected paths life can take. Esteban’s story sheds light on the pivotal moments that led him to stand up against injustice, serving as a beacon of hope for those navigating the complexities of the legal system.
Whether facing minor charges or more serious allegations, Esteban’s message remains clear: honesty, comfort, and innovation are crucial traits to seek in an attorney. By understanding the importance of timely action, clear communication, and the availability of legal counsel, individuals can empower themselves in the face of legal challenges. This conversation serves as an invitation to seek justice, no matter the circumstances, and to embrace the support of a dedicated advocate who is committed to making a difference.