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Chad Van Cleave

Chad has been an attorney for the last nineteen years, but his passion for the federal criminal process has led him to focus exclusively on federal cases for the last seventeen.

My Passion

A lawyer at the outset of the practice of law begins a search for something that he or she really enjoys doing. Some lawyers eventually find it, and some never do. Lawyers can make a living doing just about anything, if they work hard and seek to serve their clients, but a lawyer cannot love the practice of law unless he loves the field he practices in.

I tried my hand at various types of law during the first year or two of my practice, and generally liked what I was doing, but it was not until I received my first court-appointed federal criminal case that I discovered my passion — a field of law that I could enjoy on every level, and that I would never get bored with.

In law school, students take classes that cover a wide variety of fields, and you get an idea of what you like, and what you don’t. However it is not until you see what happens in actual practice that you really know, because practice is much different that what you learn in class. Criminal defense is no different.

In law school, you learn 1) that a criminal defendant is innocent until proven guilty in court, 2) that a criminal defendant is entitled to full and complete discovery well in advance of trial, 3) that the defendant receives all exculpatory evidence from the Government, 4) that a criminal defendant is guaranteed a fair trial by the Constitution, and other things that could make one feel very comfortable that if they ended up on the wrong end of the law, he or she would have a fair shake.

In practice, however, whether it is as an attorney or as a defendant in a criminal case, one learns that none of these things are completely true in any practical, meaningful way, and that the deck is stacked against the criminal defendant, especially in a federal case.

My Background

Before I began law school, I had what I believed to be a healthy distrust of government. I had read the Federalist Papers, the Anti-Federalist Papers, the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and believed that if the patriots who founded this nation and wrote its founding documents distrusted government, I should, too.

The impression I had after finishing school was that our system of justice was essentially a system of justice, and my distrust of government was significantly alleviated.

It only took one case, however, to receive a shocking wakeup call. I realized that an individual defendant in a federal criminal case, especially an indigent one who has nearly no resources, in an adversarial proceeding being driven by the government of the United States of America with essentially unlimited resources, was not on fair footing. It is made even worse by well-intentioned law enforcement who believe it is their calling to make sure that every “bad person” is locked up for a very long time, and a set of sentencing guidelines that results in sentences that are far greater than sentences imposed in similar cases in state courts.

I realized with that first case that the Framers of the Constitution had more than a law school understanding of what Government is capable of, and that their distrust of Government was, and is, well founded, and well-taken by the modern U.S. Citizen. I take seriously the warning of the Framers of the Constitution not to trust the government, and so should you.

After that first case, I realized that I could enjoy doing my very small part in trying to make the Government play by the rules, and wanted to do this for the rest of my life. I realized that by defending each of my clients, I was actually doing a small part in protecting each and every inhabitant of the United States and making them a little bit safer from the Government. That’s why, as frustrating as it can be sometimes, I love what I do.

So, now I handle federal criminal defense cases on the trial and appellate level, post-conviction work in federal criminal cases, and federal asset forfeiture cases. My typical cases are drug conspiracies, federal firearms violations, money laundering, asset forfeiture, wire fraud, and computer crime cases. I love both trial and post-conviction work, and enjoy the unique twists that each case brings.

If you or a loved one end up facing the unlimited resources of the federal government or if your loved one has already had the unfortunate experience of being ground under by the federal criminal system, find someone who loves doing what he or she does. It will make a difference.

Limited to the practice of exclusively federal law in Federal Courts and California Courts.

Admitted to practice before Federal Courts in the Western District of Texas, Northern District of Texas, Eastern District of Texas, Southern District of Texas, Northern District of Florida, Northern District of California, Eastern District of California, and before the United States Courts of Appeals for the Fifth and Tenth Circuits. Licensed by Supreme Court of California. California Bar Number 224036.

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