If you are charged with a Domestic Violence crime (or DUI, Drug Offenses, Shoplifting or Murder), you are entitled to representation by a criminal defense attorney, to have a jury trial and cross examine witnesses, and, above all, to be presumed innocent.
It is with some confusion therefore that I have been reading about the reaction to various NFL players being accused of Domestic Violence, then basically tried and convicted in the media. Even Diane Feinstein has weighed in. It seems that if the evidence is “strong” then somehow the presumption of innocence disappears.
Some of my best victories at trial have been in cases where everyone said my client was guilty and we should just give up. One of my favorites was State v C.R. My client was charged with bringing twelve pounds of marijuana up from California to sell in Oak Harbor, back when that was a major felony. He was looking at serious time because of the quantity.
The Whidbey News Times, that pathetic excuse for a newspaper the poor citizens of Oak Harbor are subjected to, had a banner headline when he was arrested: BIGGEST DRUG BUST IN THE HISTORY OF ISLAND COUNTY! It was followed with an article which was obviously an attempt to try and convict my client in 1000 words or less, describing how he was caught “red handed” on video, had confessed to two different Detectives and was clearly guilty.
An interesting note on this headline is that it was wrong. We were currently representing a gentleman who had been caught with SIXTY POUNDS of pot in his backyard at the time. I think sixty is bigger than twelve but I guess the reporter couldn’t count that “high”. (Sorry, couldn’t resist that.)
We went to trial. A few weeks before trial I held a meeting of my entire office, asking for input on trial strategy. One of my best young lawyers pulled me aside afterwards to let me know that sometimes it is okay to lose. I about fell over. I explained to her that I had no intention of losing and the fact that the evidence was overwhelming was not the issue. Giving my client the best defense I could was. So I did.
During trial the videotape loomed large. Funny thing was I actually watched that tape. All two hours of it. Unlike the idiots at the paper and, as it turns out, unlike the prosecutor who was trying the case.
It showed two hours of my guy sitting in a car doing nothing. Granted, he had twelve pounds of mediocre Mexican shake in the trunk (another detail the paper got wrong, describing it as high grade Marijuana). However there was nothing showing that he knew it was in there or what his buddy was doing inside the motel room as he waited outside for him.
I found out the prosecutor had not bothered to watch the tape when I wound up being the one to introduce it into evidence at trial and HE objected! He said he had never bothered to watch it.
So, in addition to stupid newspaper reporters I had a stupid lazy prosecutor on my hands. The fact that this guy was trying to send my client to prison without bothering to check out his own evidence enraged me. Which didn’t help make his life any easier, believe me.
I was annoyed.
Enter the so called “confessions”. By now I had had it, but that is often the case when I do a trial. I can’t help it when the Government is trying to lock up my client and can’t be bothered to do their jobs properly, which, unfortunately is also often the case.
Prosecutors get lazy shooting fish in barrels all day. I barraged the detectives with cross-examination. So forcefully that the court reporter got mad at me for messing up her attempt to write it all down. “You won’t have a good record for your appeal!” she screamed at me during a break. “Appeal?” I asked. “I don’t care about that. Appeals are for losers. We are gonna win.”
Turns out we did. The confessions were not written down, no notes were kept (or if they were they were destroyed) and I was so obnoxious to the cops that afterwards the jury was amazed that their were two alleged confessions rather than one. They couldn’t follow the detectives’ testimony with me over there screaming OBJECTION! every other second.
The jury came back not guilty in about two minutes. So much for HEADLINES, even if they are in all caps. I am not an employment lawyer, although having employed around 100 people over the years I do know a bit about hiring and firing practices.
All I know is that so called “overwhelming evidence” is often less clear than it first appears. What is clear is that trials, with the right to cross exam witnesses, the right to testify or remain silent, the right to put on your own witnesses, and, above all else, the right to be presumed innocent until and unless the Government proves your client guilty beyond a reasonable doubt are the way to test that so called evidence.
I don’t know whether the Ravens’ Ray Rice or the Vikings’ Tom Johnson should be fired. I do know they should be presumed innocent. Johnson claims he was assaulted first by the police.
With Ray Rice the fact that he cold cocked his girlfriend is not necessarily the whole story. What if right before he did that she said, “Hey, I’m about to reach into my purse, pull out a ‘9M’ and blow your brains out!” I don’t know, and neither does anyone else except for the two of them.
So it is important that we all try to remember to keep our minds open when reading about these cases. Me? I think these guys deserve the same thing the rest of us get: The right to be presumed innocent. Seems to me that until the charges are proven beyond a reasonable doubt or they plead guilty, they should not be summarily tried and convicted in the media. But maybe that’s just me. I sincerely hope not.