By Kristie Williamson
OK, most of us have seen “Matlock,” “Perry Mason” and, of course, a defense favorite, “My Cousin Vinny.” But in reality, how often do trials go the way you as a client or we as defense attorneys want? The result defendants and defense attorneys want is a resounding 10-minute verdict of NOT GUILTY. Additionally, we would like an apology from the prosecutor for putting our client’s freedom in jeopardy and creating irreparable damage to their reputation, livelihood, and physical and mental health. However, those of us who choose to do battle with the dark side on behalf of our clients know that the sweet taste of victory is like nothing else in the world and we would like to see each one of our clients receive that kind of justice. So when faced with the option of choosing between the lesser of two evils — a guaranteed plea bargain the client does not really want or the risk of going to trial — what is a client to do?
First and foremost, as a defendant you need an aggressive, competent professional to be your advocate. As you know, hiring a lawyer is one of the most important decisions you will make if you are the target of a false accusation. Once you have proper representation, you can then make an educated and informed decision with your lawyer about your second most important decision — to go to trial or not.
With the public’s often archaic view of defense attorneys (thank you CNN and Nancy Grace) coupled with the modern demonization of winning at trial (again, thank you Nancy Grace, Casey Anthony and O.J. Simpson), exercising your right to have the state prove your guilt has never come under fire as it has today. Throw in the uncertainty of potentially going to jail or prison and the decision to exercise our civil rights is sadly becoming extinct.
So, in my opinion what are the three reasons for choosing going to trial? One: principle. Yes, that’s right, simply for the principle of the matter. You are falsely accused and you are innocent! Under the Texas and United States Constitutions you have a Sixth Amendment right to a fair trial. You have a right to a speedy trial. You have the right to face your accusers and compel witnesses to testify on your behalf. Under the Fifth Amendment, you have a right to not be a witness against yourself. That means the state cannot force you to testify against yourself. So, go ahead and tell your lawyer everything and let him or her help you. That is a very powerful reason; however, it’s only reason number one.
Two: you have a good case and the risk of losing is outweighed by the strength of your case. What is a good case is something you and your lawyer will have to decide together. It usually means a combination of sound legal arguments and good facts on your side. For instance, purely hypothetically, say you are accused of possessing a handgun. The state’s evidence consists of a handgun and an allegation that you fired the gun. The handgun has no fingerprints or DNA on it. Your hands were tested and no gunshot residue was found to be present. Furthermore, the state has no witnesses to testify you were ever in possession of the gun. The lack of evidence — no prints, DNA or gunshot residue — can all be used in considering reasonable doubt. Reasonable doubt equals a NOT GUILTY verdict. Additionally, no witness to place the handgun in your possession is a good legal argument for a judgment of acquittal by the judge. In the above hypothetical case, one may conclude that you have a good case.
Third: you have nothing to lose. Unfortunately, we sometimes encounter prosecutors who choose not to make a reasonable offer — for instance, if you are charged with a third-degree felony where the maximum penalty is 10 years and the offer is 10 years. You can’t do any worse by going to trial, so why not take your chance and roll the dice. Sometimes, in high-profile cases, the prosecutor may not make any offer in an effort to appear tough on crime. In those cases, you are essentially forced to go to trial. There are several other scenarios where it may seem that the offer is essentially a life sentence to the defendant and those concerns need to be discussed with your lawyer.
I have spoken about rolling the dice and taking chances with a very serious consequence — your freedom. False accusations and the severe damages that come as a result of loose allegations are never a game, however. That is why it is so incredibly important to even out the odds by hiring an experienced attorney. The state may think it holds all the cards, but they do not have the final say. Here at Bailey and Galyen we put our clients’ needs first and are willing and able to help you navigate your legal minefield. So, when you make the decision to go to trial, you will have the best team to get you the best result.