I am a criminal defense attorney in Atlanta, and readers know I also handle state cases throughout Georgia and in federal criminal cases all over the country. One of today’s tasks is to work on Jury Instructions for an upcoming case in another part of Georgia. My client, a businesswoman, is accused of some serious crimes that arose out of an event that ended very badly. She says she did not engage in the crimes she is accused of, and because the District Attorney is not being reasonable, we pretty much have no other choice than to go to trial and put her case in front of a jury.
Many clients are not always aware of the various tasks and prep work that are required when a criminal defense lawyer is preparing for a trial. Obviously, the lawyer needs to do his or her homework on the facts, find out what the witnesses will say, and develop methods for attacking the witnesses for the prosecution. The lawyer sometimes also needs to prepare his or her own witnesses. One of the biggest tasks is counseling the accused person on whether he or she should, or should not, testify in their own defense. The final decision on whether the Defendant should testify is completely up to the client, the lawyer can merely provide advice. However, this often is the biggest single decision in a case, and good defense counsel always put a lot of work and thought into providing this advice to their clients.
Today, I am also working on a less well-known aspect of trial preparation: proposed jury instructions. Some of you may know that when the evidence is finished in a criminal case, the Judge has to tell the jury his or her “instructions” or what is sometimes called the “jury charge.” These are basically the rules that the jury has to follow when deciding if the prosecutor has met the burden of proving that the Defendant is guilty of the charges beyond a reasonable doubt.