Articles Posted in jury trials

I posted recently about how as lawyers we feel good if we win a criminal case.  My client from this recent case recently posted his feelings on the same subject, and some attorneys might find it valuable to see how the matter looked like from his perspective.  Here is what he wrote.

I hope whoever is reading this finds my words with sincerity. I had been accused of a crime that I was 100% innocent of but the circumstances made me appear to be implicated in some way. My name and image were published in the newspaper and plastered on the internet. Myself and Paul were up against a task force who in court gave their expert testimony against me. They did an excellent job vilifying me in court. But Paul did a much better job conveying my innocence. His speech was delivered with a surgeon’s precision. He was passionate about my innocence. I couldn’t believe it when Paul cross examined one of the expert witnesses who was also the arresting officer. Paul got him to admit on the stand that their entire case against me was speculation and that based on their evidence and approach I could have easily been as innocent as I was guilty. Paul got the truth to come out of this officer’s mouth on the stand in front of the jury! There are so many good things I can say about Paul Kish. I am now able to move on with my life with a clean record because of this man. I couldn’t believe how hard Paul fought for me in court. Right before the Foreperson read the verdict I turned to Paul and let him know that no matter how the verdict came back I was truly grateful for the effort he put in. He was worth every penny. Thank you again Paul! (Not Guilty!)

(Before Trial)

I won a criminal trial when the jury last evening returned the lovely two-word verdict of “not guilty” for my client in a case in a court just north of Atlanta.  As a criminal defense lawyer, hearing these two words is too rare and always comes after a lot of hard work and pressure.

Winning a criminal case is always an uphill battle, and puts a lot of stress on the attorney.  A federal judge who has presided over criminal trials for many years posted his own observations about these stresses: https://blog.simplejustice.us/2017/03/29/kopfs-top-ten-observations-about-criminal-defense-lawyers/.  This judge noted that, “When it comes to convincing a client to reject a plea offer and take the case to a jury, a criminal defense lawyer (regardless of gender) must possess balls of steel.”  However, today I want to briefly talk about the impact on clients who have the guts to take their cases to trial.

Yesterday’s case was a perfect example of the extraordinary stress that a client faces when he or she decides to take their case to trial.  My client had no prior criminal record, is 31, and an extremely hard-working man.  He has big plans for his future, and consistently denied that he committed the crime he was accused of doing. The prosecutor had a not-very-strong case, and continued to make “offers” to get the client to plead guilty.  In the final offer, the prosecutor agreed that if the client pled guilty he would get no jail time, a minimal fine, and that after a short period of probation the conviction would be “restricted” from his record. However, many people know that these “record restriction” rules still allow for the conviction to remain on a person’s record, but only law enforcement officials can see the case.

Like me here in Atlanta, criminal defense lawyers around the country are probably reading about the federal criminal trial involving Paul Manafort (guy with a great first name), the former Campaign Chairman in the last Presidential election.  And like me, lawyers and laypersons alike are wondering about the impact of the evidence and witnesses on the jury.  This made me reflect on what I have learned after trying around 100 criminal jury trials in both federal and state courts during my career.

To begin with, there is a huge difference depending on whether the criminal case is in state court or in the federal arena.  State cases are generally creatures of the county in which the crime happened.  For the most part (unless a statewide agency such as the Medicaid Fraud Control Unit, or “MFCU”, is involved) the case is brought by the county’s District Attorney.  As a general rule, trials have to be in the county where the crime happened.  The jurors only come from that single county, whether it is a huge place like Fulton or Dekalb, or a small rural county far from a large city.  This means that in the smaller counties the jurors often know of or have heard something about either the crime, the Defendant, or some of the attorneys. Federal criminal cases, on the other hand, are handled by “Districts.”  Georgia has three separate federal judicial Districts, Northern, Middle and Southern.  Atlanta is in the Northern District, and there are then four “Divisions”: Gainesville, Rome, Atlanta and Newnan.  Jurors come from the counties in each Division, but that can mean jurors in DeKalb will sit with jurors from Rockdale all on an Atlanta Division case in the Northern District.  The bottom line is that federal jurors came from a wider array of locations and backgrounds.

Another distinction is the method used for selecting jurors.  We lawyers call this “voir dire“, which are supposedly old English words but others claim the expression comes from Latin. Essentially, voir dire is a process by which both sides get to question prospective jurors to see if one side wants to exclude that person from sitting on the jury.  Depending on the jurisdiction, each side gets a certain number of “strikes”, meaning that they can knock that number of people out of consideration for being on the jury.  The questioning involved in voir dire in a state criminal trial is much different than what happens in federal court.  State judges tend to let the lawyers have free reign, asking a wide variety of questions of each individual juror who is up for consideration.  Federal court is much more restricted, and sometimes the Judges won’t let the lawyer ask any questions at all, the Judge will handle all the juror questioning.  As a result, federal jury selection often happens in a matter of hours, while the state counterpart often takes days.