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.
My client refused to take the “offer.” He is one of those unfortunately rare people who had the guts to stand up to bullies like this prosecutor and the police officers who arrested him for no good reason. However, the stress on my client was obvious. He was nervous, could not sleep, and was so shaken when the jury found him “not guilty” he could barely speak.
Again, I am always happy when a jury rewards my hard work with an acquittal. But I always try to remember that that the “win” came at a large cost to my client who was improperly charged with a crime that he or she did not commit.