Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Not Guilty!

Some time ago I discussed representing innocent criminal defense clients. I briefly mentioned a case, and we just got the verdict today: Not Guilty!

The client was originally charged with Grand Larceny for allegedly "stealing" (quotes for a reason) a capuccino machine from the place where he worked. The biggest problem for the prosecution is that he did not steal the item. He gave it to a customer. Testimony from the various witnesses left some issues unclear, but it was pretty clear that employees had been told to throw out garbage in a particular area (to make room for something new), and the client thought this item was garbage. It had not been used in the entire time he worked there and it was covered with dust.

Unlike my experience in a vaguely similar case in another county, the prosecutors here recognized early that they did not have the best case. One of the local prosecutors consented to a fairly low bail in a brief phone call. The prosecutor who was then assigned was very cooperative. He dropped the case to a misdemeanor. He offered reasonable deals from the very beginning. He provided me with all the information he had without the need for any formal discovery process (which saved my client roughly $1000 in fees).

The client insisted on getting a jury verdict. I find this a strong indicator of innocence - when a client refuses good offers from the prosecution. Guilty clients are generally looking for a deal. Give them anything with no jail time and they'll jump at it. When your client rejects an ACOD (effectively a dismissal, but not "on the merits"), that's a good sign the client believes in his own innocence. Unfortunately you can't tell the jury about this.

So we had the trial. The judge and the prosecutor were both very professional. The prosecutor did his best with the case he had. The client took the stand at the end and did very well. I thought he sounded a bit canned (like he practiced certain lines too much) on my direct questioning, but he did a good job of making eye contact with the jury. He was fantastic on cross. The prosecutor had built the case on the theory that he was a disgruntled employee who was trying to damage the employer. "I wasn't disgruntled - I had just gotten a raise." I almost wish I had prepped him to do that, but it was simply the truth and he said it in such a matter of fact way.

I should mention that, while I enjoyed working with the judge and prosecutor, I didn't agree with everything they did. I think the prosecutor should have agreed to a dismissal on the merits early on. I also disagree with a number of the judge's trial rulings. But then again, I don't have their job and I'm highly biased on this because it was my case. It was a pleasure to work with them and it is the hallmark of good lawyers and judges to have such disagreements and work through them politely while treating each other with respect.

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