Winning Criminal Defense Tips
By Jason C. Kohlmeyer
Know the Prosecutor
In my opinion, this is one of the first things that must be done in order to get a good result for your client. You will find that many prosecutors have hot button crimes that they take more seriously than other cases, and you might be surprised at what they are. For example, in my area one of the prosecutors was severely injured by a drunk driver years ago. Because of this, I know he will not deal at all on drunk driving. Another prosecutor’s parents run a family business, so she takes check forgery and bouncing checks much more seriously than other prosecutors.
You also need to know if the prosecutor has a reputation for settling cases or for trying them. You will find some prosecutors don’t try cases, while others will try every case. Thus, you need to know who your opponent is before you meet them in the courtroom.
As a new lawyer, you may not know much about the prosecutor. I’ve found that a good way to get the inside scoop is to talk to the public defenders. They certainly will have dealt with the prosecutor many times and are usually happy to help.
|Know the Judge |
Probably as important as knowing the prosecutor is knowing the judge. Will the judge be able to follow a legal argument on a complex constitutional question, or will he not understand the issue? Does the judge give the benefit of the doubt to police officers, or will she listen to lay witnesses? In my jurisdiction I have the ability to remove a judge relatively easily. When I look at the case, one of the first decisions I make is whether or not to remove the judge.
Know the Elements of the Crime
Also, don’t be too quick to concede any of the elements to the prosecution. For example, if intent is a required element, does your jurisdiction allow you to claim voluntary intoxication as an affirmative defense? You might be surprised how often you can successfully challenge the intent element of a crime because your client was under the influence of alcohol, illegal drugs, or even prescription drugs.
Prepare for Trial in Every Case
I’ve found the opposite is also true—if the prosecutor knows you have no problem trying a case that is extremely difficult, he may be more willing to give your client a good deal in order to avoid a lengthy jury trial.
Sentencing Can Be a Trial in Itself
Also, be sure to prepare your client for the sentencing. Spend an hour or two with your client running through exactly what will happen and what he or she will tell the judge to ensure the sentencing goes smoothly.
Jason C. Kohlmeyer practices in a three-person general practice firm in Mankato, Minnesota.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.