Last week a jury in York County returned a Not Guilty verdict on a charge of Class B Gross Sexual Assault in a case that I tried. The case involved a very complex set of facts and a lengthy investigation by law enforcement prior to my client being charged with the offense. As with any other case, preparation of the defense was key to the result. I utilized a private investigator to find flaws in the State’s case. I spent countless hours on legal research and trial preparation. A criminal jury trial is probably the most high stakes litigation conceivable. If the end result of the trial had been a guilty verdict, my client would very likely have received a prison sentence.
For the trial, I planned a defense theory that was made up of two distinct strategic objectives, if I had failed to persuade the jury on either objective, my theory would have fallen apart and the end result would have been a guilty verdict. The specific defense theory in the case came out of the facts, the charge, the defense investigation, my legal research and trial preparation. Prior to trial, I created a cross-examination outline for each witness, I never write my questions beforehand because effective cross-examination, just like effective communication, is based upon listening and comprehension. The first part of my strategy was to impeach the credibility of each witness called by the State on aspects of testimony that supported the State’s factual version of events. This part of the strategy was necessary to create doubt as to what the State was trying to prove occurred. The second part of my strategy was to create doubt, through questioning of certain State’s witnesses, on issues that went straight to the legal elements of the offense itself. By the end of the trial, I wanted the jury to have doubts about what the State said happened, but also to have doubt about the nature of what the State said happened.
The defense theory was nothing out of Law and Order or Perry Mason, but it was a clear, succinct and linear argument that I could preview for the jury in my opening statement, demonstrate through cross-examination of the State’s witnesses and persuasively argue in my closing statement. In every trial, I arrive at a defense theory based upon the work done in the case, but regardless of the case, my defense theory always has to be consistent, understandable, realistic, persuasive and genuine. If an attorney cannot be genuine in front of the jury he or she will likely lose the trial. Likewise, if an attorney does not have a theory that remains consistent throughout he or she will likely lose the trial.
The importance of preparation cannot be understated. Based upon my review of the case, I decided to attack the State’s case, and support my arguments through cross-examination of the State’s witnesses. My client did not testify and I did not call any witnesses. A common misconception is that the Defense has to put on a case in an attempt to prove a Defendant’s innocence. More often than not, an attempt to prove a client’s innocence is a dangerous trial mistake, and results in the jury deciding between the State’s version of events versus the Defense version of events. The mistake often inherent in the quest to prove innocence is that the Defendant does not have to prove anything. By taking on a burden that does not exist, the Defense risks the State’s case going unchallenged and the possibility that the jury prefers the State’s version of events over the Defense version.
It is only through preparation, diligence and hard work that a sound defense theory can be developed going into a trial. A defense without a theory has no possibility of success. A defense with a sound theory that can be presented to the jury in the opening statement, demonstrated through the evidentiary phase of the trial, and successfully argued in closing has the best possible chance of resulting in a Not Guilty verdict. Last week, I was able to successfully use my defense theory to convince the jury to return a Not Guilty verdict on behalf of my client.
Sex Offenses are some of the most difficult charges an individual can face, they are also among the most difficult to defend against. Sex offenses are emotionally charged, often involve publicity, and generate strong opinions from citizens and advocacy groups. Prosecution of Sex Offenses is incredibly serious, as it should be, and appropriate sentences after convictions tend to be in the years. The evidence in these cases can range from complex DNA analysis to a single allegation with no corroboration. Countless defendants have been convicted based solely upon the testimony of the alleged victim.
If you are charged with any type of Sex Offense, you must hire a criminal defense attorney with significant trial experience and specific experience in the defense of Sex Offenses. Do not be afraid to ask the attorney about his or her experience in criminal defense, prior trial experience, and experience in the defense of Sex Offenses. Protecting your rights begins with choosing the right Criminal Defense attorney.