February 06, 2015
Whether to advise a client to take his or her criminal case to trial is a question I have to answer very regularly. In this blog post, I am going to briefly go through the considerations any attorney “worth their salt” would explain to a client when advising him or her on this issue.
What is the general perception of the crime charged?
It is important to keep in mind that a trial is always an uphill battle for the defense. This is especially evident in sex crimes cases, as well as crimes involving children. Even the crime charged can prejudice jurors against a defendant.
Does the accused have admissible prior convictions?
This is a huge consideration. If someone has admissible prior convictions, especially if they are for the same or similar crimes as the crime charged, then he or she risks the jury convicting based on his or her prior criminal history. This is despite whether the person committed the crime charged.
Is there a solid defense to the alleged crime?
Obviously a major consideration is whether the person has any defense worth presenting to a jury. If there is not much of a defense to the crime charged, then, usually, there is not much of a point in having the jury decide the outcome of the case. There are some exceptions to this, but explaining them would be a whole blog post in itself.
Is it worth the risk?
The answer to this question largely depends on a person’s charge(s), as well as his or her prior convictions. The more serious the criminal charge, the more exposure to prison time the accused faces. In Oklahoma, with a few exceptions, a person’s prior felony convictions are used by the State to enhance the person’s range of punishment if he or she is charge with a subsequent felony offense. For example, possession of methamphetamine without any prior felony convictions for drug crimes carries a minimum of two years and an maximum of ten years in the Oklahoma Department of Corrections (DOC). If a person has a prior conviction for possession of methamphetamine, and is subsequently charged again with possession of methamphetamine, he or she is looking at a range of punishment of a minimum of four years and a maximum of twenty years in DOC.
A person’s exposure to prison time is a huge factor in deciding whether to take a case to trial. In my short time as a lawyer, I have yet to come across a situation where a client is being offered something reasonable, or even good considering the circumstances, and I advise him or her to take the case to trial. Trial is the ultimate “roll of the dice” in a criminal case. Keep in mind, juries hand out jail/prison time, not probation.
The bottom line is that no one can tell to any certainty how twelve jurors are going to decide a case. Our court system is the best in the world, but it is far from perfect. The innocent sometimes end up in prison, and sometimes the guilty go free. However, I cannot come up with a better system.
I hope this post is helpful to those of you looking for some guidance in deciding whether to take your criminal case to trial. Be sure to consider the advice of your counsel when making this decision. As always, if you have further questions regarding this topic, please post your inquiry and I will do my best to answer it. If you have a suggestion for next week’s topic, let me know!