Although defense strategies vary because each client’s case is unique, an experienced criminal defense lawyer focuses on building the strongest case for his client. He works to uncover each detail with the goal of prevailing over the prosecution’s version of the truth.
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Versions of the Truth in a Criminal Case
The defendant often benefits from revealing his or her truth in a criminal trial:
- For instance, if a defendant is charged with killing his wife, his perception of “the truth” may be that he acted in self-defense and that he was a victim of emotion or physical abuse for years.
- Because the defendant’s story differs from the prosecution’s version doesn’t mean that it’s inaccurate.
The defendant and his or her criminal defense lawyer must align to form the most helpful and accurate version of the case’s facts. The defense strategy must include 1) consistency (and verifiable evidence); 2) potential to win jurors’ sympathy; and 3) an explanation of why the defendant’s version is relevant;
Many versions of the truth exist in most criminal cases. It’s essential for the defendant to strategize with his or her criminal defense attorney. A “spontaneous reveal” of his or her recall of the events can lead to an unhelpful or inaccurate defense claim.
The knowledgeable criminal defense lawyer seeks to comprise his client’s most helpful version of events. The goal is to produce a not guilty verdict, a favorable plea bargain, or a guilty verdict to a less onerous charge.
Confession and Denial
The defendant’s version of the facts may fall under the following categories:
- A confession story. The defendant’s recall of events in generally in agreement with the prosecutor’s claims. For example, the defendant might agree that he broke into someone else’s residence to steal a computer.
- A complete denial. The defendant’s recall of events categorically denies claims made by the prosecution. The defendant may present an alibi in his or her denial story. He might say that he was at home with his spouse when the alleged computer theft happened.
- An admit and explain story. In this version, the defendant acknowledges that a portion of the prosecutor’s claims are right, but notes important differences. For instance, the defendant agrees that he went to another person’s residence to take the computer, but claims the owner provided a key and provided permission for him to borrow the computer.
Defense strategy formulation
The skilled defense attorney must evaluate multiple factors to arrive at a theory of the case that agrees with the available evidence and supports the defense, such as 1) defense and prosecution witnesses; 2) law enforcement and community outlook on the crime; and 3) the moral responsibility of the defendant.
In many cases, the defendant’s version of events creates a successful defense strategy. For instance:
- Let’s say the defendant is charged with committing a burglary.
- He confesses to the crime after arrest.
- An eyewitness places the defendant at the crime scene.
- In privileged conversation with defense counsel, the defendant admits that his friends planned and then committed the burglary. He went along with the group because he didn’t want to look weak in their eyes. The defendant recalls that police didn’t read the Miranda rights (the legal right to remain silent and/or speak with an attorney prior o police questioning).
While the defendant might acknowledge he was present at the crime scene, the knowledgeable defense attorney formulates a defense theory that supports the defendant.
In this example, the police officers at the crime scene inappropriately forced the defendant to confess. The theory of the case is in alignment with the defendant’s truth and favors the defense.
The defense lawyer may file a pretrial petition that seeks to ban the prosecution from entering the defendant’s confession into evidence because police failed to read his rights. In addition, the defense attorney might argue that the witness’ account doesn’t prove that the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
The criminal defense lawyer’s goal is to either 1) obtain a not guilty verdict for the defendant or 2) discredit the prosecutor’s evidence to negotiate a plea bargain for the defendant.
The experienced defense attorney does everything possible to help his client build the strongest story.
If the client has never been accused of a crime before, has never been deposed before, or asked to testify before, the defense attorney will coach the client to ensure that he or she provides an accurate version of the case events when called to do so.
The defense lawyer may coach the defendant by:
- Employing interview methods that prompt the defendant’s recall, e.g. by asking the client to recall the story in a timeline.
- Direct the client to write down his or her version of the case events in his or her own words.
- Discuss the charges against the client in detail, including the available facts in the prosecutor’s version of the case.
In this way, the criminal defense lawyer works with the client to create a solid defense strategy.
Effective Criminal Defense Strategies
Generally speaking, the experienced criminal defense lawyer uses a systematic approach to formulating an effect criminal defense strategy for his client:
Step 1: Review arrest and/or investigation details
The criminal defense lawyer breaks down law enforcement and the prosecution’s case by reviewing the procedures it used in making the arrest and in the investigation of the case against the defendant:
- The defense attorney seeks to identify whether or not the defendant’s rights were violated, e.g. regarding collection and/or storage of evidentiary materials and/or other laws.
- If law enforcement doesn’t read the defendant his or her rights before or during an arrest, any evidence they collect afterwards (including the defendant’s alleged confession) may be inadmissible at trial.
- If law enforcement officers don’t obtain a warrant before a search is conducted (or collects evidence that falls outside of the items covered by the warrant), the defendant’s rights may have been violated.
Step 2: Retain expert witnesses when necessary
An expert witness may be called to refute the prosecution’s evidence and to strengthen the defendant’s case.
Certain evidence, e.g. blood spattering, fingerprints, or gunshot residues, may be crucial in a criminal case. The expert witness may potentially point out:
- Questionable/false statements made by expert witnesses presented by the prosecution
- Reasonable doubt concerning the perpetrator’s identity
- Assumptions/misconceptions in the prosecution’s case
Step 3: Point out potential unreliability of an eyewitness’ testimony
An eyewitness’ testimony may appear to offer compelling evidence in a criminal case, especially when the prosecution presents consistency between multiple eyewitnesses’ statements.
In that event, the experienced criminal defense lawyer seeks to break down details of eyewitness accounts by considering:
- Who is/are the eyewitnesses? Does he or she have a history of “bending” the truth?
- Does the eyewitness have anything to gain from the testimony?
- What does the eyewitness claim to have seen?
Scrutiny of eyewitness accounts can show that the prosecutions’ witnesses may be mistaken, bending the truth, or lying. Challenging one or more questionable eyewitness accounts can generate sufficient reasonable doubt in jurors’ (or prosecutors’) minds.
Step 4: Prepare the defendant to take the stand
If the defendant’s case goes to trial and he or she wants to take the stand in his or her own defense, the criminal defense attorney will strive to prepare him or her to testify.
Testifying in court is probably unlike anything the defendant has done before. For that reason, his or her defense counsel will assemble focus groups or even mock trials to prepare the defendant to testify. In this way, the defendant 1) better understands how his or her expressions or body language are “read” by jurors; 2) is ready to tell his or her version in a clear, concise manner; and 3) is mentally ready for potentially abrasive or contentious cross-examination by the prosecution.
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Step 5: Get evidence against the defendant thrown out of court
The criminal defense attorney works to discredit as much of the evidence against his client as possible. For example, he may argue:
- His client’s rights under the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution were violated: his or her confession should be thrown out of court
- His client’s rights under the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution were violated: weapons and/or other items are inadmissible as evidence
- Evidence was contaminated and/or mishandled: it shouldn’t be admitted as evidence at trial
The criminal defense’s strategy may result in getting charges reduced of completely dropped against the client. Dismissal of the prosecution’s evidence may also prompt plea deal negotiations.
Step 6: Going the plea deal or insanity plea route
The defense strategy may also include:
- Negotiating a plea deal: If the prosecution’s case against the defendant is tight and chances of his or her being acquitted in trial are slim, it may be necessary to consider a plea deal. A successfully negotiated plea deal may offer the defendant with the option to plead to a lesser charge and/or get a reduced sentence.
- Plead an insanity defense: When a defendant is struggling with known impairments and/or severe mental health issues, it may be helpful to raise an insanity defense.
Criminal Defense Strategies: The Bottom Line
When it comes to preparing a legal defense for court, the bottom line is that having a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney at your side is crucial to presenting the most successful criminal defense strategy for your case.
It’s important to know that the “best” strategy for your case depend on the facts, the charges in question, and your criminal history.
If you or someone you love has been charged with a crime, you need an experienced Texas criminal defense lawyer. The Law Office of Brett A. Podolsky in Houston is available to provide you or your loved one with the strongest possible defense. Contact Mr. Podolsky in Houston at 713-227-0087 if you need a Houston criminal attorney.