Monday, June 16, 2014


A jury trial is like climbing a mountain. When you reach the highest peak the view from above will be worth the effort; but if the peak is never reached, then the time, effort and expense will have been wasted. 

No one willingly subjects himself to a jury trial in a criminal case, yet there are occasions when a trial by jury is necessary. One reason for a trial is the most obvious. It's comes when a client insists he's innocent. There will be no plea negotiations. There will simply be a courtroom battle.

Too often the criminal justice system grinds down a defendant's will until the only reasonable choice seems to be to take a plea offer. Yet even the best defense lawyers sometimes forget that every client is presumed innocent under the law until convicted. Even more unusual for lawyers and judges to believe, it's possible that a client who claims to be innocent may in fact be innocent. It's not for the defense lawyer to determine innocence or guilt, but to find the best possible outcome for the client in each criminal prosecution. 

Just as clients are often ground down by the criminal justice system, so are the lawyers and judges. This is true because a high percentage of cases especially in federal courts plead guilty. A recent study established that for the past ten years 96% of defendants in federal court pled guilty leading many defendants to believe the system is rigged to find guilt and to avoid jury trials. One suspects that in the Middle District of Florida in Tampa and in the Florida state court system as found in Pinellas County, Florida that the percentage may be only slightly less.

What this means for defense lawyers is that legal victories are often hard to achieve for any client, let alone those who are innocent, thus further dampening the fervor to achieve brilliant court victories, since even the best defense lawyers must advise their clients of the current probabilities of jury trial success.  Perhaps clients would be well advised to find out when their lawyer last went to trial and what the result was, because one factor of importance in successful plea negotiation is the willingness of defense counsel to go to trial even on a losing case when necessary. Perhaps a client can learn more about the grit of a lawyer from that lawyer's defeats than his winning percentage.

There's something noble about the bloodied fighter getting off the mat despite the pounding. There's something eternally mysterious about the moment before the foreman of the jury announces the verdict. Heart skips a beat, time seems to stop, till 'not guilty' fills the courtroom, feel the deep exhale from your client within, the laughter of his family, a nod from the stern judge, a feeling not just of happiness envelops you but a feeling that justice can prevail in this America, our America, and that justice is worth fighting for.

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