To convict a person charged with a crime, a prosecutor must prove the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The alleged offender is provided with the opportunity to present his or her defense. A range of defenses is possible. If the defendant says he or she isn’t guilty, it’s simple to say, “I didn’t commit the crime.” If he or she did commit the crime but mitigating circumstances are present, it’s possible to claim, “I did commit the crime, but I acted in self-defense.”
An experienced criminal defense attorney develops a strategy to defend his or her client against criminal prosecution. The strategy to defend the client typically evolves as the criminal defense lawyer learns more about the prosecutor’s plan. Each criminal prosecution differs from all others, so the specific criminal defense strategy is developed to address the situation and elements at hand.
For instance, a prosecutor says the defendant was at the crime scene. To counter the prosecutor’s theory, the criminal defense attorney will most likely ask a variety of questions that establish a different series of events that show the defendant was at another place when the crime occurred. Of course, the defendant’s presence and ability to respond to the prosecutor’s questions can also affect the defense attorney’s case strategy.
Importantly, the defendant and criminal attorney don’t make up false tales to claim innocence. It’s always best when the defendant is honest and open with the attorney. The attorney always has the best chance of creating a solid defense with the truth. That said, the prosecutor’s version of the truth may be significantly different from the defendant’s version.
Common Tactics Used to Defend Against Criminal Charges
Many versions of truth may exist in a criminal prosecution. For instance, if the defendant faces a murder charge, many different but true stories may be presented. In one, the defendant brutally killed the victim in a premeditated crime. In another, he killed in self-defense when the victim attempted to assault him.
An effective criminal defense strategy results when a defendant and his or her criminal defense lawyer work together to tell a story that’s based in the truth. The story should present the defendant in a positive light. Note that, even if he or she is guilty, the depiction of him or her in a positive light may open the door to a plea bargain or a conviction on a lesser charge.
Let’s review several criminal defense strategies:
- The Truth as a Criminal Defense Strategy. The effective criminal defense attorney is expert in his or her ability to tell a truthful story in several different ways. Both the defense attorney and the prosecutor use the facts to arrive at two different stories. It’s a bit like how we think of the United States map. In one version, the states are shown with dark-lined borders. In another, the map uses different shades of colors to show average income of the population. Both show the truth about the states, but they don’t look alike. That’s why the criminal defense attorney and the defendant client must arrive at the best possible version of the facts to explain the defendant’s story. Characteristics of the story should include:
- Basis in the evidence. For instance, if the defendant’s vehicle was seen at a bank robbery crime but the defense attorney shows that the defendant’s vehicle was stolen at gunpoint on the morning the crime occurred, it’s logical to assume that the defendant wasn’t at the scene of the crime.
- Ability to evoke sympathy from the jury and/or judge. The criminal defense attorney wants to paint the defendant in the best possible light. If it’s possible, the defense attorney will show that the defendant attempted to withdraw from the group planning to commit the crime before it occurred.
- Explanations and proof of why events presented in the defendant’s perspective are the true events. For instance, if he or she says, “I wasn’t at the crime scene when it occurred,” he or she must present facts that show he or she wasn’t there.
Successful criminal defense relies on a story that’s based in truth. It’s crucial for the defendant and criminal defense attorney to go over the facts carefully before presenting the defendant’s story in court. The defense attorney wants to ensure that the prosecutor can’t challenge any portion of the story with facts.
- Denial/Admission of Guilt as a Criminal Defense Strategy. The defendant’s story about what happened falls into the following three categories:
- Confession. A defendant may admit that he or she committed a crime to the defense attorney.
- Denial. The defendant completely denies the prosecution’s charges. He or she may have an alibi to show why the prosecution’s story has gotten it wrong. For example, if the defendant was accused of grand theft but claims he was on vacation with his wife, that’s a potential alibi.
- Admission and explanation. The defendant delivers a story that isn’t quite a confession or denial. An admission and explanation story may involve a legal reason the defendant did the crime.
Other legal defenses, including insanity or acting under the influence of drugs, should be considered if applicable to the defendant’s case.
How Legal Defense Works
Ideally, the defendant works collaboratively with the criminal defense attorney to arrive at a strategy to use in court. Typically, the strategy is based on the true story that the defendant provides to the attorney. That’s because the defense strategy isn’t simply a matter of telling the truth. The defense strategy considers witness’s credibility and an array of legal factors. Other considerations are used to make the theory of the defendant’s case that’s based on the defendant’s true story and other facts.
Let’s say a defendant is charged with a burglary crime. He visits a criminal defense attorney’s office and explains his story. He confessed this story to the police at his arrest. Shortly after a burglary took place, an eyewitness placed him at the scene of the burglary. Later, the witness explains she’s not completely certain that the defendant is the right person. The defendant explains to the attorney that he was present at the burglary crime scene but he didn’t participate in the performance of it.
He went along with the gang who committed the crime. At the time of the arrest, the police didn’t provide his Miranda rights (the right to be silent, to have an attorney present, and so on).
The defendant’s story is a confession because he knew of the crime and was there when others committed it. The legal defense in this example might be built from the theory that police relied on an uncertain witness to identify him and then forced a confession from him without reading his Miranda rights.
This example shows how the defense attorney used the facts to build a case based upon the truth that also shows the defendant in a positive light. If the defense attorney puts the theory forward, it may be beneficial to his client. The criminal defense attorney might file pre-trial motions to ask to remove the defendant’s arrest confession from the record because police violated the defendant’s constitutional rights. The defense attorney would almost certainly depose the eyewitness to demonstrate that her identification was weak and wouldn’t establish the identity of the perpetrator beyond a reasonable doubt.
The defense attorney would then present arguments to the court with the goal of achieving a not-guilty verdict. Alternatively, the defense attorney would expect the prosecutor to present a plea bargain opportunity to the defendant. In that scenario, the defendant would admit guilt to a lesser charge.
Differences Between a Jury and Bench Trial
In most instances, it’s usually desirable for the criminal defendant to have a jury trial. A jury is an easier audience for the defendant than most judges. To communicate with the jury, the defendant and his or her defense attorney must tell a moving story. Judges are much less convinced by emotional aspects of the case. They are more likely to decide a case based on deep understanding and nuances of the law.
In some rare cases, a bench trial may be more desirable than a jury trial. Recently, the case of a young woman was considered by a judge in New England. When the woman was 17 years old, she sent text messages to her then boyfriend, urging him to commit suicide. The young man committed suicide and local prosecutors brought an involuntary manslaughter charge against her.
Because the case was so widely written and talked about in the local area, the defendant’s attorneys asked for a bench trial. They argued that the woman had free speech and didn’t physically cause the man’s death from suicide. They argued that she had mental health issues at the time she sent the text messages as well.
The judge used fine nuances of the law to find the young woman guilty of involuntary manslaughter. She faces a punishment of probation to a 20-year maximum prison sentence.
Best Legal Defenses When Charged with a Crime
A skillful criminal defense attorney works closely with his or her clients to arrive at the best legal defenses in court. An effective criminal defense attorney is often a person who loves solving difficult puzzles. Because of his or her ability to connect the dots and present a solid true story to the judge and jury, the criminal defense attorney can make the difference.
Houston criminal defense lawyer Greg Tsioros provides legal advice and aggressive representation for clients charged with misdemeanors and felonies at both the state and federal level. Mr. Tsioros handles criminal defense cases of any stature – from orders of non-disclosure and expunctions to more serious DWI and drug charges.