People contact criminal defense attorneys when they feel the most important things in life are on the line. Criminal defense attorneys know that their clients have placed a great deal of trust in them.
Unfortunately individuals charged with crimes often do things that minimize attorney’s effectiveness. Below are three things that people do that can destroy their chance of getting a favorable result.
1. Lie to your attorney and the withhold information.
Most of the time a criminal defense attorney is not out to prove a client’s innocence, but rather to raise reasonable doubt as to whether the government can prove its case. While there are cases where the criminal defense attorney will seek to prove his client’s innocence, most often, the attorney is more concerned with deconstructing the government’s case than building a case. The reason is because the government retains the burden of proving the case beyond a reasonable doubt and that burden never shifts.
If the government cannot prove every element of the case beyond a reasonable doubt, then a judge or jury must acquit the defendant of the crime charged.
In order to get the best result, the defense attorney must know everything about the case. This is not just what the prosecution provides in discovery, but what the defendant knows about the case. The defense attorney was not there when the alleged crime happened (sometimes neither was the citizen accused). However, the person charged with a crime has more information on the background of witnesses, locations, and events that can raise doubt as to the prosecution’s case.
One of the worst things a person charged with a crime can do is to lie to his criminal defense attorney. While criminal defense attorneys may use investigators and comb through witness statements, the client usually has a great deal of knowledge about the witnesses, locations and the events which the defense attorney is investigating. When the client either lies or fails to disclose information to the defense attorney, it can result in a defense attorney focusing on a defense theory or strategy that will not work because the theory is built on a premise provided by the client which is not true.
For example, if a defendant in a criminal case has been charged with sexual assault and claims he does not know the victim, never met the victim or never communicated with the victim, the attorney will prepare a defense assuming those facts. The problem occurs when witness statements, social media, phone records and text messages prove otherwise. Unless all of these communications were fabricated the attorney must now consider other defenses and options.
A good criminal defense attorney can work with both the good and the bad facts. In every case there are good facts and bad facts.
There are facts that a defense attorney may be able to keep out of evidence and there are facts that the criminal defense attorney is going to have to figure out how to deal with at trial. he key is that the criminal defense knows which facts he is going to have to accept and deal with and which facts can be used to raise doubt or may be excluded by the court.
The key is that the defense attorney have all of the facts from his client, both good and bad.
2. Talk about the case to anyone but the attorney.
The attorney/client privilege is essential in guaranteeing a criminal defendant’s right to a fair trial. Anything that a defendant tells his attorney about the crime for which he is charged is privileged. This means that the attorney may not divulge this information. With very few other exceptions, anything that the criminal accused says to anyone other than his attorney is not privileged. Furthermore, anything the criminal accused tells anyone else about what he has told the defense attorney, waives the attorney/client privilege.
While not talking about your privileged communication with your lawyer seems like this is common sense, people love to post on social media. Unfortunately, people would want to proclaim their innocence to the world through social media and other electronic communications and do so at their peril. It's not just that some people go on Facebook or Twitter to proclaim their innocence or proclaim the alleged victim is a liar, the problem is these statements usually create threads of multiple communications in which the defendant makes admissions as to specific facts and sometimes even reveals trial strategy.
All jail phone calls are recorded. In the past, criminal defendants have given away their trial strategy while talking to a friend or relative during a jail call. Prosecutors have access to this information and then can prepare their case to overcome the reasonable doubt the defense intends to raise because the prosecutor has been given advance notice. Another problem that occurs when criminal defendants communicate about their case with non-attorneys is they create witnesses who may testify against them.
While a criminal defendant may not directly admit to a crime, if he talks to another person such as a girlfriend, best buddy or relative about the facts of the case, that person could potentially be used as a witness to testify against him. This can be problematic when the defense attorney intends to call that person as a character witness and then learns later that this witness has information that can do more harm than good.
3. Get into trouble.
One of the worst things a person facing criminal charges can do to sabotage his case is to obtain new charges or otherwise get into new trouble. If the conduct is similar to the conduct for which the defendant is charged, the government may be able to use that evidence at trial for the first case. Thus the jury will not only hear about the original crime, but the conduct which may constitute a crime after charges were filed.
The other problem is that most of the time plea agreements revolve around the condition that the defendant will not commit any more crimes in order to be eligible to accept the plea agreement. In other words, if the defendant gets in trouble, it may cost him a favorable plea agreement.
Even if a defendant gets into a type of trouble that does not result in additional criminal charges, or does not ruin a plea agreement,, the judge may consider that conduct when sentencing the defendant. While many judges believe in giving people second chances and understand that we all make poor decisions from time to time, the judge who deals with a defendant who was arrested for a serious crime and then committed another crime will not see the defendant as someone whose criminal actions were an aberration, but rather in conformity to his character. This is dangerous because the judge will likely determine that a stiffer punishment is necessary.
Hiring a defense attorney can be one of the best decisions a person charged with a crime can make. However, a defendant who does not follow his attorney’s advice and does things to sabotage his case may destroy the value that his criminal defense attorney brings to the fight.