The Life of a Defense Lawyer – Reflecting on 2018
The Personal Side of Defense Law
Defense law is a very personal situation that pairs a client and lawyer in a passionate fight for justice. Read the musings of a seasoned criminal defense lawyer for a year in his life helping everyday people.
What is life like for criminal defense lawyers? Reflecting on the past year, while we head into the new one, I have reviewed the year’s past results, and I must say we have done great things for great people. In our most serious cases, we have been very successful in getting charges dismissed or reduced. Helping people successfully overcome legal challenges provides an amazing sense of satisfaction. The emotions clients share with me are constant reminders of why our firm has to be exceptional every day.
Many people I encounter ask me what the secret sauce is in having such serious cases dismissed. What is the secret sauce? There is no real secret other than very hard work, experience, and our network of experts and investigators that we employ. Also, the vast contacts we have built up over the years helps us get face time with the right people who are the decision makers.
Read further for a glimpse of how we helped people facing dire situations in 2018.
The Beginning of the Typical Legal Journey
The most important time and best opportunity for having charges not brought against a client is before the arrest. In serious offenses, specifically, sex-related offenses, the usual protocol is for the police to reach out to the suspect to ask them to submit to an interview (interrogation) to determine whether their story lines up with that of the accuser and to see if a suspect confesses. A confession will always make law enforcement’s job much easier; however, having an experienced lawyer can always make the difference in what happens.
I find it strange that many attorneys will receive phone calls from a potential client who says something along the lines of "the police want me to come in for an interview. What should I do?" The lawyer will reply, "well don’t go in for an interview, and give me a call if you are arrested."
Getting on Top of the Situation
Now, I do not know about you, but the last thing I want to do is worry every single day that the police are going to rip my front door down and arrest me. Quite frankly, doing nothing is not an option because usually when you are arrested for a serious crime, your face ends up on television. When I get this phone call, I always lay out a clear strategy and game plan to go on the offensive to dissuade the authorities that there is no case, and any allegations false. In fact, sometimes the smartest decision might be to speak with law enforcement but with several caveats. Most importantly, we will have need to have conducted a full-blown investigation to find all the evidence that supports our client’s statement and confirm it is unshakeable. The evidence often includes text messages, surveillance videos, social media posts, eyewitnesses, cellphone records, court documents, restaurant receipts, house alarm printouts, and we will seek out any other information that we believe will support our client before they make any statement. There have been many clients who have made the decision to speak with the police, and while armed with evidence to support them, they have walked out of the police department with me by their side without ever being arrested.
Compassion and Fast Action Are Game Changers
With our firm, we always involve the best defense investigators. They will go out to the scene and scour the area for whatever possible surveillance cameras they can find, possible witnesses who saw something, get cellphone records, prior police reports made by the accuser(s) and whatever else we can identify that is vital to defend our case.
Identifying key issues and witnesses early in the case is vital to achieving a great resolution for our clients. Prosecutors are overwhelmed with tons of cases and having a lawyer present to them key information that shows innocence really assists in moving the conversation towards a good result. In truth, in state cases, we along with our investigators will usually end up interviewing more witnesses and finding more information than the prosecution side will early on.
Reflecting on Notable Cases in 2018
I thought that I would share some of the cases we handled in the past year that we were successful in having dropped based on our vigorous defense or as I call it “offense.” My theory is we are defending persons accused of crimes, but we play vigorous offense and try and move the ball, using a football analogy, to get the case where we want it to go.
A False Rape Accusation
Let’s start with a college-aged student accused of raping a girl on a college campus. Unfortunately, the prior lawyer involved did not make any offensive moves or conduct any investigation which ended up with the client going to jail. His family hired my firm to represent him and we immediately moved into action with our investigation. After a month of him sitting in custody, we obtained bail for the client and got him back home to his family. Post-release from jail we interviewed several witnesses, obtained text messages, and reviewed various other items that were significant for the case.
Once we really learned the case and found witnesses and evidence to support my client’s statement to the police, which he made prior to our representation, we presented all our evidence to the District Attorney’s Office. This was one of many meetings we had. Many times we will need to have several meetings with prosecutors to continue the dialogue and also to provide them with updated information or new leads we have discovered. In this case, we provided them with information about a key witness who happened to also be present the night the accuser claimed my client raped her. This witness shed a lot of light on what happened sharing with us her opinion of the accuser and what really went down. Subsequently, to providing that information, the prosecutors were able to interview this person and form a better understanding of their case. That information along with the other items of evidence we provided assisted the prosecution in making the right decision and dismissing the case. It was not only dismissed but restricted from my client’s criminal history and sealed from the public’s view under the law.
As I was writing this blog, I got an email, on December 31, 2018, from the District Attorney in a circuit north of Atlanta (which is very conservative one and very tough on crime) that they dismissed my client’s rape charges. My client was charged with raping a woman he met on a dating site. She turned up at the hospital twelve hours after they last saw each other with bruises on her body, broken ribs, and vaginal and anal injuries. She was highly reluctant to tell the doctors what happened to her but they called the police. Since she met my client online, she did not know his real name. It appeared that they had been on three dates and were both into the BDSM lifestyle (think whips, beatings, chains).
On her second interview with the police, she gave out more information claiming my client choked her with his seatbelt in the car until the point she almost passed out thinking she would die and punched her in the back. As I stated, she was into this kind of thing, and if it is consensual it is not a crime. She also told the police that after she left my client, she was headed to have sex with another man whom she told that she just had sex with my client. She never used the word “rape” or sexually assaulted when she met up with her other paramour. In fact, this alone should have given pause to the police before arresting our client. Unfortunately, my office was not involved with the case until after an arrest warrant was issued. We immediately had him released from jail on bond after his arrest.
This case was absolutely won by our defense investigation using Charles Mittelstadt, a preeminent defense investigator who has handled most of the high- profile cases around the country. Our strategy was to uncover all digital evidence. We obtained the accuser’s phone records, her web history, all phone and internet conversations with our client, surveillance videos showing the two of them the night in question, and other evidence. We also interviewed the key witness, the paramour, whom the police claimed at the preliminary hearing they could never find. Our investigator, Charles Mittelstadt, found him easily and did a great interview, which we then turned over to the District Attorney at a meeting with them. We also presented the other information we found and our theory of defense and discussed these with the prosecution.
Based on our presentation, the District Attorney’s Office did the right thing and gave my client the best New Year’s present ever, his freedom. This case is a clear example of utilizing digital evidence to fight your case. Had this false accusation happened ten to fifteen years ago, my client most likely would have been convicted and sentenced to life in prison based on the false accuser’s words and injuries alone.
A False Child Molestation Accusation
Another case that we spent hundreds of hours on was an Aggravated Child Molestation case. My client, a mother was accused of committing heinous crimes on her child. We were involved early on after the arrest and had several meetings with the prosecutor who understood that their case was not the best one. However, the prosecutor still chose to indict the case but also to keep his mind open. Unfortunately, we cannot always get a lot of information until a case is indicted because there is no requirement of discovery to be provided to the defense until after the case is indicted. While we were able to get most of everything the prosecution had, we were unable to get some key records such as DFACS records until the case was finally charged and in court. Not only did I get DFACS records, I also obtained psychological records of the accuser (a child), hospital records, school records and other information that was very helpful in the case. It was our position that the child’s father and step-mother put the child up to this so they could keep primary custody of her.
As the case progressed, I kept meeting with the prosecutor to present more and more evidence. Fortunately, I was able to convince the prosecutor to modify my client’s bond conditions to allow her to have supervised contact with her mother, my client. This visitation was allowed once a week at a family center that is always monitored by someone who takes notes. The monitor sent the notes to me every week and the lawyer for the father. It was a treasure trove of information that clearly showed my client was innocent. The little girl made several statements such as this one “I can’t tell the truth or daddy will get in trouble.” Additionally, after the child was out of my client’s custody, she kept turning up with bruises on her body, which indicated that someone other than my client was the abuser.
We compiled tons of documentation that shed more light on the situation including more conflicting statements that the child had made to DFACS caseworkers. We had my client submit to a polygraph which she passed, we hired an expert to review the forensic interview of the child in which the expert supported our position that the child’s interview was poorly conducted. After obtaining all of this information, we spent twenty-five hours putting it in a booklet and outlining all of the relevant information for the prosecutor. We sent the prosecutor basically our entire case to review with all supporting documentation. Finally, after eighteen months, the prosecutor decided to dismiss the case and asked me to write the outline of issues for the dismissal paperwork. Since I was ecstatic to get the case dropped, I spent another ten hours drafting an outline for the prosecuting attorney to use when drafting the dismissal.
Another client was charged with molesting his granddaughter when she was eight years old. The child’s mother, my client’s daughter, had a drug problem and was estranged from her father. There was a nasty divorce between my client and his ex-wife who had custody of the child. The dysfunction in this family was an issue that we identified early as an area to investigate. My client in his sixty-five years of living had never once been arrested for anything. Eventually, during our investigation, we obtained therapy records from the child’s therapist. We discovered in those records that the child had been in counseling prior to this accusation for having trouble with the truth and constantly lying about things. It was also in these records we discovered that she recanted her claim and said that was part of her lie because she did not want to see her grandfather ever again. We presented this information to the District Attorney who dismissed the indictment.
A Police Officer in Trouble
Recently, in a case that was well known publicly, we represented a police officer charged with felony vehicular homicide. While he was on duty, he drove using both lights and sirens going very fast, 97 mph, responding to a hit and run at another location. Unfortunately, he was on a backroad where someone cut in front of him and he lost control crashing into a sidewalk killing a pedestrian. This was a tragedy. We were able to obtain the dispatch calls and police radio communications early in the case. Evidence showed that our client was responding to a woman lying in the street with life-threatening injuries, which explained his excessive speed because he was trying to get there to save her life. When every second counts in a life or death situation, you want your first responders to do whatever they can to help.
At the time, this speed was in violation of the department policy so the District Attorney’s Office brought charges. However, the police department changed their policies subsequently based on our client’s actions. Under the new policy, our client would have not been in any violation of department rules. We challenged the indictment that alleged our client was driving recklessly by speeding and causing a death. In our legal opinion reflected in our motions, a police officer cannot drive recklessly since they are authorized under the law to speed using due regard. Our client was using due regard, but another car pulled in front of him causing him to lose control. We convinced the District Attorney to resolve the case to a misdemeanor but we could not agree on a sentence. Therefore, we agreed to allow the judge to decide. The State asked for a year in custody, while we begged for home confinement, which we knew was a longshot. The Court sentenced our client to ninety-days in jail, which was a big win in this case.
False Sexual Assault Accusations
About two months ago, another client, sixteen years old, was accused by two sisters, fifteen and seventeen respectively of sexually assaulting both in two different Georgia counties. Our client was in the process of being investigated, and we spent countless hours in a very short time to work up the case interviewing many witnesses and investigating their social media profiles. We found out that both girls were lying and in fact, they were trying to outdo each other with their false accusations against our client. There appeared to be some dysfunction in their family life with their father’s new marriage and these young women wanted attention from their dad who instead was now showering his new bride with attention. We presented our findings to the two different police departments showing our client never did anything whatsoever to deserve an arrest. After they reviewed our findings coupled with theirs, both police departments agreed to drop the investigation and clear our young client. A very sad and scary story! Due to our efforts, the best possible result was achieved.
We’re Always Ready to Help People Accused of Crimes
What makes us successful is our hard work, our knowledge, and our network of contacts that help support us when representing someone accused of a crime. Putting the time in upfront and early greatly assists in changing the trajectory of a case. When you hire our firm, you can rest assured that your case will get the same type of diligence and the benefit of our many years of experience. We handle cases all over Georgia and all over the United States.