The news today in the Statesman got it right – Zachary Neagle is still in custody – the judge having denied a request by the Idaho Department of Juvenile Corrections to permit him unsupervised home visits. The story implied that Zach had asked for the sessions, but he had not. We did not file the motion, it was filed by the Department. They filed the request because in the course of Zach’s treatment, unsupervised home visits are the next logical step. The Judge’s ruling was neither unexpected or unfair. The facts of the case are tough to explain and the defense that might explain the Zach’s actions would be nearly impossible to prove.
As I was thinking about this result, a friend reminded me that there are plenty of lessons to be learned about any case from Zach’s. This is true, whether you have a civil or criminal case pending.
Here are three things I learned that might help you in your fight for justice.
First and foremost, remember to keep your audience first. If you are going to trial before a jury, the jurors are your audience. If you are at a sentencing proceeding, the audience is the Judge.
What is it about your case that will move the audience?
There is really only one story in life; "good vs. evil." Think about your favorite story and see if I am right. From Hamlet to the Hunger Games the bottom line is the same. So in front of a Judge, who is tasked first with protecting society, the focus needs to be on reassuring the Court that your client is "good," not "evil." That is a tough task for most of us in a contested, high profile criminal case. The same is true in any good civil case. Your task there is to portray your client (plaintiff or defendant) as the good guy. When done correctly, your client’s story can move the "audience" to come to his or her aid.
Second, my experience has taught me to take my time and let the case develop. I was involved in a big racketeering case years ago in which my client was alleged to have stolen money from his clients. Over time, it became clear that the clients really supported my client and thought he had provided great service. There were some accounting errors and he had tried to make each client’s balance right, but still the State insisted it was fraud. At trial, he took the stand and told his story and when it was over, the jury saw that the truth did not support a criminal conviction.
In Zach’s case, time is proving that this is a young man deserving of a better life and hopefully, a shot at freedom. But that will take time, and he must be willing to wait patiently until he has satisfied the Court that he can be free. Patience is a very tough characteristic to develop.
Finally, if you have a case that is in the glare of the news media, walk away from the cameras. Try your case in the courtroom, not on the news. It is tempting to run to the press, but that temptation seldom works to your advantage. Work your case. Learn the facts. Understand the law. And be nice.
A friend of mine who is arguably the "greatest trial lawyer in the history of the world" stopped me one time as I prepared to cross-examine a cop about how he had set up my client. He likely saw that I had the "killer eyes" on and was headed to destroy that witness.
"Why? I want to kill this guy. Didn’t you hear what he said?"
"Be nice. Jurors hate you when you kill him."
And that advice applies even to the media. Be nice.
Headed to trial? Got a case that you want to talk about? Give us a call.