So I took a little break from blogging about criminal defense, DUI defense, civil trials and matters of wrongful death. And then things just started "popping up." A new case or twelve. A kid in jail who just could not get it together. A former Marine facing life changing decisions. The mentally ill – fearing life and death as they


Continue Reading

I watched a young criminal defense lawyer struggle with objections the other day so I thought I would review the process we use to object. It always looks so cool on TV – the lawyer stands and announces "OBJECTION, YOUR HONOR, he can’t testify to that!" You expect the Judge to immediately stop the trial, chastise the lawyer and affirm the objecting party. In real life trials it seldom looks so clean. We stumble and stutter and spew out "objection" just loud enough to be heard, but without the conviction that we know why we are objecting. Here are four basic rules I learned as a young JAG that might help you as you stand and deliver:

First – say the word.  "Objection." Say it with conviction so that you can accomplish the real reason you are up in the first place – say it like you mean it so the witness will stop talking!

Second – give a legal basis for the objection. Not a treatise, just a rule will do: "Objection, hearsay."

Third – if you win the objection then you probably want something. How should the court fix whatever problem caused you to get out of your chair? Ask for a remedy. Ask the court to strike the testimony given before the objection, or to cure the problem.

Fourth – if you lost the battle, you many need to make a record by an offer of proof. Not on every little objection, but sometimes you need to protect that record for an appeal.

So there are the rules, courtesy of the United States Army JAG school, as best I recall.  Hope they help you do it better if you do it at all.  And that might just be the bigger question:  When should you object? Let’s save that for another day.

Off to court …

 


Continue Reading

Just how do you address the court? What does your language tell the judge in that Ada County or Federal Court appearance? Whether you are a lawyer or a defendant, an expert witness or a plaintiff, the way you speak and the things you say can make a difference. Check out this video, it’s hilarious, but sadly true. We seldom speak with the authority or conviction we need to convey in court.


Continue Reading

In the past six weeks, Courtney and I have tried two criminal cases in Ada County.  The first case charged vehicular manslaughter – two felony counts. Last week we tried a case that charged aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and injury to jails (both felonies), as well as misdemeanor counts of false imprisonment, battery and destruction of a communication device (a cell phone). We picked juries in each case, and had the benefit of a jury consultant on the manslaughter case. As we have earlier reported in this blog, the jury in the manslaughter found our client not guilty of the felonies. Last week the jury in the aggravated assault case said not guilty as to the disputed charges (but guilty of the battery in the face of a self-defense claim), but guilty of the two misdemeanors our client had admitted committing.

So what did we learn?

In each case we approached the process of jury selection as one of inclusion, not exclusion. This is a Trial Lawyers College ("TLC") thing. Getting rid of folks from the panel is always tricky, even with a jury consultant, because lawyers are usually looking to "craft" a panel of jurors who are more likely to go their way than the way of their opponent. The problem with that approach is that we are not as "crafty" as we believe. So the TLC approach is different – start instead with your biggest fear in the case and work your way through this with the potential jurors. So we start by admitting we have potential problem areas in the case, and ask the jurors if they are going to be able to remain open to the balance of the case even knowing about the problems. We try to include folks by talking about the warts, and then getting the juror to open up about his or her feelings. Sounds all "touchy-feely" doesn’t it? I think it works.  

Let’s consider the problem posed by a recent client’s admissions that he had hit his girlfriend. Guy hitting girl equals problem. Growing up as men in society, we hear repeatedly a universal truths: "men don’t hit girls." Period. Ever. So when we have a client who has done that – struck a woman – you need to talk about it early and often with potential jurors because it goes against this deep seated belief we have as men. We talk it out and see if the jurors can get past it and get to the issue that they must decide.

Of course all this talk about inclusion is in some ways just talk. At the end of the day the lawyer has to decide which jurors represent the biggest obstacle to a fair trial based on their answers and their experience.  With thousands of dollars paid to jury consultants, I have never forgotten the words of the Hat – "experience trumps everything else." He is right about that. Any juror who has had an experience with domestic violence cannot help but have a predisposition one way or the other in a domestic violence case. If you can get them talking they will tell you whether they can serve fairly. 

But back to the question – what did we learn?

First, we learned that the TLC process works to identify the potential trouble spots with jurors. Spence says that if you are willing to show the jurors your weakness (area of concern) they will talk about their own fears. I think that is exactly what happened in both cases. In the manslaughter case I talked about my fear that people might immediately conclude a person with poor vision has no place driving on the road. The jurors opened up about that weakness and talked through their perceptions. From that we made some inroads into building a relationship with the jurors. They understood that they could look to us for the answers in the case, and they could trust us to be honest about the evidence.

The second thing we learned was that having the jury consultant is a huge help but you can get past the benefit of that expertise by taking more preparation time for voir dire.  Given my choices, I would always enlist the aid of a consultant, but even the best consultant cannot pick your jury. The lawyer is ultimately going to have to make the tough call about who should stay and who should go. The consultant I use always asks me what ONE question I would ask if I could only ask one. From that one question we need to be able to expose our concern to the jury and get them talking about how they feel.

Getting ready for trial? Worried about picking that jury? Get a copy of Gerry Spence’s book "Win Your Case" and read the chapter on jury selection. That is a great starting point for the TLC method that consistently works for us.

 


Continue Reading

 I haven’t written lately about the Trial Lawyers College – proud to say I am a graduate – but talking to one of my classmates reminded me of the methods taught there.  Daniel Rodriguez was a classmate, and he and I are headed for trial in a personal injury case in Bakersfield in September. More recently he successfully settled a


Continue Reading

 Congrats to my brothers and TLC Warriors on their victory in Houston in a civil rights case that pitted Kent Spence and Rafe Foreman against Harris County Sheriff’s Office and its deputies. After just four hours deliberations, the jury awarded the estate of Joel Casy $600,000 and $2.4 million to his mother.  The Houston Chronicle reported:

Casey’s death was ruled


Continue Reading

So here is a post about being a lawyer – not about crimes.

This weekend I will be serving as a mentor for the United States District Court trial skills program. Basically I will help provide whatever benefit I may have gained over the past twenty-seven years in the courtroom to lawyers who have less time there.  Some will not


Continue Reading