Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Being poor reduces the chance for a fair trial, increases likelihood of conviction

"I felt that I was trampled on, humiliated, even before I had the chance to say a word," French millionaire Dominique Strauss-Kahn told a French reporter this week as he discussed his high-profile rape case. Strauss-Kahn was dubbed with the trendy monicker "DSK" by the media, and his arrest for allegedly raping a hotel maid in Manhattan lead to a media frenzy which convicted him in the press before one single piece of evidence had been presented in court.
     In less than two months, Strauss-Kahn was released by the New York criminal court and his charges dismissed when the allegations against him appeared to unravel as police repeatedly interviewed the alleged victim and her story fell apart. The district attorney asked the court to dismiss the charges. In short, the prosecution folded.
      Strauss-Kahn's case is a rare one. In most criminal prosecutions the district attorney rarely dismisses the charges "sua sponte," that's legal Latin for "on his own initiative." Further, district attorneys generally don't try to find out if the defendant is innocent. Many often overlook evidence of innocence. Sadly, many don't look for it.
     What usually happens to criminal defendants is the reverse of Strauss-Kahn's experience. The police arrest the accused person and the district attorney prosecutes to the fullest extent of the law. Sadly, most criminal defendants are middle class or poor. They don't have the luxury that Strauss-Kahn had of millions of dollars to hire the best lawyers and mount an aggressive defense.
     In Strauss-Kahn's case, the defense's economic muscle weighed heavily on the minds of the New York prosecutors. Not wanting a high-profile not guilty verdict, and not wanting to bring down a potentially innocent millionaire -- who was also the former head of the International Monetary Fund -- the prosecutors tread carefully.
     That's not the usual pattern of events in criminal trials.
     In most criminal cases, the cops are hasty, the detectives are sloppy, the forensics often inept, and the district attorneys are so overburdened with cases that they don't have the time to sort out the wheat from the chaff. Amazingly, I have seen some diligent district attorneys do just that, but it's extremely rare. I have seen hundreds of cases in which the prosecutor hasn't even looked at his file -- not once! -- before court.
     If Strauss-Kahn felt humiliated and trampled on, imagine how an accused person feels when he hasn't even got a lawyer or the money to afford one. Now that you know that the Strauss-Kahn situation isn't at all typical, what do you take from this knowledge? What you should have learned is this: If you're not a rich as Rockefeller -- or Strauss-Kahn -- you will not have as thorough a review of your case by the prosecution. That means it's up to you to win your case!
          The best way to prevent the freight train of the legal system running over you and sending you to prison is to hire a lawyer. Hire the best criminal defense lawyer you can afford. Good criminal defense lawyers aren't cheap, and bad criminal defense lawyers often aren't cheap either. You have to research the lawyers and make sure they focus their practices on criminal defense cases and then consult with them. Your criminal defense lawyer should conduct a thorough review of your case and do his own investigation. As a former metro-Atlanta cop and a certified forensics investigator, I research my cases thoroughly. It's vital to winning the case.
     Very often the defense investigation reveals either new evidence or pokes holes in the state's evidence that will lead to a dismissal of the charges or a not guilty verdict.
(Required by Alabama law: No representation is made that the quality of legal services to be performed is greater than other lawyers.)

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