I am currently handling an interesting dwi appeal. My client was convicted of his second dwi in Municipal Court after a trial. He was sentenced to, among other things, a two-year loss of his driver’s license. He hired an experienced criminal defense lawyer. The lawyer then passed the file off to an associate; a young attorney who had only recently graduated law school and passed the bar examination. The trial ended in a guilty verdict, but I believe the case could have been won with more effective defense.
The trial transcript was painful for me to review. The young lawyer was completely out-classed by an experienced and savvy prosecutor. Moreover, the defense lawyer made fundamental errors in his defense. For instance, he asked questions during cross examination that served only to bolster the State’s case. The State’s case went in very weak. Rather than limiting his questioning, his questions allowed the State’s witnesses to set forth damaging testimony against the defendant and clarify what was otherwise neutral testimony. This was one of several fundamental trial error I believe were made.
I got the impression that the lawyer was working off of a script of sorts, and rather that taper the questioning around the testimony, he stuck to his script. It was unfortunate that this young lawyer was sent out to “cut his teeth” on a case with such severe consequences to my client.
I am a baseball fan. Many games are won on pure “fundamentals.” Similarly, trials are often won or lost on pure fundamentals. The State has the burden to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt – the defense has no obligation to assert a defense, and the defendant has a constitutional right to remain silent. Very often, clients want to know what the defense “strategy” will be – what the “game plan” if you will is even before the State’s case is reviewed. The best strategy has to hinge on knowing the pure fundamentals – in the game of criminal defense (and dwi defense), the fundamental principle is that the State has the burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. If they have not met the elements, game over; the defense wins. If they have not proven the elements, do not pursue a defense strategy that will allow them to do so.