Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Trial versus Plea - Which is Better?

     Most criminal cases end with a plea agreement (sometimes called a plea "bargain" depending on one's viewpoint) rather than trial.  The benefits usually are apparent - reduced criminal charges, speedier resolution, minimized sentence risks, and of course lower legal fees and costs.  So why would anyone ever try his/her criminal case?

There are seven main reasons:

1.  No acceptable plea offer is made.  The prosecution does not have to make a plea offer, or if one is made, it is a bad one (because the facts of the case are terrible, or the defendant has a criminal history, or the law precludes a better offer, or the prosecutor's policy is not to extend good offers, or the judge won't accept a better offer etc.), or not really an offer at all (such as having the defendant plead to the charges and be sentenced by the judge, known to some defense lawyers around these parts as "the Jeffco deal").

2.  The defendant is innocent. Just as the prosecution does not have to make an offer, a defendant does not have to accept one and instead may invoke his/her constitutional right to trial (where the charges of course must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt).  Some judges will not accept a plea (a requirement) if the defendant insists on innocence.

3.  Delay.  By not taking a plea, the case eventually is set for trial and related proceedings before then, delaying resolution of the case.  Whereas a plea may end the case in a month or two, trial may extend it out a year or more (and even more for appeals).

4.  Trial may result in a better outcome.  Although most criminal trials (state and federal) end up with the defendant losing - by something like over a two to one average - good facts, good law, good evidence, a lack of bad evidence, a good defense strategy etc., and a good lawyer, may justify "rolling the dice" with a trial.

5.  Strange things happen when trial is set, and it usually favors the defendant.  In the run-up to trial, witnesses move away or otherwise become unavailable, evidence gets lost, laws change (think of the marijuana laws), the defendant has the chance to make a more favorable impression etc. - all potentially resulting in a better offer or even dismissal of charges.  During trial, all kinds of things happen with witnesses and evidence and rulings that inject new (usually more favorable because it can't get much worse for the defendant by then) dynamics into the case, further justifying the risks of trial.

6.  Send a message to the prosecution.   Many defendants finds themselves repeatedly in court facing criminal charges.  The plea offers get worse and the convictions pile up.  In those situations sometimes defendants simply have to decide when to fight (via trial) rather than whether to fight.  Prosecutors generally would much rather resolve a case with an easy plea than do all the work associated with trial.  Sometimes trial is the best place and time to stand and fight.

7.  Preserve an appellate argument.  Before trial the judge usually is called upon to rule on various evidentiary matters - what evidence can or cannot come in at trial for instance.  Plea deals typically cut off the case from further review so any perceived errors in those rulings basically are waived.  In drug cases for example, search and seizure rulings early on can determine the outcome of the case.  Trial may be necessary to preserve ruling errors for appellate review and possibly reversal (i.e. if the drugs are thrown out, the case might be too).

     Of course every case is different.  Criminal defense, like all litigation, is a dynamic process, frequently changing to favor one side or the other.  Call Sanderson Law, P.C., 303-444-8846, when you need experienced representation in criminal or civil cases.  Sanderson Law, P.C.  Experience + Personal Service = Success.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

What to Wear to Court.

"Dress for where you're going, not where you've been" is another one of the timeless gems learned from my old boss in New York.  It means to look as good as you want your future to look.  Or as my mom would say, Don't dress like a bum unless you want to be one.

Showing up at a court proceeding is more than just showing up, even if you have a good lawyer (like Sanderson Law, P.C.) doing all the talking.  Being on time (a little early is on time), cleaned up, dressed up, and positive, sends valuable messages to the other side, to people watching, and to the judge.  It conveys commitment to toughing out the process and confidence in the outcome.

Business casual is the baseline.  Anything more is better.  Although they say you can never be too dressed up (people assume you're going someplace better later), don't overdo it - leave the flashy tuxedo or evening gown for the party when the case is finished.  How you look in court says a lot, so make it the best you can say.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Do I Need a Lawyer?

If you find yourself asking this question, the answer is that Yes, you do need a lawyer (even if it is to tell you that you don't need a lawyer).  Let me explain.

Lawyers are not the second oldest profession for nothing.  People (and businesses) need them, and have from the earliest days.  They can help, a lot.  An old lawyer friend once told me, People can do their own dentistry work too, but having a professional do it is much less painful.

Ever notice when a lawyer, or politician, or judge, or police officer etc. is charged with a crime, or involved in a lawsuit, they most always have a lawyer helping them?  Surely if lawyers were not necessary these "insiders" would not bother with them.

Criminal matters these days - even relatively minor ones - are fraught with risks and dire long-lasting consequences.  Check out the pages and pages of the latest punishments for drinking and driving offenses for example.  Civil judgments can haunt your whole lifetime.  All kinds of regulatory agencies are out there overseeing business and professional activity too.

The fact that lawyers may be a necessary evil makes them no less necessary.  Play it smart; play it safe.  Call a lawyer first.

Friday, October 4, 2013

What is White Collar Crime?

Newspapers and TV - and lawyers and judges - unofficially label certain criminal offenses as "white collar" crimes.  These typically involve the alleged stealing, misuse and otherwise making off with lots of other people's money.  The media version is of the blue-suited, white-collared accountant, business person, lawyer, or other professional with a briefcase full of cash absconding to Mexico.  Hence the phrase white collar crime. 

They usually involve crimes that are not inherently violent, like say assault, robbery or homicide.  They are also distinguishable from the more everyday variety of crimes, like drinking and driving, drug possession or domestic violence.

White collar crimes also tend to be prosecuted more frequently (though certainly not exclusively) in federal court, because they involve the crossing of state lines, significant amounts of money, numerous co-defendants or victims throughout the country or world, and a complex myriad of federal statutes.

Indeed, often their very complexity qualifies them as white collar crimes, seemingly involving a tangled web of corporations and associations, bank accounts, volumes of paper, accountants, lawyers, politicians, and the like.

Lastly, white collar crimes can carry with them long prison sentences and huge fines.  Indeed, lawyers handling them have noticed an increase in the number of such cases being prosecuted and the severity of sentences.  Much of this is the result of public and political pressure, and ebbs and flows with the economy.

Fraud, embezzlement, forgery, tax evasion, Ponzi schemes, misuse of entrusted funds, etc. can all qualify as white collar crimes.  If you or anyone you know is charged with one of these, get a good lawyer on board fast.  The stakes are high, the consequences severe. 

The best white collar defense lawyers immerse themselves in their client's case, learning the business and its nuances, compiling and personally reading the documentation, discussing the case with experts who can help, investigating and exploring every possible avenue of defense.  It takes commitment, dedication, and great amounts of time most "general practice" or high-volume lawyers simply do not have.  Call Sanderson Law, PC, when you or someone you know needs help.