Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Will Ex-Boulder Cop Sam Carter Appeal?

Convicted yesterday by a Boulder jury of all counts including three felonies relating to his shooting and killing of an elk in the city, Sam Carter is fortunate to be out of jail (on a personal recognizance bond) pending sentencing in late August.  Meantime he will have to meet with the Boulder probation department as it puts together its presentence investigation (PSI) report recommending to the judge the sentence he might impose.  Prison time is possible though given his lack of criminal history and the fact that no mandatory minimum prison sentences are at issue here, it is unlikely.  Some local jail time is more probable.

He has the right to appeal the conviction and/or the sentence to the Colorado Court of Appeals.  Issues could include, for example, the numerous jury instructions (written statements explaining applicable law read to the jury by the judge) - which appellate judges seem to love to analyze for mistakes - or evidentiary rulings which kept portions of the defense case from the jury. 

Such appeals can take a year or so to complete.  Historically, the "success rate," i.e., the chance of a reversal, is just under 25%.  Every case is different of course and much depends on the particular facts and rulings in the case.  Appeals are expensive because they take so much time to put together, including loads of legal research and brief writing and re-writing.  Oral argument to the three-judge appeal panel also requires significant preparation. 

Generally, appeal beyond the Colorado Court of Appeals, that is, to the Colorado Supreme Court, is discretionary with that court and is even more of a long shot.  Historically, the Colorado Supreme Court accepts just under 10% of the cases appealed to it.

Assuming Carter's police union-provided lawyers are covered through an appeal as of right, he doesn't really have anything to lose by doing so (especially if he remains out of custody during the appeal process, which is likely).

Monday, June 2, 2014

How risky are you?

Litigation - the process of trials and hearings where the outcome is determined by judge or jury - is fraught with risk.  Whether a civil or criminal case, client and lawyer continuously engage in a risk versus benefits analysis in deciding how next to proceed.  The following thought experiment demonstrates some of the points.

Assume you find yourself on The Price is Right, holding a box containing a 4-year prison sentence which you must complete.  On stage are 3 identical looking boxes and you cannot tell what is inside.  The first happens to have in it a "get out of jail free" card, meaning if you choose that box you do no prison time.  In the second box is a 4-year prison term (the same you are facing now), and in the third box is a 10-year prison term. 

Would you take the opportunity to exchange the box you are holding for a choice of one of the three on stage?  If you say no, you are "risk averse" and will take a plea or settlement offer pretty quickly.  If you say yes, you have done the math and concluded you "only" have a 33% chance of doing worse, perhaps a risk worth taking.

What if we change the scenario so that both box 2 and 3 have 10-year prison sentences?  If you say yes to choosing you are risky, willing to serve a 10-year sentence in the hope (against the odds) that you do no time.

What if we add a box, so that there now are 4 boxes on stage, one of which has the get out of jail free card, one which has the 4-year sentence, one which has a 10-year sentence, and one which has a life sentence?  How does that change your answer?

What if you have to pay to choose (i.e. to pay the lawyer trying to maximize your favorable odds)?  Does that change your analysis in each of the above scenarios?  How much would you pay? 

What if, in addition to paying to choose, you had to wait six months to make your choice?  Does the time factor play into your analysis?

Note that guilt or innocence, right or wrong, whether someone is a "good" or "bad" person, play no part in this experiment.  At some point, the kind of risk-benefit analysis demonstrated above influences the outcome of most any criminal or civil matter.  How risky are you?  Don't go it alone, Count on Sanderson Law, P.C., to help.  303-444-8846.