Seattle Criminal Defense Attorney

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Posts made in October, 2014

By on Oct 15, 2014 in Communication, Court, Criminal, Negotiation, Sentencing/Penalties, Trial | 1 comment

A colleague recently posted an article from The Economist. Called The Kings of the Courtroom, it was about prosecutors and the power they have in the criminal justice system. While the article touched on a few different areas, a section on plea bargains stood out. The article describes the power of a prosecutor to threaten new counts or new charges, if the defendant wants to go to trial rather than taking the prosecutor’s offer and pleading guilty. The article primarily dealt with federal charges, although it does come up in State court too. To be sure, there are less mandatory minimum sentences in Washington State courts than Federal courts. And since Washington State court is usually where I practice, the threat of adding extra counts with additional mandatory jail time does not come up much. However, sometimes I do have cases where a prosecutor will threaten to add a charge or two, just to make it scarier to go to trial. And it does make it more scary for a client, for a couple of reasons. One is that most jurors walk in and believe that if a person is charged with a crime, they’re probably guilty of something, and it’s usually that crime. If someone is charged with three crimes, rather than just one, it gives a juror even more ammunition for this presumption of guilt. After all, someone being in the wrong place at the wrong time could explain why they were charged with shoplifting, but does that explain why they’re also charged with trespassing and lying to a police officer and obstruction of justice? At some point, the weight of the charges makes it very difficult to prove innocence across the board. And if a juror comes in assuming a person is guilty, it then becomes the defense lawyer’s job to prove their innocence instead of the prosecutor’s job to prove someone guilty. Secondly, juries are also comfortable “splitting the baby” and finding guilt on something rather than one side totally winning. This is not a hard and fast rule of course. Sometimes a defense lawyer can argue the existence of so many charges, especially the weak ones, means the prosecution is being vindictive or unfair or...

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