Attorney Greg Simms is a Louisville Criminal Defense Lawyer at MURPHY & ASSOCIATES, PLC. For representation, call him at 502.473.6464. An initial consultation is free. This blog is for entertainment purposes only, and should not be construed as legal advice. It does not create an Attorney/Client relationship. Read the "Introduction" post before reading any other blog posts.
Saturday, November 17, 2012
"Keepin' em On the Streets": A Year in Jury Trials for Greg Simms
last week isn’t the first time I’ve gotten looks or words of disapproval. In my line of work, it happens. Job hazards, or whatever. Sometimes the nasty smirks come after I win a
trial. Frequently the scowls or looks of
disgust come when I first meet someone and tell them that I’m a criminal
defense lawyer. Like I just told them I’m
a nazi or something.
Some of it I get. Some of it I don’t
not trying to convince you that I’m a good person. But I would like to clear up some
misunderstandings about what criminal defense lawyers do and/or don’t do. My goal is not to “Keep ‘em on the streets!” in the sense of making sure bad people are free. My goal is to make sure my clients don’t get
steamrolled by police who abuse their power, and to make sure their
constitutional rights are upheld.
Because everyone in this country deserves that much.
start with a couple of principles.
Criminal litigation is a great job. It’s
fun. It doesn’t get boring. Criminal law is fast paced, in a way that
other areas of law can’t even come close to comparing. And in order to be good at criminal law, you
have to be able to think quickly, on your feet.
In that way it is also very challenging.
That’s why I love practicing criminal law.
Criminal Defense suits me more than Criminal Prosecution. I understand that some people think I help BAD
people to get less punishment - and that such conduct on my part is BAD. But I can’t see myself as a prosecutor. First and foremost, I would feel like an
absolute hypocrite trying to punish others for doing “wrong.” I’m not trying to convince you that I’m a
good person because I am NOT a good person.
Or, at least, I’ve done my fair share of sinning. Maybe your fair share, too. So I couldn’t condemn others for things they’ve
done or make a judgment call regarding whether their sins are “worse” than my
sins, etc. So I’d rather be on the side
that gives second chances. Forgiveness. 70 x 7.
I find this side of the V. to be far more morally justifiable. Second, I want to be a voice for the less
powerful. The police come in numbers,
organized, and trained. They are
powerful. When that power is abused, it
makes me sick. So I find it very
satisfying to make the effort to “keep ‘em honest.”
Most Criminal Defense lawyers don’t do what a lot of people think they do. We don’t go in with a 100% guilty client and
lie – we don’t just run in and start denying any wrongdoing. Often, the best defense is to explain the
wrongdoing as is, because the client is usually over – charged. By getting the truth on the table, we can get
the charges reduced to the appropriate level, and move on. That way the client’s happy because they
might be doing 1 year instead of 5-10 years in prison. The client may even be an appropriate
candidate for probation. My point is, we
don’t go sprinting into court with guns blazing, lying about how our client
didn’t do anything illegal if they did, in fact, break the law.
the preceding principles enumerated, let me tell you a little about my year. Jury Trials are tough. They are stressful, require a LOT of
preparation (generally 30-80 hours depending on the nature of the trial), and
if the case actually goes through trial in front of a jury, it requires lawyers
to put forth very intense focus. You have
to mind the witness, constantly weigh the possibility of objecting to opposing
counsel, check the jury to see if they are responding favorably and take notes
for your cross examination, future motions, and closing argument. All of these things are simultaneous. Meanwhile, the very real consideration that
someone’s freedom depends on your performance weighs heavily on your mind. It’s a stressful situation.
are several ways to win a jury trial.
The first way is to “beat the offer.”
If the offer is 10 years in prison, and the jury convicts your client
and gives him only 5 years on a lesser charge, that is a Defense “win.” Because you beat the offer that was on the
table. The second way to win a jury
trial is to start winning some motions, or get some really good evidence out,
and then the other side offers to settle the case on favorable terms for your
client. Lastly, and more obviously, you
can get a Not Guilty verdict.
first jury trial of the year was Commonwealth
v. Matthew Kustes. This was a
relatively minor charge of Trespassing in Fayette County, but the case was more
important than the face value of the potential punishment because Kustes was
arrested without Probable Cause. That
means, if the criminal case was successful, we would have a civil case against
the police under 42 U.S.C. 1893. So I
was prepared to charge into jury trial on a case that I normally would consider
to be… “unworthy” is not the right word, but it’s the first word that comes to
mind*… of the time and effort that goes into jury trial. So we put the jury in the box. After I was able to show that Kustes actually
had permission to be on the premises and that the police did not have the
authority to order him to disburse, we got a directed verdict in the case. That mean the Judge awarded us a Not Guilty
verdict without even allowing the jury to deliberate.
second case that went to jury trial this year was a felony case in central
Kentucky. It was of a sensitive nature. I’m not going to go into all of the details
of the case, but in general, the allegations were pretty harsh, but the
punishment for such allegations was EXTREMELY harsh. If you want to know about it – ask me. I’ll fill you in on what is not confidential
information. Regardless, we went to jury
trial in Mercer County. While the jury
pool waited in the courtroom, the attorneys went back into Judge’s chambers to
argue some motions in limine. I started
to win some motions, and the Commonwealth asked if we could settle the case. The prosecutor, Richie Bottoms, is an
absolute class act and a very professional individual, by the way. Good lawyer.
Long story short, my defendant took one year in jail. He was originally facing 10 years in prison
and a lifetime on the sex offender registry.
This was a “settled on favorable terms” win.
next trial for the year was Commonwealth
v. Latoya Smith. She had a “drug DUI”
case in Jefferson District Court. After
a hard fought battle, we ended up getting a Not Guilty verdict on the DUI. Again, the prosecutor on the case was very
talented and a really classy individual.
His name is Ben Wyman. The jury didn’t
let us go 100% scot-free. They gave Latoya
a $100 fine on a Disorderly Conduct charge.
It wasn’t a massive win, but a win nonetheless. We got a Not Guilty verdict and we more than
beat the offer.
next trial was Commonwealth v. Greg Maddox. Maddox was wrongfully accused of
assault. This is another case where I
won’t go into all of the details because of the sensitive nature of the
case. But I can tell you that after
about 40 hours of diligent jury trial preparation, we finally got to the day of
jury trial. Our case was very
strong. After giving the case a last
minute review, the prosecutor made the very reasonable agreement to completely
dismiss the case against Mr. Maddox. The
best way to win a trial is to get a complete dismissal without even having to
gamble on the jury’s verdict. It was a
last trial of 2012 was an absolute brawl.
Commonwealth v. Steven Balazs
was another “drug DUI” charge in Hardin County.
The County Attorney’s office in Hardin County is extremely unreasonable
and prefers to waste taxpayer money instead of making decent offers on
cases. The prosecutor in this case was
no different. Balazs was charged with
DUI and Reckless Driving. The commonwealth
contended that Balazs was under the influence of the 3 prescription drugs found
in his bloodstream. We had substantial
evidence on our side that there was some sort of medical event, beyond his
control, that caused the bad driving.
The jury agreed and only took approximately 7 minutes to
deliberate. Not Guilty on DUI. Not Guilty on Reckless Driving.
there you have it. That concludes my
2012 year in Jury Trials review.
year I hope to go completely undefeated as well. But I’ll probably try slightly less
cases. Maybe I’ll settle for 3-0 next
you are interested in seeing some of the snippets from trial – like a cross
examination of a police officer or a closing argument, they will be up on the
internet soon. I will put out a link to
them in due time. *Blatantly stolen literary device, taken from Chuck Palahniuk