I sat in the courtroom, my heart pounding. This was an important case. The jurors were seated and waiting; the District Attorney was about to begin opening statements. The waiting dragged on for what seemed like forever. But, maybe the minutes ticked by slowly due to my nervousness; this was a serious day. If our client lost the case, he could be deported. The pretrial issues had already been handled, the jury picked. Suddenly, the DA stood up to begin.
Act I: Opening Statements
The Jefferson County District Attorney spoke slowly and deliberately, each sentence dripping with meaning and inference. His words were dramatic, emotional, and somber. The jury took in each meaningful pause, each vivid moment illustrated by the prosecutor. I had studied this case for months, and yet the story he told was much more emotional and horrifying than I had ever grasped. Fifteen minutes later, his melodramatic performance had come to an end. It was now time for our side to speak. The lead lawyer at the office rose and told our client's story. It was much less emotional – after all, according to our side of the story, nothing had happened of note. The stark difference between the sensationalistic speech of the DA and the defense attorney was apparent. It struck me then and there: This was no trial. This was a dramatic competition. Each side was vying for the jury's pity – each side hoping to convince 6 people they were telling the truth.
Act II: Witnesses are Called
The first witness was called in the case. Again, I realized how much like a play this entire process really was. The DA asked pointed questions – painting a picture for the jury which illustrated only the alleged victim's side of the story. Stories from the defendant's past were brought to light which had no bearing to the current case. Words were expertly twisted to fit meanings. Witness after witness was called, and the story grew bleaker and bleaker. The defense attorney cross-examined each witness, calling attention to inconsistencies and flaws in their story, but the drama of the story was overwhelming. Every so often, either the DA or the defense attorney would object to a question, and the judge would either overrule or sustain the objection. Occasionally, both parties approached the bench and discussed the objections. In most cases, the judge ruled in favor of the prosecution – it was the safer option, after all.
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Act III: The Alleged Victim Speaks
Finally, the alleged victim took the stand. At last, we would hear from one of the two people in the “he said, she said” situation. Our client was charged with Attempted Unlawful Sexual Contact, which is a sex crime in Arapahoe, El Paso, and Boulder County. According to this woman, the defendant had touched her leg and moved his hand upwards, toward her private parts. There were no witnesses, no cameras, and no evidence, except her testimony. The District Attorney began questioning: The pointed questions, drama, eloquence, and emotionalism continued. Then, the unthinkable happened: The prosecutor asked questions which painted an emotional story – this young woman, alone and targeted by a sexual predator, brave enough to put a stop to the abuse – all built up to this one question: “Can you identify the defendant?” The young woman glanced around the courtroom and shook her head. “No.” The prosecutor looked shocked, but rephrased the question, asking if she could identify the man who had tried to touch her. The woman looked around the courtroom, her eyes resting on our client, seated right in front of her. She turned to the prosecutor, and said: “No. He's not in this courtroom.” My heart stopped. A quick glance The young woman couldn't identify the defendant. My heart stopped in surprise.around the room revealed the shock and disbelief in the eyes of the two DAs, the judge, and the jury. Further questioning revealed more enormous flaws: The entire case was based on the attempted assault taking place at 6:30 in the evening. But, on the stand, the young woman said she was “100% positive it happened in the morning.” To my untrained mind, the case was over. After all, this woman couldn't keep remember if this event had happened in the morning or evening, and she couldn't identify the defendant. But, little did I know about the justice system and persistence of District Attorneys who wanted to win this case.
Act IV: Witnesses for the Defense
After an entire day of witnesses for the alleged victim, we were able to bring in positive character witnesses for our client. These were people who knew our client and interacted with him on a weekly basis. These were people who truly knew him. We hoped to paint our own picture – the truth about his life and character.
Act V: The Defendant Testifies
Finally, our client was able to speak. His future was on the line, but he wasn't able to voice his opinion until the second day. An entire case was laid out and emotionalized before he got a chance to speak. He took the stand, and the defense attorney began questioning him about various aspects of the case. This was the tensest part of the trial – I knew everything he said would be weighed and judged. The DA would be waiting to pounce on any misunderstanding or misconception. The DA stood to begin cross-examination, and once again my heart began to pound. This prosecutor was excellent – he knew how to impress a jury. He spoke eloquently and with certainty, walking slowly around the room, pausing at all the right moments. He looked and sounded like a trained thespian – expertly playing a part for which he had practiced. He listened for tiny details, and then he twisted the meanings and asked our client pointed questions. The poor man was stressed – after all, his future and reputation were on the line. Finally, the cross examination was over. My heart slowed down to a normal pace.The defendant's future an reputation were on the line – yet he wasn't able to testify until the second day.
Act VI: Closing Statements
Closing statements were much like opening statements; the DA paused dramatically, vividly describing the alleged victim's bravery. I was still astounded the trial was continuing, in truth. After all, the entire case had been blown apart by the young woman's inability to point out the defendant, and her inconsistent story. But, the DA expertly smoothed over these enormous flaws in the case – he even went so far as to say her inconsistencies proved her truthfulness. Then, the defense attorney began his statements. He expertly pointed out that this young woman didn't know who had tried to harm her, when it happened, or what had happened (her story had changed multiple times during interviews and at trial). Instead of focusing on the emotional drama of the story, he pointed out to the jury their duty to hold the prosecution to a high standard: That they must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that this event had occurred. They couldn't convict someone they thought had possibly or probably committed a crime. They could only convict someone if the prosecution provided enough evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that it had happened. Closing statements felt even more like the conclusion of a dramatic play – each side taking turns acting out their version of events in an effort to sway the jury. The DA had final say in closing statements – they had one final chance to paint their picture full of emotions and victimization. They pointed a finger directly at our client and told the jury they needed to find him guilty, because he was.
Act VII: The Jury Decides
Once again, my heart throbbed in my chest. The courtroom was silent. Our client sat perfectly still – silent and waiting for the verdict of the jury. The 6 jury members shuffled in solemnly. The judge asked if they had reached a verdict. They said they had, and handed the judge a slip of paper. The judge glanced at it and time stopped for a moment. Would the jury succumb to the dramatics of the prosecution? Would they convict a man based on emotions and overlook evidence for his innocence? The judge read the verdict: “Not guilty.”The Verdict? “Not Guilty.”
Conclusion: Why a Criminal Defense Attorney is Vital
I came across an article the other day called “Storytelling in the Courtroom.” It opens with words I couldn't agree with more after my first experience at a jury trial:
“The trial of a case is nothing more than the telling of a story. Therefore, in order to be good trial lawyers, we must be good storytellers.”
This was absolutely the case in the case in Golden, Colorado. As the trial unfolded it became apparent that the best storyteller would win. This is why the experienced criminal defense attorney from our office focused so intently on the importance of reasonable doubt with the jury. He knew that the young, innocent victim's story would be better than that of a middle-aged man. He knew the best defense would be to educate the jury about justice and their duty to uphold it. As I walked away from watching my first jury trial, I was impressed by the absolute necessity of hiring an experienced criminal defense lawyer if you have been charged with a crime. When the best storyteller wins, it is vital to hire not only an expert who will illustrate your side of the story with eloquence, but also can instruct the jury to follow the law and not be swayed by emotions.
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If you or a loved one has been charged with a crime in Denver, Adams, or Douglas County, be smart, exercise your right to remain silent, and contact an experienced criminal defense attorney at the O'Malley Law Office for a free consultation at 303-830-0880. Together, we will protect your right to bear arms.Request a Free Consultation
Image Credit: FreeDigitalPhotos.net – Salvatore Vuono