So today I was scheduled to start my first jury trial in my new county. And it was against the county attorney, the head honcho of the county prosecution. It was a serious charge . 2nd degree drug sale. My client was looking at 96 months in prison if we lost.
But we had a really good case. Well, actually, the state had a really terrible case. So we were going to trial and I was going to have fun ripping apart a witness and an officer on the stand during cross exam.
So, we arrived this morning to do motions in limine (these are motions each side makes right before trial, asking for certain things to be allowed in the trial or not in. It can make a big difference in what sort of evidence can be presented and how.). I had many. The state had five. But four of those five, if they got them, would severely hamper my ability to attack the witness and would radically change the case. I had to make sure that the state didn't get what they were asking for.
I also had to make sure I got all mine granted, because I wanted to severely limit what the cop was going to be allowed to say. The more I could limit the cop from testifying about things he shouldn't, the stronger my trial arguments would be. So this was an important hearing on these motions.
State went first & made their arguments. I got a chance to respond to their arguments.
Court denied the first state motion. Score! And then, the second. And then the third! And then then fourth!! The fifth wasn't that important so I wasn't concerned with that one. But I was flying high after successfully arguing for the court to deny those four motions. My trial arguments were saved!
Then, my turn. I had seven highly important ones and some boilerplate ones. I started my arguments. State had a chance to respond. Then the court granted my first motion. Then the second. And third. And four, five, and six. He deferred making a ruling on seven for the time being.
Holy balls, I had just swept the hearing! I won on everything! I could hardly contain my excitement. I thought my arguments were good and solid but I didn't expect to get everything. Awesome possum!
So then we took a break for the morning. I met with my client to tell him what had happened, since most people drift off during this portion of their trial because it's lot of legal jargon and lawyers yakking. Then the prosecutor wanted to talk to me.
Turns out that the judge's rulings put a damper on the state's case. A big enough damper that made the state change their offer.
Previous offers were, in order:
51 months in prison (that was the offer for several months)
36 months in prison
Client had rejected both. He didn't want to go to prison.
Today's offer? 1 year in jail with credit for three months already served. Since Minnesota only has you only serve two-thirds of your time, the year becomes 8 months. Minus the 3 he already has done means he would have about 5 months in local jail, close to his family, with work release privileges.
Client ultimately decided to take the offer, since he was risking a conviction on a 96 month charge if we had lost. But the change to 5 months of local jail was enough to sway him.
We didn't try the case, but we didn't have to. The motion hearing sweep was enough to cause the state to change the offer to something my client was happy with.
He thanked me several times, saying I was the best public defender he had ever had and that even if we had gone to trial & lost, he would know that I had done what I could to help him. He said he knew I had been working really hard for him and he was really glad he had me. I had to laugh when he told me that some of his family had asked him if he would be ok with a public defender on his case and he told them that he "loved" his lawyer and that I was "busting my ass" on his case. He said, "My family and I are gonna be sending you a card or something. You did great. Thank you so so so much."
It never ceases to amaze me how much it means to people to have someone in their corner. Even if they are guilty, it always boils down to the same thing: they want to know that someone is on their side and willing to fight for them. All too often, no one has ever stood up and fought for them. And not only to fight for them, but to do it in a public forum, vehemently arguing the case in front of a courtroom full of people. I'm proud to be the person standing next to them and arguing their case against the world. They feel like everyone is out to get them and that they can't win no matter what. And having someone to do the fighting with them and for them means they walk away from the court experience feeling like they got a fair chance and they had their own soldier in the fight.
It was a good day. A trial win would have been nice. But I'm still calling this one a win. Obviously the state was so scared they just chickened out.