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Thursday, November 17, 2011

What Not to Say in the Courtroom

This morning I was in Criminal Court in Durham, North Carolina and observed something that I have seen many times and decided to write an blog about it. I heard a criminal defendant, represented by a Criminal Defense Attorney speak directly to the Judge when he was addressing counsel. And before that, I observed a young law student who was in court on a misdemeanor larceny first-time offenders program try and talk his way out of having his status in the program revoked and face the original larceny charge. As a Raleigh Criminal Lawyer, Raleigh Traffic Attorney and a Raleigh DWI Attorney practicing in Durham, North Carolina and Raleigh, North Carolina, and formerly an Assistant District Attorney in Harnett County, North Carolina I have seen many Defendants speak up when they shouldn't have. Below, this article will stress why it is important to limit what you say and/or hire an attorney to speak for you.

The first incident that I saw today, where the Defendant spoke directly to the Judge was met immediately by an admonishment by the Judge. The Judge explained that she was represented by a quality Durham Criminal Attorney from the Public Defender's Office and should let her attorney do all the speaking for her. Afterwards, I observed the Public Defender express the same to the Defendant. She explained to the Defendant to not speak in court unless directly spoken to. I know this may sound belittling, and somewhat parent/childish, but it's true. Attorneys go through three years of law school, incur HUGE amounts of student loans, and ultimately face the bar exam to learn the law and learn how to be a lawyer. One of the many skill sets that attorneys learn is what should be said in court and what should not. If you have an attorney representing you in court, whether it's a Criminal Case, DWI Case, or a Traffic Case, let the Attorney do all the speaking for you, unless the agree that it is okay for you to speak up or you are called to testify.

This brings me to my second point. If you are facing a Criminal Charge, DWI Charge, or a Traffic Charge you should always try and find a way to have an attorney at your side to represent you. Whether you request the court to appoint you an attorney, you ask an attorney who is your friend to help, or you hire a private criminal attorney, you need their expertise in making it through the case. Now, I'm not saying that there have not been successful Pro Se Defendants (that is the term used for Defendants who represent themselves). There have been successful cases, as an Assistant District Attorney, I observed a Defendant get a not guilty verdict in an assault case brought by the Defendant's Dad. But, if you are playing the percentages, you have a MUCH greater chance of being successful, and not making a mistake, if you have an attorney at your side. The young man today who was representing himself was saved when a local attorney stepped in and assisted him, for free. See, not all attorneys are blood-suckers!

Friday, November 4, 2011

North Carolina DWI: The Role of the Assistant District Attorney

Today's Raleigh DWI Attorney blog is going to deal with the roll of the Assistant District Attorneys in the prosecution of Criminal Defendants.  Though today's Raleigh DWI Attorney blog deals in the area of Driving While Intoxicated, this blog applies to all criminal prosecution; including traffic. 

First, don't think this blog will be used to bash those who are Assistant District Attorneys.  Though I am currently a DWI Lawyer Raleigh and DWI Lawyer Durham, I was actually sworn in as an Assistant District Attorney before and prosecuted cases for the State of North Carolina.  Many fine attorneys have before, and are currently, quality Prosecutors.  I can tell you from experience, the job is hard, tedious, and often thankless.  No, today's blog will be used to advice you as to the roll they play in the prosecution of your case (hint: it's not normally to assist you).

First, a brief explanation of the U.S. Justice System as it applies to courts.  Our trials are what are known as "adversarial proceedings."  Basically, both sides do their best for the side they represent, and through that effort, the truth is suppose to come out.  Basically, the Assistant District Attorney does their best to represent the State by prosecuting criminal defendants to the best of their ability.  Defendant, either by themselves or with the assistance of counsel, present their best defense.  Many people have discussed the flaws inherent in our system, unfortunately this is the system we have to work within.

So, the Assistant District Attorneys are there to prosecute your case.  If you are your attorney's client, then the Assistant District Attorney's client would be the State.  So, when an Assistant District Attorney is dealing with the facts, as well as dealing with Defendants, their main goal is to serve the needs of the State by prosecuting those cases.  For that reason, the Assistant District Attorney IS NOT normally working in your best interest.  Now, as a caveat, I will acknowledge that certainly there are those Prosecutors who recognize a mistake by the State, and will work to overcome it.  If the evidence is poor, the arrest is flawed, or the case is meritless, the Assistant District Attorney should do what is right and dismiss the case.  Unfortunately, though the Prosecutor may do the right thing, you cannot count on it when it comes to the defense of your case. 

First, the Defendant should never acknowledge anything to the Assistant District Attorney with regards to the facts of the case.  Again, they are working for the State, so admitting anything can AND WILL come up in trial or at least in their decision in how to handle your case. 

Second, the Assistant District Attorney CAN NOT and WILL NOT provide you with legal advice, so don't ask.  In fact, it would violate Ethical Rules of the North Carolina Bar if they were to advice you.  As mentioned before, they represent the State, they are the adverse party, they cannot advice you as to how to handle your case, whether to accept a plea, or what could happen if you go to trial.  I can recount many-a-times when I was a Prosecutor, where I knew what the Defendant should do, but couldn't tell them.  This is why it is ALWAYS a good idea to speak with a Cary Criminal Attorney, Apex Criminal Attorney, Raleigh Criminal Attorney or Durham Criminal Attorney about your case.  If you are considering representing yourself, consider the fact that most attorney's fees are reasonable when compared to the potential consequences that a Defendant could face.  Though no outcome should ever be guaranteed by a Criminal Defense Attorney, it's always a good idea to hedge your bets.