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Archive for August, 2010

Lessons Learned from Jurors: Sex and Drug Cases Tried in Pittsburgh Criminal Court

Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

Our recent blog post talks about how closely jurors watch how everyone behaves in the courtroom, and this reminded me of two interesting examples I thought I’d share with you today.

I had a case involving a schoolteacher, who was accused of sexual assault on seven of his thirteen-year-old female students. While ultimately, he was acquitted, the first time around the jury convicted him.

The jury included six men and six women, and the client did not testify. Even though I believed he wasn’t guilty, I did not think he would be a good witness.

The jury convicted him on half of the charges and acquitted him on half.

I had occasion to speak with the jurors afterward. And what was interesting was, the jurors said they knew he was guilty of the charges they’d convicted him on because, as each of these young girls testified about the alleged sexual assault, he refused to look at them and instead looked down at the table.

It was from that, the jurors felt the defendant was embarrassed, ashamed and guilty.

That was an incredibly important lesson for me, not only in terms of the re-trial of this case but for all other cases since. Not evidence, but appearance, body language and the erroneous impressions jurors draw from them can make or break a case.

Another important thing I learned from years of being in front of a jury is that jurors watch how you treat your client.

Early in my career, I represented a young man who was charged with the distribution of drugs.

We had no defense to the charges, but couldn’t get a deal that made sense. So we picked a jury and went to trial.

And while I don’t recall my argument to the jury– lo and behold, the defendant was acquitted, leading me to believe I must really be a terrific lawyer.

Fortunately, about a week later I ran into one of the jurors walking down the street. He stopped me, we talked about the case, and I asked him what the basis for the acquittal was.

And he looked me in the eye and said, “Stan, we knew your client was innocent.”

I said, “Of course he was. But how did you know that?”

He said, “Well, the way you treated him. You were so nice to him and you put your arm around him. We knew that you wouldn’t have acted that way if he was a guilty person.”

Again, a fascinating lesson about human nature.

—Stanton D. Levenson

Advice for Defendants Preparing for Criminal Trial

Friday, August 6th, 2010

Defending yourself on criminal charges can be one of the most terrifying experiences of your life. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania-based criminal defense lawyer, Stanton D. Levenson, shares the advice he gives his own clients during this difficult time:

Don’t Let Your Body Language Mislead the Jurors

During jury trials, jurors carefully study all the participants—the lawyers, the client, the witnesses and the judge. This is because of the very nature of the jury trial itself. Jurors are restricted to the jury box and aren’t able to speak to one another in the courtroom. This gives them a lot of time for keen observation of everyone’s habits and mannerisms. This body language and behavior gets interpreted in a variety of ways, but some of them can pose a problem for defendants.

So Don’t:

  • …look down/avoid eye contact with the witnesses and jury
  • …look ashamed or embarrassed
  • …try to stare down the witness or intimidate them

Do:

  • …look at the witness and jury like you would anyone else under normal circumstances

Appearances Count

A defendant with a clean, neat appearance shows respect for the court, and an understanding of the seriousness of the defendant’s circumstances. But there are a few things to avoid…

Don’t:

  • overdress for the occasion. if you don’t normally get dressed up, don’t dress up for trial. Jurors are good at detecting phoniness and manipulation, and you will lose credibility with the court
  • come into the court room unclean, wrinkled or otherwise sloppy.

Do:

  • dress as you ordinarily do. If you’re a businessperson who is often dressed up, then a suit would be appropriate. If you ordinarily dress more casually, then this the way to dress in court.

Avoid Common Mistakes

There are a number of mistakes individuals accused of a crime make as their trial approaches. Some helpful tips can help you avoid these pitfalls.

Don’t:

  • discuss the case with non-lawyers. Attorneys who specialize in criminal law understand the complex legal system, and what may seem like common sense to a person not familiar with the law is not necessarily helpful from a legal perspective. While your friends, family and neighbors may be very concerned for you and want to help you in any way they can, the best thing you can do for yourself is to restrict your discussion of the case to your own legal team.
  • try to do your own research. Again, the court system has its own complex language, and unless you’re well-versed in it, you may actually do more harm than good by trying to tackle your own research.
  • compare your case with other, similar cases. Each case is entirely unique, and one case generally has nothing to do with another case, no matter how similar they initially may seem.

Do:

  • make sure your lawyer explains to you the strategy, and why he or she may be asking certain questions and not others.
  • tell your lawyer what you would like to see him or her doing regarding your case, and share any ideas you might have. Sometimes clients have ideas that lawyers might not think of because the client is so close to the circumstances that led to the charges. A collaborative experience with your lawyer will serve you best.

Things To Keep in Mind as Trial Approaches

Defending yourself against criminal charges may be the most frightening time you’ll ever face. But as your trial approaches, it’s important to remember the following:

  • This is a limited-time event. It will be over at some point.
  • Yes, the trial may be life-changing. But do not let it alter every aspect of your life. Life will go on, as painful as it may seem now.

For more information on this topic, or if you have a criminal case you’re concerned about, contact the criminal defense offices of Stanton D. Levenson here.