Written by William L. Anderson
In the first part of this series, I pointed out that if the authorities falsely accuse you of a sex-related crime (or anything else), you should NEVER talk to the police. The police are not interested in finding out what happened; they are interested in finding a way to get you thrown into prison, whether or not you did anything wrong.
This post gives advice on choosing an attorney, which other than deciding not to talk to the police is the most important decision you will make. Many an innocent person has been railroaded into prison because of bad legal representation, and people who have been acquitted of these kinds of charges will tell you that their choice of attorney really mattered.
The vast majority of people who are falsely accused never have been in trouble with the law before and, thus, are not exactly on a first-name basis with criminal defense attorneys. They often take the first name out of the phone book, or get the name of an attorney from someone else, or a website in which the lawyer promises to be the Second Coming of F. Lee Bailey or Johnny Cochran.
I have been personally involved in four of these kinds of cases and each time the defendant has had to fire his or her original counsel, which means thousands of dollars thrown down the drain. I have seen attorneys attempt to sell out their clients, refuse to look at exculpatory material, and tell their clients to do nothing and let them do all the work. (And then they proceed to do the minimum amount of work until the defendant is in a huge hole.)
Believe me, it is MUCH better to have good counsel at the start, as opposed to having to fire the attorney mid-way through the case and then begin afresh with a new lawyer. So, how do you do it, and, more important, how do you afford it?
The first thing to remember is that your attorney needs to be someone who has at least some experience with these kinds of cases. As Tonya Craft has told me more than once, these cases are very different than any other kind of criminal charge. The public is much more likely to believe the charges, and the courts have been willing to accept “evidence” that is not evidence at all. Furthermore, as Tonya saw, more often than not, the judge may very well act like a member of the prosecution team. (I will say that “judge” brian outhouse’s conduct during the trial was on the extreme side, but a lot of people who have been wrongfully convicted in these kinds of cases had trials in which the judges were hostile to them throughout the proceedings.)
The second thing is that the attorney you choose needs to be amenable to the belief that you are innocent of the charges. Criminal defense attorneys usually represent guilty people, and like everyone else, they become jaded over time dealing with liars, crooks, thieves, rapists, and murderers. Many times, they don’t like their clients, would not want to meet them in a dark alley, and believe that they are guilty as sin, but still do their professional duty and represent them as they should.
It is very rare that a criminal defense attorney has an innocent client and all-too-often, that lawyer fails to recognize his or her client’s innocence and immediately tries to find a way to plead out the accused. If you are innocent and want to fight the charges, and your attorney is suggesting that you plead out, fire that attorney immediately. Don’t wait for him or her to have a change of heart. An attorney who will want to plead you out is an attorney who does not care about you, your innocence, or doing what is right.
No, if you want to prevail, you have to get a lawyer who believes in you and your innocence. You need to get a lawyer who will take a hard look at exculpatory evidence, and who will be open to receiving material from you. For example, Tonya had very good attorneys, but she also played a major role in her defense, poring over material, putting together timelines, and unearthing exculpatory material. You have to be willing to do the same, and if your attorney wants you to sit back and be passive, be active instead and say, “You’re fired.”
I have seen one case in which the attorney lied to his client and read NO material on the case before the bond hearing and then had no argument at all, which meant the client remained in jail. There is another case in which the attorney clearly did not know anything about how child molestation cases worked and never even raised a question about some very untenable claims the prosecution was making. And on and on.
Believe me, it does not take much for a lawyer to sell out his or her client, pocket the money, while you spend the rest of your life in prison for something that never happened. This sad event happens more time than you ever can imagine, and the attorney will not shed a tear as you are dragged away to hell on earth.
So, how do you choose an attorney? The first thing you have to do is to find out whether or not he or she is familiar with cases such as yours involving false accusation. If so, then you need to find out if the counsel is willing to fight for you. Keep in mind that you are employing the attorney, not the other way around.
Second, see if there is a personal connect. Can you work with this person? Does this attorney have references that you can call? Has he or she been able to get other falsely-accused people acquitted?
Third, do NOT hire someone who is part of the “courthouse crowd,” especially of the courthouse where you will be tried. Tonya’s first attorney, a local lawyer in Catoosa County, immediately tried to get her to plead out. There was no way that he was going to be willing to antagonize Chris Arnt, and he was all-too-happy to sell Tonya down the river.
A local member of the “good ole boy” crowd will not fight for you, for that means taking on the local “justice” apparatus and doing battle with his drinking and lunch buddies. That will not work.
There is a hazard in hiring someone from out-of-town, and that is the fact that the judge and others might be hostile to him or her simply because of the out-of-town label. During Tonya’s trial, “judge” brian outhouse was openly hostile to her counsel, and both Len “The Man” Gregor and Chris “Facebook-Cruisemaster” Arnt many times during the proceedings reminded jurors that they counsel was not local, which I guess they thought would inflame the jurors to vote “guilty.” (It turns out that the jurors were not the in-bred hicks that Arnt, Gregor, and outhouse thought they would be. The only in-bred hicks in the building were those employed by Catoosa County and the State of Georgia.)
Then there is the cost. You have to remember this simple fact when you are falsely accused: your life as you have known it is over. Over. Forget your career, your job, your friends, your church, and maybe even your family. People who shook your hand now will turn away; you are likely to be fired, or at least suspended from your job, and even if you are acquitted, a sizable group of people will claim that you “got off on a technicality” and really are a child molester or a rapist. (In modern America, unfortunately, “innocence” has become nothing more than a “legal technicality.”)
Most of us don’t have $50-$60 thousand of spare change lying around, so that is going to mean you will have to be created in your spending. One of the reasons that prosecutors love false accusation cases is that the defendants generally are not wealthy, yet are forced to pay for the legal counsel while the taxpayers (including you) finance the prosecution. Just this financial disconnect alone is a huge reason that thousands of people are wrongfully-convicted in American courts today.
This might mean a second mortgage, selling your house and anything else you own, cashing in on your pension, or whatever it takes. If you cannot afford an attorney, that means that you will be assigned a public defender, who is NOT going to be competent if you go to trial. Furthermore, the public defender will be a product of the “courthouse crowd,” which means it is likely he or she will ignore exculpatory information and offer you up as a sacrifice to the prosecutors.
I have a friend who was convicted in federal court in what truly was a smarmy action by the feds. First, the feds seized her property, depriving her of being able to pay a lawyer, with the government assigning her counsel that demanded she plead out. My friend, who believed she was innocent, insisted on going to trial, so her court-appointed lawyers undermined her, refused to present exculpatory evidence during the trial, and let a jerk of a prosecutor win a conviction.
[Note]: Someone has commented on the board that where he or she works, the public defenders are more aggressive in their casesthan are the regularly-paid attorneys, and that my earlier statement then negates the truthfulness everything I ever have posted. First, it is not my point to defame PDs. Many of them are overworked, underpaid, and face serious odds.
Second, I have listed the experiences I have witnessed, which means that I have not seen personally a situation in which public defenders are effective in dealing with the prosecution. The problem is NOT that public defenders are callous or craven, per se, but rather that the deck is stacked against them. They often have to dig into their own funds, as the payment they receive from the state is woeful, and they face constraints that prosecutors don’t face.
Third, if they really go after the prosecution’s case aggressively, they are liable to be victims of prosecutorial retaliation. That is the cold, hard reality of the world of the public defender, and I think where I made my error was in making it seem as though the PD always INTENDS to sell out the client.
The PD has a difficult job. In cases where I have been involved, at least on the periphery, the PD has wanted to plead out the defendant. One case especially bothered me, as the attorneys had in their possession a document that clearly contradicted what one of the prosecution’s star witnesses was claiming. My friend, an attorney herself, showed that document to her public defenders, and they blew it off. During the trial, they literally presented NOTHING to contradict the prosecution’s case, even though they had available material. Not surprisingly, she was convicted.
True, one case does not determine a trend. It is my contention, however, that in the kinds of cases we see here, unless a PD has experience with wrongful-accusation charges, it is better to have counsel that does have experience and that is likely to hold you really are innocent.
Again, let me emphasize that I am not dissing PDs or their work.They labor against constraints that are terribly unfair and that make theirs an uphill battle. That is the reality of their situation.[End Note]
You want to get a lawyer who believes you are innocent and understands the nature of these kinds of cases. Anything less than that will land you in prison for the rest of your life.