What’s Involved in Going to Trial in a Criminal Case?
By Dan Noll on August 26th, 2015 in
Many clients want to know what’s involved in going to trial in a criminal case. Whenever we are retained by a client we always have to assume we’re going to trial. I say that because there are many attorneys, tremendous number of attorneys, who will say, “I’m a trial attorney. I’m just this,” and they haven’t been to a trial with a jury in front of witnesses, in front of a judge, in 10-15 years. The reason is because they got to know what they’re doing. They don’t have the experience levels but they just go ahead and claim it because nobody ever calls them on it.
What you want to do is to make sure that your attorney, the trial attorney, is actually a trial attorney, not just “You’re going to trial? Well I’m going to withdraw for your case, period.” We see that so often here in Central Illinois. Now the question is getting ready for trial. First thing is you need disclosure. When a client first meets with you, you’re flying without radar. You got no idea what is going on. I say no idea, you handle enough cases you got a pretty good sense of what’s going to be involved in a controlled drug buy or a bank robbery. The discovery gives you full disclosure.
Then you have to look at issues like pre-trial motions. Those issues are really important because pre-trial motions can suppress a statement. They can borrow witnesses. They can throw out an identification that’s faulty. Pre-trial motions are very important. Then finally you come down to preparing for trial. Preparation is important. One of the things we always do, always always do, is we look to see if the matter can be resolved. We always ask for a plea negotiation. We’ve done that from death penalty cases down to parking tickets. Always look to see if there’s an alternative. We will tell it to you as a client. We’ll advise you of the pluses and minuses of that. If you take it, fine. If not, we’re going to trial. So that plea negotiations and that point are really important.
Now there’s three keys to being a good trial attorney. Key number one is preparation. Key number two is preparation. Key number three is preparation. Now if you’re out playing golf at the country club or you’re doing a art studio on Friday evening or Thursday afternoon, that’s all wonderful, but you got to get prepared for the case. That’s the key to it.
If your litigation team is prepared, that is your investigator, your paralegal has got the exhibits done, you’ve got the investigator’s who done all the research on witnesses so you can cross-examine, and your co-counsel is ready to back you up and you got all of your witnesses ready on a affirmative defense, that’s when you’re … but it is a lot of work and a lot of stress. That’s why so few attorneys do trials, because it is a lot of work and it is a lot of stress. If you make a mistake in trial, you can be embarrassed in front of your client. People don’t like that. They’d rather say, “Plead guilty. The world is going to end unless you plead guilty.”
Be very careful to make sure that you hire an attorney … if you feel it’s going to trial, if you really think it’s going to trial, hire an attorney who’s got the guts to go to trial. That’s an important thing.