Top 5 Things NOT To Do When On Trial


If you’re charged with a crime, there are certain things you just don’t want to be doing at trial.  And the recent news story about Chad Johnson proves that these things aren’t necessarily obvious!

5.  We’ll start with the Chad Johnson incident.  The former NFL receiver unfortunately didn’t have the benefit of this blog post at the time of his trial.  After being charged with probation violations, he had formed a tentative plea agreement with prosecutors, which would have allowed Johnson to avoid jail time. All that was left was for the judge to accept the agreement–which is when things went wrong.   During the hearing in court, Johnson, apparently pleased with his attorney’s work, gave the attorney a playful slap on the butt*.  The judge was unimpressed with Johnson’s attitude towards his legal proceedings and promptly sentenced him to 30 days in jail.  Although the judge later reduced the sentence to 7 days after receiving an apology, and Johnson claims to have enjoyed his time in jail, we’ll assume that most of you would prefer to stay on the outside and therefore bring you tip #5–don’t be disrespectful (even if unintended) to your judge or the proceedings!

4.  Contact the jurors.  In a small town, you might know, or know of, one or more of them.  Now is not the time to have any kind of communication or relationship with them.  Even if one of them is your brother’s high school girlfriend’s sister’s friend who you keep meaning to get in touch with for reasons that have nothing to do with influencing the outcome of your trial.  This can actually be a crime in and of itself not to mention end in a mistrial and you will have to start the trial over again.

3.  Represent yourself.  This one goes without saying, except many people still do not quite understand this.  If you’re not a lawyer, you’ve probably never read court opinions that decide cases involving people who represented themselves.  If you had, you would see that in these decisions, the judges almost always employ phrases like “As best we can make out, the defendant is arguing…” and “There was no coherent argument on this issue…”  On your own, you won’t make the same quality of legal argument that a lawyer would, no matter how well you did in your 11th grade creative writing class or because your mother said you should have been a lawyer; writing and legal writing, not to mention legal procedure, are totally different creatures.  If you’re charged with a crime, you need a lawyer.  Period.  If you can’t afford one, talk to your judge about a public defender.

2.  Don’t Talk To The Police.  And on that note, after you get that lawyer, don’t talk to the prosecutor and/or the police without your lawyer present (don’t do this before you get a lawyer, either!).  This applies to small talk as well as to answering questions–you never know when something you unwittingly said in passing could be trotted out as evidence against you.  It is amazing the little nuggets we, as lawyers, learn while waiting for our turn in court, do not give the prosecution any extra ammunition, they already have enough!

1.  Feel like you have to testify.  Many people don’t realize that they have no obligation to testify in their own defense.  The way our justice system works, the burden is always on the prosecution to convince the judge or jury that you committed each and every element of the crime you’re charged with.  If the prosecutor can’t do that, you don’t get convicted.  So, theoretically, you and your lawyer could sit back and relax and do nothing the entire trial, and you would still be found not guilty.  In reality, of course, it’s usually going to be to your benefit to offer some evidence to rebut what the prosecution is saying happened.  But this evidence doesn’t have to come in the form of your testimony.  Further, there can be downsides to testifying, such as opening the door for the prosecution to bring in evidence that wouldn’t otherwise be allowed.

While this list did start out lighthearted, the list is serious in the sense that you need to be smart when charged with a crime in Minnesota, these issues are some of the common sense tips where I see people make the mistakes quite a bit. Don’t make these mistakes.

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