Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Is Your Lawyer Willing to Try Your Case?

That may seem like a dumb question.  Of course your lawyer should be willing to try your case.  But not all lawyers are willing to go to the mat for their client.  Don't get me wrong, many cases should be settled whether they are civil or criminal.  The facts aren't favorable to the client.  The law is favorable to the other party.  There is too much uncertainty in the outcome and a bad settlement is better than a worse verdict.

Nonetheless, it is my belief that when a client comes to me I look at the merits of a trial first.  In other words, can my client win this case at trial?  I don't initially look at it as can we settle this for a compromise.  Often after my analysis I will tell my client that the facts or the law may be against them and the case is worth settling.  But that is only after a careful analysis.  Even at that point I will tell the client that it is her case and her decision.  I simply make the recommendation.

Case in point, my client was charged with drunk driving.  The police report stated that the police were dispatched to a suspicious parked but running car properly parked on a residential street blaring music.  The officer observed my client behind the wheel (it was daytime) and my client was either unconscious or sleep.  The officer banged on the window for 5 to 10 min., shook the car and could not rouse my client.  The officer took his tactical baton and smashed the passenger window.  Still my client did not wake up.  Finally the officer started shaking my client at which point my client woke up.  The report stated that my client smelled of alcohol and admitted to drinking way too much alcohol and that he admitted that he had totally messed his life up.  Further, there was an ignition interlock device in the car and my client told the officer that he had his friend blow into the device so that the car could be started.  The officer saw a 12 pack of beer in the car.  My client did not do a field sobriety test because of a leg injury.  He refused the breathalyzer test.

When I saw these facts I immediately thought that the case was worth a trial.  The issues I saw were whether my client was in actual physical control of the vehicle (it was my theory of the case that my client was using the vehicle as a shelter and Maryland has recognized that it is better for public safety for a person to "sleep it off in the car" rather than drive away in the car.  It is a limited and narrowly defined exception but it does exist.)  Further there was limited evidence as to my client's intoxication.

On the day of the trial the prosecution offered a reasonable deal dropping the main charge which exposed my client to one year in jail to a charge which exposed my client to only 60 days in jail.  Even though it was a reasonable offer I was still looking at this case as a trial.  My client went to trial and was acquitted of all counts.

In Maryland you can somewhat look up a lawyers court performance.  Google Maryland Judiciary case search and put in the attorney's name.  That will pull up most if not all of the cases that the attorney has had in the past 20 years.  You can look and see whether the attorney tries the cases, as the cases dropped, gets acquittals or just pleads the client guilty.  You want a lawyer that can go to trial if necessary.

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