Rule 1: When the Judge Agrees With You, Stop Talking
As a law student learning trial practice, and later as a young lawyer, I recall being instructed numerous times about "Rule 1," i.e., "When the judge agrees with you, stop talking!" Actually, I recall a couple of other commandments characterized as "Rule 1" -- "Get paid;" and "If anyone is going to jail make sure it is not you" -- but the "stop talking" rule was constantly reiterated through the years.
On his Simple Justice blog yesterday (via Anne Reed), Scott Greenfield offered perhaps the most startling reminder of the importance of Rule 1 that I've ever seen. It is a
story, he writes, "of such abject stupidity that it can't go unnoticed." In short, as reported by the Whidbey News-Times, a woman named Patricia Sylvester was on trial last week on a vehicular assault charge in connection
with a head-on collision that left a
man with a collapsed lung and three fractured ribs. The woman was"crying and visibly
shaking" as the jury filed in to deliver its decision: “not guilty.” Sylvester and her
supporters in the audience reportedly cried tears of joy.
At that point, Rule 1 should have been firmly in place for Sylvester and her counsel, but for whatever reason, her attorney requested the court to "poll the jury." And that is when the confusion began.
As Greenfield writes,
In the ordinary course of affairs, the defense lawyer will request
that the judge poll the jury following the verdict. That's because, in
the ordinary course of affairs, the verdict is guilty. By polling the
jury, with your eyes firmly fixed on those of each juror, staring
intently and transmitting your telepathic message to speak out, tell
the court that you don't agree with the verdict, let the world know
that the verdict is wrong, you give the defendant one final chance to
break free of the conviction. No, it doesn't work very often, but hope
But here, the verdict was "not guilty." That's
"not guilty," as in case closed, defense wins, everybody gets to go
home and celebrate. Not ... frigging ... guilty.
Unfortunately for Sylvester, the first juror polled said she did not agree with the verdict, which required the jury to go back into deliberations. The jury then went on to convict Sylvester of the lowest count. As Greenfield puts it, her counsel "seized defeat from the jaws of victory."
Bottom line? Always obey Rule 1.
Posted by Bruce Carton on October 22, 2009 at 01:00 PM | Permalink
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