Criminal law is a minefield designed to trap the unwary. Law schools don't teach law students the history behind the rights to fair and public trials, by a jury of your peers. Law schools teach the Bill of Rights from the perspective of modern judges, while ignoring the historical struggles which gave rise to the establishment of those rights and which defined the meaning of those rights. Law schools don't teach the history of John Lilburne, a 17th Century Englishman who fought to establish the natural rights of "freeborn Englishmen," which included women, by the way. Freeborn John Lilburne has been credited by one United States Supreme Court justice as being the inspiration for our Bill of Rights and the Constititution. America's founding fathers knew him well. Lilburne was always at odds with the English government, and was put on trial for his life on several occasions, usually charged with sedition or treason for encouraging people to demand their rights. His English juries kept acquitting him, in recognition of Lilburne being a champion of their rights, including the right against self-incrimination, the right to counsel, the right to trial by a jury of your peers, the right against cruel and unusual punishment, the right to religious freedom, and more. Lilburne also championed the right of the jury to judge the law as well as the facts, a right which some people criticize as jury nullification. John Lilburne told his jurors that they were his judges, and that they could ignore the judges in the courtroom, whose only job was to write down the jury's verdict. No wonder John Lilburne has been left out of law school curricula!
In fact, the right to judge the law as well as the facts, simply meant that jurors had the right to determine the verdict in a criminal case, rather than just the facts. Jurors were fact finders first because they came from the neighborhood and were expected to know or find the facts. But several centuries ago, in a murky history largely now forgotten, English juries, representing the community in which they lived, began to assert their right to determine the verdicts in criminal cases, taking that responsibility away from judges, and the judges weren't happy about it. Sometimes jurors were even punished for bringing back "false verdicts." Eventually, judges were left with no choice but to allow juries to decide verdicts. That's the system of jury trial which we inherited from England, and which is guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment. The fact that jurors sometimes used that right to reach not guilty verdicts, when judges and prosecutors and other critics thought they should have voted guilty, has led many disgruntled judges and others to label disapproved verdicts as the result of jury nullification, and judges now go to great lengths to prevent jurors from deciding their verdicts on the basis of the jurors' own consciences, and on the basis of their own sense of the justice of the case. In other words, modern judges are undermining the Sixth Amendment guarantee of the right to trial by jury. Some judges would still like to punish jurors for "false verdicts," or for "ignoring the judge's instructions," and occasionally even attempt to do so - with, happily, little or no success, to date. The result, though, is that criminal trials are conducted in a manner best designed for the convenience and control of the judge and the prosecutors - and, unfortunately, many defense lawyers go along with that program - rather than fight to protect the rights of the accused. Juries are typically tightly controlled and manipulated, ordered to follow the judge's instructions on all legal matters, told they are only the fact finders (and also told they can't ask questions, they can't discuss the case among themselves until the end of the trial, and they are not to go looking for any facts or even for a better understanding of what they hear in trial), and they are instructed to ignore any concerns they might have about justice or the harshness of the sentence. At the end of the trial, contrary to their earlier instructions where they were told the judge decides all legal issues, the jurors are then asked to determine the verdicts, the most important legal determinations in the trial, as verdicts are determinations of law, as well as fact. Jurors are so tightly controlled and so kept in the dark during trial, that they are often unable to deliberate independently or effectively, as was intended by the Framers of the Sixth Amendment guarantee of the right to trial by jury. Juries are, in effect, programmed to produce convictions. It is my opinion that this diminishment of the role of the jury is one of the major causes of wrongful convictions at trial. It is also a major reason why so many defendants waive their right to a jury trial, and plead guilty, hoping for a reduced punishment. Based on my experience, I would say that most convictions at trial - in both state and federal courts - are wrongful convictions. Our prisons are full of people who have been wrongly convicted, and, despite the best efforts of those involved, the various Innocence Projects will never be able to free but a handful of those who have been wrongly imprisoned.
It has been my observation, based on my experience in criminal trials and appeals, and from my review of dozens of trial records from trials I didn't handle, that the rights of the accused are violated or ignored, to some extent, in virtually every criminal case, in both state and federal courts. I have yet to encounter a judge who shares my understanding of the nature of a jury trial and the rights of the accused, but some at least do show some appreciation for my knowledge of the history of the right to trial by jury. Occasionally, a judge even comes to agree with me, in part. I have found that juries tend to be better listeners.
When an individual or a company is facing charges of criminal conduct, an experienced, knowledgeable, principled, and resourceful criminal defense lawyer is invaluable. Finding the right lawyer, at a price you can afford, is the biggest initial challenge. You can spend a fortune on an experienced, highly recommended lawyer, and get nothing of value. Or you can spend very little, and still get nothing that helps. Or you might get lucky, find a great lawyer at an affordable price, and get a good result. But how do you find the best lawyer? In my opinion, there are no lists that can show you who the best lawyers are; neither can recommendations from other lawyers, or judges, or reviews found online. You can find some useful information, but nothing reliable. So start with principles - make sure your lawyer values your freedom and respects your input. Based on my experience, I wouldn't rely on recommendations from experienced criminal defense lawyers, or from judges, if I was looking for a lawyer. Recommendations are too often based on friendship, or on superficial qualities, not on what really matters. Real performance when it counts, is what matters. I think the best anyone can do when searching is: look for principled, apparently qualified lawyers, interview them, judge their character and ability based on your evaluation, talk to people who know them, if possible, and make your best determination. Then hope for the best, but fire them if they don't work out.
People often think they understand what criminal law is, until they get involved in a case. On the surface, criminal law is simple, even if often wrong. It consists of the acts of state and local legislatures and Congress, and of the views of judges - whatever they say is the law, no matter how non-sensical, illogical, or just plain wrong you may think the law to be. Criminal law is what threatens your liberty, if you are not careful, or even if you are. You may think that the law is stupid, or morally wrong, or incomprehensible, but it is still the law, and you ignore it at your peril. Sadly, too many people do ignore criminal law, until they find themselves charged with a crime. Then they see how serious a criminal prosecution can be, and many suffer terribly from what could easily have been avoided. Lives and families and fortunes are destroyed; lives are lost. If you find yourself charged with violating a criminal law, or even being investigated for possibly violating a criminal law, you had better seek resourceful and effective and principled legal counsel, right away. Your liberty, and even your life, may depend on you successfully defending yourself in a criminal proceeding, and you don't want to attempt that without professional assistance.
Criminal defense lawyers are not all the same. Paul Grant is an experienced, battle-tested criminal defense lawyer, with successful trial and appellate experience, in state and federal courts, a man dedicated to protecting the rights and liberties of his clients. If you or a loved one have a challenging criminal law problem, contact Paul and let him know what you are facing. Find out if Paul Grant is the right lawyer for you, and if you are the right client for him.