Some of the publicity surrounding the mistrial declared in the sex crimes trial of a well-known celebrity focused on fact the defense portion of the trial lasted only six minutes. It illustrates how an effective criminal defense strategy might not be about the testimony of defense witnesses and the letting the jurors hear from the defendant. Challenging the evidence and witnesses presented by prosecutors can be as, if not more, effective depending on the facts and circumstances of a particular case .
The presumption of innocence: It’s not in the Constitution
Few people have not heard of the presumption of innocence and the right of the accused in a criminal case to rely upon it. This right that so many people believe is one of the most fundamental protections afforded a person accused of a crime was not written into the U.S. Constitution as drafted and ratified by the states, nor is it one of the rights contained in the Bill of Rights added later on.
The ability of a defendant to sit silently at trial without prosecutors being commenting on it is a right created by the U.S. Supreme Court through a series of decisions in cases it heard over the years going as far back as the 1800s. Today, the presumption of innocence ensures a fair trial to each defendant with jurors basing their decisions solely on the evidence.
The presumption of innocence places the burden of proving guilt on prosecutors who must present evidence establishing guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The reasonable doubt standard is the highest standard of proof.
Defense strategies focus on the reasonable doubt standard
Sex crimes can be among the most difficult criminal charges to defend against because of the reliance jurors place on the credibility of the testimony of the accuser. Putting the person accused of the crime on the stand to testify adds nothing to the defense case. Damaging the credibility of the victim occurs through cross examination by defense counsel. Allowing the defendant to testify only exposes the person to potentially-damaging cross examination by prosecutors with little upside for the defense.
Creating doubt about the guilt of the defendant in the mind of only a single juror could be enough to force a mistrial as it did in the recent celebrity trial. Proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt is a burden prosecutors must meet and one that defense strategies can exploit.
Calling defense witnesses
Unless there is a witness who can place the defendant in a different location than the crime scene at the time the crime was committed, witnesses called in support of the defense could do more harm than good in some cases. Reputation witnesses, for instance, would probably be of little value to the defense in a sex crimes case. Just because a witness testifies about the defendant being a person of good moral character is probably not going to persuade jurors to acquit the person of the charges if they believe the testimony of the victim.
Effective defense strategies depend upon skilled representation
Developing a defense strategy in a case depends on an analysis of the facts, the criminal charges and the evidence by the defense attorney. It takes a competent, knowledgeable and experienced defense attorney to create the most effective plan customized to each case.