People who find themselves accused of a crime for the first time have no idea what to expect in court. Most people never set foot in a courtroom, and form opinions about what to expect from what they see on television. Here's my list of what to expect in court when you've been charged with a crime:
- Expect POLICE OFFICERS who think you are guilty and should go to prison for a long time. They have probably testified hundreds of times. They have probably gotten together in advance with the other police witnesses to coordinate their testimony. They know how to dress, how to act, and how to testify. They will wear their badges and uniforms so that they look like authority figures that the jury can trust. The jury will trust them.
- Expect one or more angry VICTIMS demanding that you go prison for a long, long time. They will remind the prosecutor that they are registered voters, that he works for them, that he needs to do what they say, and that he needs to keep them safe from scum like you. They won't care who you are, how sorry you are, how young you are, why you are accused, that you've never been accused before, or that you promise to never do it again. They will not want the DA/Solicitor to plea bargain at all with your low-life defense lawyer (me). All they will want to see is you going to prison for a long, long time.
- Expect a PROSECUTOR who gets elected and paid by the victims. He is looking to add your name to his list of people he has sent to prison. If he is an ambitious young prosecutor, he wants to build his reputation as quickly as possible. If he is an experienced old prosecutor, he has heard every story in the book and has no interest in hearing yours. He knows he has charged you with everything he can think of so that he has the upper hand against you in negotiations.
- Expect an JUDGE who is elected by the victims (like the prosecutor), gets his paycheck from the same place as the prosecutor, cops and public defender, and wants to keep his job with a reputation for being "tough on crime." He has heard ever sob story in the book, including yours. He won't care that you are young, or poor, or have kids, or are a good student, or that this is your first time arrested. You can apologize all you want, blame drugs, blame your "wrong crowd" of friends, and blame anyone else you want, but the judge won't buy it.
- Expect a JURY of people who want to be anywhere but there. They will see you as a personal inconvenience to them. Half of them will think you are guilty from the start simply because you have been charged with a crime. They will say that they will presume you to be "innocent until proven guilty," but they won't mean it. They will tend to believe whatever the police witnesses say and disbelieve whatever you say (if you testify at all). They will want to convict you quickly so they can go home.
- Expect to be offered a PUBLIC DEFENDER who is overworked and underpaid. He might talk to you before your court date, but don't be surprised if he doesn't. He gets paid the same whether you like him or not; whether he wins or not; whether you refer future business to him or not. He does not need you to be happy. He does not need to impress you, impress the judge, impress the jury, or impress anyone. His job and future income are going to be exactly the same regardless of how your case goes. You are probably just 1 of 100+ cases that he has, so don't be shocked and don't take it personally if he doesn't quite remember your name or the names of any of your family or witnesses.
Scared yet? You should be. Now go hire an attorney of your choosing and fight for your freedom.