In Criminal Cases, Innocence Is Rarely Enough

Our society is complex. Our legal system mirrors that complexity.

With so many demands on our lives, getting things done takes knowing how to get things done. It means being smart and diligent and having adequate experience. The challenges are similar in criminal law. It’s about being familiar with the legal landscape and all its ins and outs.

In criminal law, the stakes—for defendants—are a whole lot higher. And when the legal work isn’t at a high standard, the result can be wrongful imprisonment.

Genuine innocence v. wrongful imprisonment

The simple truth is that defendants are at a disadvantage in criminal law. While our legal system is intended to treat all citizens fairly and presume innocence unless proven guilty, it doesn’t always work that way.

No juror brings absolute objectivity to the courtroom. Jurors are people who, at their best, are both fair and flawed. Try as they might, they can be only so objective.

And someone’s personal liberty hangs in the balance.

The presumption of guilt

It’s not supposed to be this way, but it is common for jurors to walk into the courtroom with the presumption that the defendant in a criminal trial is guilty to some degree. They are inclined to believe that prosecutors are not going to bring a case to trial unless there is some evidence of the defendant’s guilt.

Experienced defense attorneys know that, too. That is why criminal cases are much more likely to be resolved with a plea bargain than with a jury’s verdict.

Good attorneys will anticipate that disadvantage. They know ways to overcome it, primarily by challenging the admissibility of evidence and the credibility of witnesses. Lacking an iron-clad alibi, the grunt work of discovery and pretrial motions to have evidence barred from trial, as well as the persuasive powers of the defendant’s legal team, count for more than mere innocence.

How civil litigation attorneys can make right a wrongful imprisonment

It’s important for criminal defense attorneys to be on top of their game. The defendant’s continued personal freedom depends on it. And what happens if the defense attorney isn’t up to the challenge of neutralizing the defendant’s disadvantage in a criminal case?

The result is incarceration. And when the defendant is found guilty but isn’t, it could become wrongful imprisonment. Imagine knowing you are innocent but are forced to relinquish your freedom, livelihood, and way of life simply due to the failings of a negligent defense attorney.

This is where we come in. As civil litigation attorneys, we don’t handle criminal cases. But we have been able to overturn wrongful criminal verdicts in cases that have been severely mishandled by defense attorneys.

In such cases (and they are relatively few), one recourse is through a legal malpractice lawsuit. We have been able to reverse injustices by presenting (and sometimes uncovering) evidence in favor of clients that, for whatever reason, didn’t find its way into the original criminal trials.

Our practice exists to find justice for those who have been harmed. In most cases, that means representing victims of personal injury or wrongful death, or helping individuals and businesses recover financially after being victimized by some form of legal malpractice.

When that malpractice extends to criminal cases, the victims pay a price that dramatically exceeds the penalties in a civil lawsuit. When we work with malpractice victims in criminal cases, we’re looking to help them restore their reputation, their self-respect and their personal freedom.

If you have been injured through legal malpractice that calls for civil litigation, don’t hesitate to give us a call. We’re here to help.

The outcome of any client’s case will depend on the particular legal and factual circumstances of the case.

Where’s the Real Crime? The Injustice of Criminal Defense Malpractice

Imagine being accused of assault. You know that, at the time, you were miles away with several witnesses. Nothing to worry about, right? But months later, you find yourself convicted and incarcerated.

This kind of personal calamity is an example of what can happen to a person’s life when he or she becomes a victim of criminal defense malpractice.

The criminal side of legal malpractice

We’ve discussed what constitutes legal malpractice and why civil litigation attorneys should not shy away from these cases. We’ve detailed the impact on the victims of civil cases where justice has been derailed by legal malpractice.

However, the legal risks for the defendant are amplified when legal malpractice occurs in criminal law. In civil litigation, the outcome usually centers around financial compensation for damages (though civil litigation cases, when settled without a trial,  may include conditions that are not financial).

The outcome of a criminal case is likely to involve something more precious than money. What’s potentially at stake, for the defendant, is his or her liberty, and often, drastic reputational harm. When a defendant is convicted in a criminal case through neglected evidence or attorney inexperience, there are options for recourse through civil litigation.

Oversight leads to criminal defense malpractice

The case cited above was real—it involved our client.

In this case, the accused, George Hamilton* encountered the drunken complainant (a boyfriend of one of George’s employees) in a parking lot around midnight.  There was no fight and no assault.  Hours later, in a separate incident, the boyfriend was assaulted in his apartment by several individuals. George was indicted for the assault. Multiple witnesses could have provided an unimpeachable alibi for George, but they weren’t called to testify—or even interviewed—by his criminal defense attorney. Worse, at trial the defense attorney became confused and questioned George repeatedly about the parking lot encounter, and the jury convicted him for that (even though it wasn’t mentioned in the indictment).

Because of the defense attorney’s mishandling of the case, George was imprisoned for three years for a crime he could not have committed and for which he was never legally charged.  Fortunately, his conviction was eventually overturned, and he was released from prison.  He came to us for justice and we sued the criminal defense attorney and obtained a substantial jury verdict in his favor.

In this case, the defendant was wrongfully imprisoned—not as a result of criminal actions, but because of criminal defense malpractice. If you have been injured through legal malpractice that calls for civil litigation, give us a call. We’re here to help.

*Names in this article have been changed to protect our client’s privacy.

The outcome of any client’s case will depend on the particular legal and factual circumstances of the case