Tuesday, September 29, 2009
The point I wanted to make in this post is about the importance to lawyers, (both civil and criminal), of using illustrations in closing argument at trial. The relevance of the cock roach will become apparent below! As the son of a Baptist preacher, I once marveled at how my father kept his congregations enthralled through his use of poignant or funny illustrations. I have learned that the same is true for jurors. By weaving in both quotes and illustrations, a good trial attorney can help keep the jury interested and focused on the points he or she is making.
For example, in one of my public corruption trials, (as a former federal prosecutor), I wanted to emphasize to the jury the point that the defendant politician knew about all the corrupt activities going on around him. To illustrate the point, I told the jury that, "Not even a bashful cock roach could sneak into his business without him knowing about it!" I also used a quote from the Bible, during the same closing argument, "Do not lie, do not steal, do not deceive one another." I won my case!
Now, to be honest, I doubt very seriously that I won this federal criminal case simply by using illustrations in my closing argument! But I AM convinced that, by using illustrations, a trial lawyer helps keep the jury focused and better explains important points. And I'll bet even an intelligent cock roach would agree with me on this point!
Sunday, September 27, 2009
At some point during the next year, the United States Supreme Court is expected, for the first time, to grapple with the issue of what constitutes "honest services" mail fraud. In May, 2009, the Supreme Court granted certiorari in the appeal by a business man of his conviction under the statute. (Black v. United States). His defense attorneys claim the statute is too vague.
In 1988, Congress enacted this statute, (18 U.S.C. 1346), which essentially makes it a federal crime for either a politician or a business executive to use the mails in furtherance of a scheme to "deprive another of their intangible right to [the politician's, or business executive's] honest services.
The "honest services" mail fraud statute is a popular prosecutorial tool used by federal prosecutors everywhere! As a former federal prosecutor, I often utilized this statute to charge corruption cases, too!
Frankly, it is easier to see what this "honest services" statute means when it is applied in the public sector, i.e. to politicians. For example, it is clear to see that a politican has deprived the public of their right to his "honest services" when he uses his public office for private gain and secretly lines his pockets with money. Whether or not he is guilty or innocent, that is the type of case which former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich faces.
But applying the "honest services" statute to the private (business) sector presents some tougher questions about what the mail fraud statute really means. The issue in the pending appeal before the Supreme Court involves trickier questions about whether the statute, (and the meaning of "honest services"), is too vague, including issues about how far does the statute go in criminalizing business deals, and does it criminalize mere ethical violations. It also raises questions about to whom does a business executive owe a duty of "honest services," and is that duty based upon state or federal law? In other words, the Supreme Court must decide, in this new case, whether or not the "honest services" mail fraud statute is too vague, because it fails to give adequate notice to the average person as to what constitutes a crime.
Just as you never know what a jury will do, you also can never fully guess what the Supreme Court may do! But it will be interesting to see what happens! And I suspect former Governor Blagojevich and his defense attorneys will be watching, too!
Thursday, September 24, 2009
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
So, you might wonder, what do the old t.v. game show, "Queen For A Day" and old motels have in common, and what could they possibly have to do with white collar crime?!
Well, here is my explanation! There is a connection between the two, or at least I intend to try to make one! Have you ever heard of this old television game show which, according to Wikipedia, aired from 1956-1964? The premise of the game show was that several contestants would each offer their own personal sob story of their tragic lives. Then, the studio audience would vote on who deserved to be "Queen For A Day" and the winner got a crown and a new washing machine!
Being a "queen for a day" also has a special connotation today in criminal law. It is a term often used to describe a person who agrees to meet with government agents to discuss a possible deal. The government agrees that, during the off-the-record meeting, nothing you say will be used against you. You are, in essence, a "queen for a day!" (But you probably won't get a new washing machine!)
But THAT is not the connection I intended to make here! Instead, I want to make a different point: If I could be governor, or "king for a day," I would introduce legislation authorizing the state to purchase old motels around the state for use as diversion centers. In my opinion, diversion centers are a good, less costly alternative to prisons which offer judges an alternative place to send non-violent white collar criminals. There, the check forgerers, bad check writers, and drug users can stay, in a structured, but minimum security, environment at night, while they are required to work during the day, off-site, to help pay for the diversion center's costs, and to help pay on their restitution and fines. This is such a great idea. It is not only less costly, but also it means that our prisons, which are overcrowded, could then be used to keep violent, dangerous offenders even longer! But this is an idea which is not in vogue. In fact, in our state, they are closing down, not expanding, diversion centers everywhere.
So, that is my connection between "Queen For A Day" and old motels! If I could be "king for a day," I would buy old motels and convert them into diversion centers!
And now that you have heard my sob story, won't you please vote for me to be "King For A Day," so that we can open some more diversion centers?! And if you want to give me a new washing machine, that is okay, too!
What do you think about using diversion centers as an alternative sentencing measure for non-violent criminals?
Monday, September 21, 2009
Everyone is familiar with Double Jeopardy, aren't they? And no, I am not referring to the second half of the quiz show, "Jeopardy!" I am referring to the Fifth Amendment's prohibition against trying a defendant twice for the same crime! OR, as Alex would put it, in the form of a question: "What is the Fifth Amendment's prohibition against trying a defendant twice...."
But what does double jeopardy really mean? Did you know, for example, that double jeopardy does NOT prevent the federal government from indicting you and trying you in federal court, even after you have been acquitted in state court for the same crime?! The courts have actually held that this scenario does not constitute double jeopardy, because it involves two sovereigns: state and federal. The Rodney King police beating case is one example of this situation. There, you may recall, the police officers were tried and found not guilty in state court, and then they were charged and tried again in federal court. While this doesn't happen often, the point is that it can happen and does not constitute double jeopardy.
But did you also know that, before a federal prosecutor may seek a federal indictment against a criminal defendant who has already been tried for the same offense by the state, he or she must seek permission and a waiver from the Department of Justice. Do you know what this policy waiver is called?
As Alex would answer: "What is the "petit policy?!" What do you think about this practice by federal prosecutors of trying someone twice for the same crime?
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
They say that if you try enough cases, you will see or experience just about everything! I have learned that you never know what to expect in a jury trial! One of the strangest things I ever witnessed in a courtroom occurred during one of my Dodge County, Georgia vote-buying trials. I actually saw a woman slap a man as he testified! And nobody did anything about it! But first, let me give you a little background of this strange saga.
Dodge County is neatly nestled down in central Georgia. The largely rural county has had an infamous tradition of political candidates, (and their supporters), paying people to vote for them. As an Assistant U.S. Attorney, I was assigned to handle what turned out to be the largest vote-buying case in U.S. history. We successfully prosecuted a total of 28 defendants for buying votes, including the sheriff and both candidates running for Dodge County's sole county commissioner seat.
But this post really isn't about the case; it's about what happened at one of the vote-buying trials. The incident in question involved a blind, almost deaf male voter, (we will call him "Mr. Smith"), who had been paid $60.00 to vote for a particular candidate. Now, let me interject and emphasize here that, in telling this story, it is not my intention to denigrate or make fun of this poor gentleman, "Mr. Smith," or his physical challenges. Being blind or deaf are not to be made sport of. But it is what happened to "Mr. Smith," and not his challenges, that is the point of this story.
For the trial, I had carefully interviewed and selected approximately 75 witnesses, of all whose votes had been bought, including "Mr. Smith," who were willing to testify that they had been paid for voting. While pre-trying "Mr. Smith," I became aware of his challenges, including the fact that he was hard of hearing. So, I had wisely decided, prior to trial, to simplify my questions to him when he took the stand. I carefully explained what my two questions were to "Mr. Smith" and his elderly live-in caretaker, "Ms. McGillicutty." I told them that I planned to ask: "Did you vote last Summer?" And my second planned question was: "Were you paid for voting?" I figured this plan was as simple as dirt! Surely, nothing could go wrong! And I also calculated that if the defense lawyers wanted to ask him a lot of questions, then they could deal with the ensuing train wreck, because poor "Mr. Smith" might not hear a word they said.
On the day "Mr. Smith" testified in federal court, in Dublin, Georgia, and before he took the witness stand, I stood up and explained his situation to the judge. I asked if he could sit in a chair in front of the jury box, so he wouldn't have to navigate his way up to the witness stand. The judge kindly granted my request. The judge also advised the court security officer to bring up a chair for the caretaker, "Ms. McGillicutty," who had escorted her ward into the courtroom. The court security officer put her chair directly behind "Mr. Smith's" chair, with both chairs facing the jury.
After "Mr. Smith" was sworn in, I asked the first of my two carefully planned questions. I loudly bellowed, (so "Mr. Smith" could hear me), "Did you vote last Summer?" Naturally, I expected to hear, "Yes." But that's where the strange incident began! Instead of saying "yes," I was shocked to hear him reply, "No!" And then the wheels came off the bus, when, to my utter shock, I saw "Ms. McGillicutty" lean forward, behind "Mr. Smith," and say, "Yes, you did," as she simultaneously slapped the poor man in the back of his head! Almost as quickly, and after receiving this abrupt cue, "Mr. Smith" changed his errant answer and yelled out, "Yeah!"
I could not believe what I had just witnessed! The woman had actually slapped a witness in the head! I paused and waited for the judge or defense attorneys to object or somehow protest this strange occurrence. But I was equally shocked that there was no reaction from any of the defense attorneys. They all just sat there! They did nothing! Maybe they were just shell-shocked, too!
So, I immediately proceeded to my second planned question: "Were you paid for voting?" And here, dear readers, words cannot adequately describe the expression on poor "Mr. Smith's" face, or the cringe he exhibited, (no doubt he was worried that he would get slapped again, if he answered incorrectly!), as he softly replied, "Yeah."
That was it! "No more questions, your Honor," I shouted, as I ran for cover at the prosecution table! But the defense attorneys all still just sat there, at their tables. They did nothing! Finally, one of them stood and announced, "We have no questions!"
This unusual episode had ended! Ultimately, with the help of "Mr. Smith," (and "Ms. McGillicutty!"), along with all the other witnesses, all the defendants were found guilty of vote-buying. And once again, I had learned a lesson that, no matter how hard you prepare, you never know what to expect in a jury trial!
Monday, September 14, 2009
Friday, September 11, 2009
It is a fact that most criminal cases don't go to trial; instead, most cases, (perhaps 80-90% of all criminal cases), result in plea bargains. Plea bargaining is like the WD-40 of the criminal justice system. Cutting deals to avoid trials generally benefits both parties and it also removes the "squeaks" from our overloaded courts. In other words, without some plea bargaining, our courts would arguably collapse from the weight of all the defendants demanding trials!
However, as a former federal prosecutor, (and currently as a criminal defense lawyer), I can tell you that prosecutors should try to avoid some of the evil, or seemier, sides of plea bargaining. Here are a few ideas:
1. Consult With Your Crime Victim: Most of the bad rap on plea bargaining comes from the prosecutor not taking the time to simply talk with the crime victim, (or victim's family members), before cutting a deal with the defense attorney. Imagine how you would feel if your family member has been murdered and the prosecutor has allowed the defendant to plead guilty to a lessor charge without giving you any forewarning or explanation. You would be outraged! Over the years, I have learned that, if you communicate with a victim, (or victim's family members), and develop a good rapport, then they will trust you if you need to plea bargain because of evidentiary problems. But you must earn that trust through communication!
2. Consult With Your Case Investigator: Also, imagine how you would feel if you were a criminal investigator and you have worked your tail off to catch a bad guy, and then some wet-behind-the-ears prosecutor has plea bargained your case to "spitting on the sidewalk" and has done so without ever calling you to get your input! This happens in the real world! And it explains why investigators often dislike plea bargaining, (and some prosecutors)!
3. Avoid Plea Bargaining As To Sentence: A lot of the bad rap about plea bargaining also comes from the prosecutor agreeing to a specific sentence that the defendant, "Sluggo," gets to serve. In other words, don't you agree that there is something a little unsavory about allowing Sluggo to have a say-so about his own sentence? Prosecutors can avoid this scenario by attempting to plea bargain only as to the number of counts a defendant must plead guilty to, or by allowing a defendant to plead guilty to a lesser included offense, but leaving the question of sentencing up to the judge.
These are just some of the ideas that I have learned, as a former prosecutor, about how to lessen the "evils" of plea bargaining. Again, plea bargaining may be evil, but it is a necessary evil. And the primary key to avoiding its seemier side is for the prosecutor to COMMUNICATE -- with the crime victim, (or victim's family members), and with the investigator who made the case.
Don't you agree that good communication is often the key solution to problems in most relationships?!
Wednesday, September 9, 2009
Sunday, September 6, 2009
All my career, both as former prosecutor and current defense attorney, I have heard people say, "If the defendant is really innocent, why didn't he take the witness stand?" If you were chosen to be a juror in a criminal case, could you follow a judge's instructions that you must not hold it against the defendant if he or she chose not to testify?
The 5th Amendment essentially protects each of us against having to testify and perhaps (unintentionally) incriminating ourselves. Also, judges always instruct juries that each defendant is presumed to be innocent and that the defendant does not have to testify. But like a lot of defense lawyers, I live in the real world and I am always afraid that some jurors will overlook the judge's instructions and hold it against my client if he decides not to take the witness stand.
As a result, I always carefully discuss the pros and cons with my client before my client decides whether or not to take the stand.
It is important to point out that there are many reasons, aside from any question as to guilt or innocence, as to why a defendant might choose not to testify. For example, some defendants might be innocent, but inarticulate. In other words, in this situation, the defendant and his attorney might be afraid that, if he testifies, an experienced prosecutor might be able to twist his words and make him look guilty. In other situations, while the defendant may be innocent, he may also have a bad temper. In that situation, the defendant and his defense lawyer may fear that the prosecutor may try to make him look guilty by making him lose his cool on the witness stand. Folks, these things can happen in the real world and in a real trial!
Each criminal case is different. And in each case, it is critical that a lawyer and client should carefully consider and discuss the client's decision about testifying. But it is also important to recognize the harsh reality that some jurors may simply hold it against the defendant if he or she exercises their Constitutional right not to testify.
What do you think? Would you be able to follow a judge's instructions? And please be honest: Would you hold it against a defendant who chose not to testify?
Thursday, September 3, 2009
Two years ago, I was working happily as a federal prosecutor, here, in Augusta, Georgia. At that time, I still enjoyed the challenge of prosecuting major fraud and public corruption cases and, after twenty years as a federal prosecutor, I thought I would finish my career in that position. But then, the coincidences began occurring and, suddenly, my life and career began changing rapidly! But let me give you a little background information.
At that time, my oldest son had recently gotten out of law school and had just started practicing law in a small Augusta law firm under the tutelage of a more experienced Augusta attorney. All of a sudden, out of the blue, that attorney decided to move away from Augusta. (You see, she was probably dealing with her own series of life's coincidences!) She offered to sell her law practice to my son. As a family, we all wondered what he should do?
Simultaneously, out of the blue, the Department of Justice offered all career employees with 20 years of government service an "early out," with full retirement benefits and a bonus! I will never forget how I learned about this early retirement opportunity. Get the picture: I was sitting in the U.S. Attorney's Office and thinking about my son's situation, when I learned that our office had just won an appeal in a major public corruption case that I had tried and won. The case was against State Senator Charles Walker who had appealed his convictions on 127 felony counts. By winning the appeal, I knew I wouldn't have to try that case again! Sitting there, I was elated! While I was actually reading the appellate court decision on my office computer monitor, all of a sudden, an email also "popped up" on the same screen informing me about the early retirement opportunity. Coincidentally, I had also just passed the 20 year milestone.
That email, along with winning the appeal on my "career case," provided all the answers I needed! I decided, right then and there, to take up Uncle Sam on his generous "early out" offer, and to leave the U.S. Attorney's Office and buy in to the law practice with my son! The timing was perfect! I was thrilled! After all, how often does a parent have a chance to do something like this with their children?!
And after two years, I haven't looked back! I enjoy my new career and practicing law with my son! (Two more sons may also join us down the road!) I am also proud of the work done and the clients helped by The Goolsby Law Firm during the past two years! But I am still amazed at how a series of coincidences led me to where I am today! The career prosecutor is now a proud criminal defense lawyer and a divorce attorney! I never would have dreamed it!
Life is a series of coincidences! Or is it all coincidental?
Have you experienced a similar series of coincidences in your own life?!
Wednesday, September 2, 2009
Let's assume you have been accused of committing a white collar crime and that you are in big trouble with the government! Next, let's assume your attorney, "Mr. Sluggo," tells you that he can "get you a deal;" that is, Sluggo says that the federal prosecutor has offered you "immunity" if you will cooperate and testify before the federal grand jury against your co-defendants. You then ask Mr. Sluggo what kind of immunity it is, and he merely shrugs his shoulders and replies, "all immunity is the same." What should you do?
First of all, it is always imperative that you get an experienced federal criminal lawyer and do so quickly! You see, all immunity is NOT the same! In federal grand jury investigations, there are generally two types of immunity that the government will offer: use immunity and transactional immunity. In most cases, an experienced criminal defense attorney will try to obtain transactional immunity. And here are the critical reasons why:
Use immunity is a more limited type of immunity which will NOT give you full protection against prosecution. Statutory use immunity, whether granted formally or informally, (in accordance with 18 U.S.C. 6000-6003), simply provides that, if you agree to cooperate, then the government will only agree not to use what you say against you. In other words, they may still prosecute you if they have sufficient evidence independent of your testimony to nail you!
Transactional immunity, on the other hand, generally goes further and offers you complete protection, (and a "walk"), against prosecution for the crimes in question.
The bottom line is, you need an experienced federal criminal lawyer who knows how to deal with the government, and who, unlike Mr. Sluggo, at least knows the difference between use immunity and transactional immunity! Your freedom may depend upon it!