How to Look “Not Guilty”
When preparing for court, criminal defense attorneys often overlook how their client will appear to a jury. Sure, criminal defense attorneys might spend a lot of time preparing a criminal defendant to testify, but preparing him or her to sit quietly during the rest of the trial is an entirely different matter.
Looking Guilty by Not Looking
In his closing argument, a criminal defense attorney argued that the prosecutor had not proven an alleged murder victim’s death beyond a reasonable doubt. The defense attorney announced during his closing argument that in exactly 60 seconds the “corpse” was going to walk through the courtroom doors.
The attorney pointed to the clock and stopped speaking. As the seconds ticked off, every juror looked at the door. At the end of the 60 seconds, the attorney looked up and told the jurors: “Each one of you looked to the door for that corpse to walk into this courtroom. Each and every one of you has a reasonable doubt that the alleged victim is dead. You must acquit.”
The jury deliberated for less than 15 minutes and came back with a verdict of “guilty.” The criminal defense attorney was stunned. Later, he tracked down the foreman of the jury and asked how they could have found his client guilty when they all looked at the courtroom doors to see if the corpse would walk through. The jury foreman explained, “During those 60 seconds, as we all watched the door, waiting for the corpse to enter, we noticed that you were not looking and neither was your client.”
In a criminal case, the jury is always watching the defendant. Tricks like the one above can easily backfire when a lawyer is ignorant of how his client is behaving at trial.
Preparing for Jury Trial
Below are tips for criminal defendants preparing for jury trial:
- Dress respectably and respectfully.
Showing respect for the court may help a little bit. Showing disrespect for the court will hurt quite a bit. While jurors may not care if a man wears a jacket with his shirt and tie or whether a woman wears a skirt or slacks, they will care if you show up for court wearing pajama bottoms and a tank top.
- Let the attorney do his or her job.
Generally, when an attorney is questioning a witness, the person accused of the crime should write down any concerns he or she has with the case rather than distract the lawyer. From a technical standpoint, the lawyer needs to be able to listen to the witness and/or prosecutor and make objections and other tactical actions. Interruptions by a client can hinder the process. More importantly, if a witness or evidence is harmful towards the defendants’ case, and causes the defendant to appear agitated or excited, the point will only be emphasized for the jury.
- Do not talk out loud.
Making comments while witnesses are testifying or the prosecutor or judge are speaking can be distracting for a jury. If the jury views the defendant’s behavior as disruptive, that impression will likely work to the defendant’s disadvantage.
While there are several other ways to improve your appearance at trial, these are three of the most common behaviors that could have negative consequences. Jury trials are often won or lost on inches and impressions. When fighting a criminal case, every inch matters. But it is also important to remember that a jury’s impression of the defendant will carry weight when the defendant’s fate is in the jury’s hands.
In conclusion, while a judge will instruct a jury to consider the evidence, the jury will also develop an impression of the defendant whether he testifies or not. The jury’s impression of the defendant may affect the outcome of the case.
Our team of Nebraska criminal defense attorneys has 100 cumulative years of experience in the courtroom and continues to fight for the constitutional rights of clients. Take the first step towards resolving your criminal case. Contact Berry Law.