Often, I receive calls from victims of crimes.
Yes, I know that I generally call them “complainants” because I am a criminal defense attorney. I do know, however, that crimes do indeed happen and, when they do, it is usually a victim that they happen to.
Besides, as far as I am concerned, if my client tells me that he or she is a victim of a crime, I can hardly disagree. After all, I was not there at the event. If I were, i would be a witness. But that is a whole other subject.
Does it surprise you that I am sometimes hired by victims of crimes to help them through the criminal justice system?
It shouldn’t. For the uninitiated, the criminal justice system is a foreign and scary land.
Attorney Sam’s Take On Crime Victims And The Foreign Land Of Criminal Justice
There are some out there who still believe that there is nothing really complicated about the criminal justice system. “After all”, they figure, “If I simply tell the truth…its very simple”.
Yeah…not so much, actually.
You see, you may know the truth. Your witnesses may know the truth. However, the court system, prosecutors and juries do not always know the truth.
“Yes, but you are talking about trial, right? Of course everyone gets questioned at a trial. But before that, law enforcement will just prosecute on my say-so, right?”
Actually…no. Not always.
For the most part, I post from the defense standpoint. In my experience of 30 plus years at the criminal law business, police and prosecutors will simply take a report from a complainant at face value and run with it. Often without doing any meaningful investigation whatsoever.
There are times, however, when law enforcement absolutely refuses to bring criminal charges against an accused individual.
“Because the crime is so small it is a waste of court time?”
No, that does not seem to bother them Too much. I’m talking about very serious allegations…rape, for example.
“Because they figure the complainant is lying?”
Well, you tell me. Often in these cases, the explanation is, “I believe you when you tell me that this happened to you. But I cannot bring a criminal case unless I have a prima facie case and I don’t have one here.”
A prima facie case is one in which there is basically some evidence making out every element of the crime. It has little to do with credibility. It is basically a probable cause type burden of proof.
If a woman contacts the police and/or prosecutors and reports that she was forced into sex by someone…against their will…the elements for rape are met.
“So, it is because they think the complainant is lying?”
Well, that’s not what they say. Further, that is not really even their job. They are to investigate and take the charges seriously and then decide.
There are some cases, though, that everyone who is well-versed in the system have a mighty strong hunch that there is no way that there is going to be a conviction. Something is wrong with this case. Maybe there is not enough evidence to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt. Maybe there is a fear that a jury will think the complainant is a crackpot.
In any event, I suspect that prosecutors will not take certain serious cases because they are afraid of losing or looking silly somehow.
“Well, what could you do about it if you were representing me as a victim?”
Basically what I do in any case. Advocate for you. Advocate with the prosecutor and police, if need be.
“Usually, law enforcement will take the case, right?”
Yes. There I am helpful in acting like a “seeing eye attorney”. The court system is more complicated than you would expect. Plenty of pitfalls…particular in understanding what is going on. I act as a translator of sorts to help everyone stay on the same page.
I can also help prepare you for trial with my defense attorney’s eye view in terms of what is likely in cross examination for you.
“Can you try the case?”
No. The prosecutor is the one handling the case. I am merely an aid.
Consider it as part of my work as a consultant which, If you check out my biography, you will see I have long done.