When you’re facing a criminal case, you have the absolute right to a jury trial. It’s one of our fundamental rights. Exercising your right to a jury trial can be a powerful tool, but along with its positives come some possible negatives. Trial is not always the best course for everyone. As a Dallas criminal lawyer I spend a lot of my time evaluating cases with my clients, explaining their options, the risks and benefits of each option to figure out what is best for each individual client.
Positive Attributes of Trial
A jury trial is when you as the accused get to put your accusers to the test. It is the government’s burden to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you are guilty of a crime. They must be able to eliminate every possible reasonable doubt in order to win; even if the jury thinks you might’ve done it or even that you probably did it, if they are left with even one tiny reasonable doubt, that it could’ve happened another way or even just a doubt about the accuser’s credibility, the law requires a verdict of “not guilty.” This is the highest legal standard we have. The fact that it’s such a high burden for the government to carry means that, when you have an experienced Dallas criminal lawyer on your side putting the government through its paces and holding them to account, it can be very difficult for the government to get its guilty verdict.
Besides the overall burden of proof, simply forcing your day in court can expose other weaknesses in the government’s case. Especially in one-on-one accusations where the government’s case rests largely on the accusations made by one person, if that accuser does not show up they may not be able to go forward with the case at all. Consider a family violence assault accusation. Most of the time those cases are “he said/she said” cases without other witnesses or evidence. When that is the case, the government’s case rests on the accuser. If that accuser does not show up to testify, many times the government’s case falls apart and they must dismiss the case. A knowledgeable Dallas criminal lawyer will be able to evaluate your case and determine if this will likely apply to your case or if the government may be able to move forward even without the accuser’s presence at trial.
Lastly, it is fairly common for the government to make a better plea bargain offer as the trial date nears. In some cases, the government may even make a series of better and better offers, hoping their offer will be one the defendant simply can’t refuse. So even if your ultimate goal is not to go all the way through trial, setting a case for trial can sometimes call the bluff of a prosecutor who may not be making their truly best plea bargain offer until they think you’re ready to go to trial. This is a gamble and not a perfect science. Every prosecutor is different – some will only keep an offer open so long and will then refuse to negotiate further once a case is set for trial. Some judges will allow you to continue to negotiate up until the doorstep of trial, others will not. This strategy can be a little like playing the game of chicken – if you win you can win big, but you can mess around and lose big too. It’s best to consult an experienced Dallas criminal lawyer to help you navigate this decision.
Negative Attributes of Trial
As stated above, trial is not for everyone. IF the proof against you is overwhelming, you may be best off having a knowledgeable Dallas criminal lawyer negotiate a good deal via the plea bargaining process. Trial is inherently risky because you are literally putting your freedom in the hands of twelve jurors (in a felony; 6 jurors in a misdemeanor). Trial is always a bit of a gamble and as with any gamble, you can lose.
Clients often ask me whether I think they should go to trial. I always tell them the decision to go to trial or to not go to trial is personal and will be slightly different for every client. Some people have a high-risk tolerance; they are willing to accept the risk of losing and facing possibly lengthy jail or prison sentences in order to have their day in court. Some want to stand on principle and are willing to possibly lose big to stand up for that principle. Others can’t imagine taking that risk and would rather swallow the bitter pill of a guilty plea for a lesser sentence than risk losing it all. The key to making a smart decision is walking through all your options and their pluses and minuses with an experienced Dallas criminal lawyer. The right decision is whatever is best for you.
The Benefit to an Experienced Dallas Criminal Lawyer
Even if you decide not to ultimately go to trial, the benefits of having a Dallas criminal lawyer with trial experience are huge. When your lawyer has a reputation of being a skilled trial lawyer, it puts the government on notice. They know that your lawyer isn’t going to just roll over. If they’re going to win they’re going to have to earn it.
I am proud of my reputation in the courthouses around the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. I work hard to foster good working relationships with the judges, prosecutors, and court staff I work with and around every day. They know me to be a man of integrity and honesty. But they also know that I will fight – unlike some lawyers who never go to trial, I can and do regularly try difficult cases. I put the government through their paces and hold them to their very high burden. That reputation greatly benefits all my clients – those who go all the way to trial and the ones who get better deals because of it.