Court Case


JusticeI attended a criminal trial at NYS Supreme Court in Albany, and boy, was it awesome. The defendant was charged with seven crimes, including Identity Theft and Grand Larceny. In criminal court there are two sides – the prosecutor, who represents the government, and the defendant, the person accused of wrongdoing. And you may think that there are lawyers representing both sides, but that’s not always the case.

In the case I attended, the defendant appeared pro se. That’s a Latin word meaning that he was representing himself.

Sometimes you look at the job someone does and you think, “I could do that.” Well, I guess that’s what this defendant thought. He was wrong.

There’s an old saying that “a man who is his own lawyer has a fool for a client.” I would say I agree with that saying. And, here’s the problem with it:

Law is complicated. From where we sat we could see how the prosecutor was set up. Every time she stepped up to the podium to ask questions we could see how she had the questions and evidence ready. It was clear that she had thought through the whole thing carefully and had her questions all in order so the witness testimony made sense.

The defendant didn’t do the same. Every time the chance came for him to cross examine the witness, he was scrambling for what to say and how to say it. He didn’t spend so much time asking questions of the witnesses as he did asking his advisor, an attorney appointed by the court, how to ask them what he wanted to know.

The advisor was one of the three lawyers he had previously fired from representing him. The advisor helped him frame questions, but nothing else. Even though the man had chosen to represent himself, the judge tried to protect his rights, by giving him the three lawyers that he had fired, and making sure that he had the advisor, and even reminding him of things they had discussed before his trial.

However, it was not only the defendant’s rights that the judge was interested in. There was a man on the witness stand being asked questions by the prosecutor when suddenly the judge sent the jury out!

The prosecutor had asked the witness a question that would incriminate him under oath. That basically means that since you can’t lie on the witness stand, you would be saying something that could be used against you in another trial – maybe even your own guilt. The judge made sure the witness had a lawyer and that his lawyer was willing to let the witness answer the questions the prosecutor was asking.

During one of the times that the jury was out, one of the jurors sent a note to the judge telling him that he might know one of the people who was involved in the case. The judge, the prosecutor and the defendant discussed the issue then the juror was brought back in and questioned about his concerns. It turned out that he didn’t really know the person who was named as a conspirator in this case, just that he worked at the same place as one of the conspirators. And, did you know that conspiracy — helping to plan a crime — is itself a crime?

After the prosecution rested, meaning they ended bringing in and questioning their witnesses (and the defendant had had a chance to question them, too), the judge went over the charges that the jury would be told when case was over. The defendant talked about what defense he might present (not much, in my opinion) and the judge again gave him some advice.

Throughout the case, the defendant had said numerous time that “I’m not a lawyer” and the judge said at the end, “Yes, we are all aware that you’re not a lawyer. Things can get pretty technical and this is why I advised you that you should have a lawyer. You chose to represent yourself, which is your right.”

The next day the defendant would bring in his own witnesses and questions them. Unfortunately, I was not able to return to see the defense. The defendant had been thinking about testifying on his own behalf. I found out later that he chose not to testify on his own behalf and that he was found guilty, as charged, on all seven charges.

It was an incredible experience!