In my opening statement to the jury defending a client “Juan” against first-degree murder charges, I said that my had no intention of helping co-defendants “Pedro” and “Miguel” shoot anyone. I explained that Juan thought he was picking up a couple of guys who he could smoke some dope with after his day at work. I emphasized that my client was a steady, well-liked laborer with no history of gang involvement or criminal activity. He was surprised and fearful when the guys he thought he was going to smoke with came running back to his car toting guns. He drove away from the scene because there was gunfire and the guys with guns in his car told him to keep going.
The jury is going hear a lot of facts in the trial. My job is to show the jury how to put the jigsaw-puzzle bits of facts flying at them into a picture that correctly shows what my client did and didn’t do. The jury needs to know that the picture I give to them is a reasonable one and that what the prosecutor wants them to see just doesn’t exist.
Laying out the narrative of the event – alerting the jury what they should expect to see and not see – is critical. These 12 citizens are going to be sold a slick story by the District Attorney, police, and a cadre of witnesses who routinely testify at trials. These folks are skilled – and I have to help the jury to see past the polish and the professionalism and to examine the lack of the actual evidence against my client.
I want the jury to watch for the prosecutor to show them that my client was a gang member –- she cannot. And, then I want to jury to understand the importance of that missing piece in the prosecutor’s story of the day.
I want the jury to see if the prosecutor’s theory that my client knew that he was helping gang members kill a person in a rival gang makes sense. My client worked regularly at a legal job where he was popular – there’s no evidence that he supported himself by criminal acts. There’s no evidence that he was planning anything special that day. In fact, the shooters called my client’s cell phone asking for a ride when he was shopping at a local mall. There’s no evidence that my client was or is a gang member. Instead, there is evidence that Juan didn’t and doesn’t participate in gang culture.
Juan was a young man who wanted to relax by smoking marijuana after a hard day at work. All of the jigsaw-puzzle pieces fit that picture. It is a human and normal picture. And, the picture the DA wants the jury to see has missing piece after missing piece.
My opening statement was designed to spotlight the pieces missing from the DA’s story. I want the jury to start watching for those missing pieces from the moment the trial opens. Because, if those pieces are still missing at the end of the trial, the jury will find my client not guilty.
The real-life trial which sparked this entry was still in progress when I wrote this post. I have changed some of the facts (names, etc.). But, if you would like to discuss your case with a criminal defense attorney, please contact me.