Over the course of the last twenty-five years, I’ve handled many murder cases. We who do a lot of murder cases call them homicide cases, especially if it’s a situation where maybe it was a self-defense case. Also, there are situations where they don’t really have very good identification evidence. There are all kinds of different angles that can play themselves out when it comes to murder cases in Los Angeles and in the San Fernando Valley for example.
I think some of the best strategies are to figure out what the issues are, speak to the client, get their version of the story because a lot of times the police only talk to the witnesses that they want to talk to. They don’t talk to other witnesses sometimes that could hold valuable information to defend somebody.
I had a case once where a client was being charged with murder in a very difficult jurisdiction, Norwalk, and they’re just tough to deal with on cases. They had evidence because they had my client who admitted that he had fired a weapon, and they were able to find ballistically, that that weapon was the one that killed the victim. That was one where we were basically just trying to resolve the case because of that strong evidence that they had. But the prosecutors were so unreasonable and they refused to look at some of the bad stuff about their case. They were basically bringing in a witness against my client who arguably, was a shooter in the crime as well. Once that evidence crossed the jury’s path and plus there was other evidence regarding gunshot residue, the jury ended up finding my client not-guilty, and the witness that they used against my client — he probably was a much higher candidate to be the person that shot the victim in the case.
The prosecutors — once they decide, and the police as well — that somebody is guilty, they stop looking at everybody else. They actually stop investigating most of the time. Once they feel okay, we’ve got enough evidence on this case, we’re moving to the next case. Wait a minute. There’s other stuff going on in this case. So, it’s up to the defense attorney, especially in murder cases, where everything is on the line. If you go trial and lose, typically you’re going to end up in prison for life. So, from the defense standpoint as well, if you’ve got good mitigating evidence and you feel like it’s not worth it to take the case to trial because of the potential to lose, but then that mitigating evidence has to be presented to the prosecutor and say, wait for a minute prosecutor, you may lose this murder case.
These Los Angeles juries, especially the downtown Los Angeles court – 210 West Temple – that’s a pretty good jury pool for the defense. Those guys have an open mind. They’re going to listen to what the defense has to say, so they’re not quite as conservative as some of the outer-lying courthouses in Los Angeles County. That’s an art unto itself – which is presenting mitigating evidence in a murder case to the prosecutors – because a prosecutor who’s not trustworthy and really isn’t out to seek justice but is out to get your client.
A lot of times what they’ll do is, when you present them with that good mitigating evidence in a murder case – they’re going to try to fix the problems instead of looking at and saying, you know what, he’s got a point here. Maybe I should consider giving a lower charge of voluntary manslaughter or some other charge where the individual actually has a chance to get out of custody. So, that’s what I have to evaluate as a criminal defense attorney. Am I really going to give them that evidence because some of that evidence is very powerful and can be used in a trial and you don’t want to give that to the prosecutors because again, they’re going to try to fix the problems with their case. You don’t want them to be able to do that. You want to spring it on them at trial because a lot of times that destroys the credibility of some of their witnesses and that can hurt their case very badly.
So, that’s kind of a fine line. I make those decisions based on just having done this for twenty-five years. I know a lot of the prosecutors. I know some of the judges. Sometimes I’ll get the judges involved in on the negotiations. But, if you have a case or a loved one of yours has a murder case, you’ve got to get to one of the few attorneys in Los Angeles who actually understands how to defend these cases, kind of knows the political landscape of the District Attorney’s office and how to negotiate with those guys, and knows a case when you say, we’re not going to negotiate with these guys. We’re going to trial.
To make that decision — that’s a very serious conversation with the client and that’s very serious. You have to look at the evidence and you have to put our experience to work and into play in deciding which cases you’re going to take to try and which cases you should negotiate. And that’s a very deep discussion with the client about what they have to have in this case, and where I break the tie in every single case is, I say listen, if you did not do this crime – you’re not guilty of it — we are going to trial. We’re going to fight because no one under my watch is going to take a guilty plea if they’re not guilty in the case.
If on the other hand, you did something that you shouldn’t have done, then we need to at least explore the avenue of trying to work out a case. And you can explore. You can talk to the prosecutors about a murder case – about resolving it, and then you can figure we’re not going to take that deal, it’s too high and they can’t use any of those negotiations against you. That’s all protected. Any type of settlement discussions is protected. They can never use it against a defendant.
So, if you’ve got a murder case or a loved one has a murder case, give me a call. We’ll sit down. We’ll talk about it. We’ll talk over the phone and we’ll see if it’s something that I can help you with.
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