Monday, March 3, 2008

TRIALS: Acquittals-The Aftermath

Raymond Donovan, who was secretary of Labor in the Reagan administration, famously asked after his 1987 acquittal on 100 counts of racketeering charges: "Which office do I go to, to get my reputation back?" Thus, one of the many continuing battles in the aftermath of an acquittal.

How often do we hear of the tremendous results the defense attorneys achieve after acquittals in our courthouse (see more congrats at the end of this article)? Rarely. The acquittal is somewhat of a phenomenom in our workplace, yet who can guess the continuing effects on our client's reputation even after a successful battle against the accusing forces. Even with exoneration, the system and our clients are often continually perceived with suspicion. The stigma of experiencing this process often goes unrepaired to these clients and members of the public, even with the automatic expunction.

Of course, the state would argue that the system is imperfect and many in fact did commit the crime they were accused of doing. However, are those same advocates willing to also concede the corollary, that is, the innocent are sometimes convicted? Doubtful.

Being acquitted carries the perception by many that they must have got away with something or beat the system. But, odds are they were acquitted precisely because the system worked as designed. There should be no shame associated with this outcome to anyone. The obstacle is simply public relations and perception.

The public seems to thirst for news of the big verdicts, fueled by the news releases of prosecutor "victories", and aided by the never ending television programs of how the bad guys are brought to justice. However, if the public was aware that every year Defendants in our very courthouse are found innocent and false charges are exposed, would they feel the same way? Over time I bet the tide would change.

Publicizing these hard fought victories, like the sample I write of on occasion, are the key to changing the tide. There should be no shame in holding one's head up after a victory. Margie Johnson and Linda Icenhouer-Ramirez should be proud of their representation and acquittal of their client in the 167th District Court last week for Aggravated Assault. We need more warriors like them in our ranks and we need to increase public awareness.

Is it possible for our clients get their reputation back? Of course. But make no mistake, that's not easy. The late Richard Jewell, who was falsely accused of planting the Olympic Park bomb in 1996 and who later received an apology from the FBI once said: ''There will not only always be a shadow, but I think there's going to be a deep hole and river to cross everywhere I go.''

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