Probably the most common question people caught up in a federal criminal case have is when they get to tell their side of the story.
It makes sense.
You’ve listened to the federal prosecutor tell the judge his side of what happened. Maybe you heard it at a detention hearing or at status conference. You’re amazed at how they weave together a bunch of things to tell a story about you that just isn’t true.
You want the judge to know that there’s more to it, and that you’re not the person that the AUSA says you are.
You want the judge to know that the prosecutor took things out of context. That they’re misconstruing what happened. That they’re relying on things that people said who are lying.
You want everyone to know that you are not the person the prosecutor is describing. You cannot believe how outrageous what they’re saying is.
The whole process of being charged with a crime in federal court is demeaning. You’re put in handcuffs and brought to the courthouse. The AUSA doesn’t even say your name – she just calls you “the defendant.”
Against all of this, it’s natural that you would want to talk. What’s happening to you is horrible, and you want to be heard.
Unfortunately, while it’s natural to want to speak, a federal criminal case is not a natural environment. So, while your voice needs to be heard, figuring out how to make sure that happens is a strategic decision. You don’t want to speak at the expense of prison time.
Make sure you talk to your lawyer. You should tell your lawyer everything about your case and, absolutely tell your lawyer what you think he or she needs to hear. Your lawyer may say that some things you’re telling him don’t matter – maybe that’s right – but you should still tell them to your lawyer. If it matters to you, it should matter enough to your attorney for you to explain it.
If you have a lawyer you can’t talk to, or who won’t listen to what you’re saying, then you should fire that lawyer and hire another (assuming it’s early enough that you can do that without hurting the case as a whole). Not every lawyer clicks with every client. Some lawyers simply aren’t very good at listening to their clients. It doesn’t matter why your lawyer isn’t listening to you. It isn’t personal. You only get one chance to go through your case – you need to have a good relationship with your lawyer.
Your lawyer should be able to explain how what you’re saying relates to what else is happening in the case. You should know the things the government has to prove, and you should know how the evidence the government has relates to that. And your lawyer should be able to explain how what’s important to you affects both the law and the government’s case.
Many lawyers think that their clients in criminal cases should almost never talk. The Fifth Amendment gives people accused of crimes the right not to talk to the prosecutor or the court. And just about any criminal defense lawyer who has been practicing for any decent amount of time can tell stories of when talking too much hurt a client.
There are times, though, where it makes sense to have a person who is accused of a crime talk to the judge, the prosecutor, or a jury. And, in just about every case, the lawyer for a person accused of a crime in federal court has to understand his or her client’s description of what happened. You’re the person who lived what happened. You know who you are, and you know that you’re more than what the government is saying you are.
Your voice needs to be heard – it’s simply a strategic question of how that happens and who hears it.