Initial Steps in a Criminal Defense Case
The following is an excerpt from an interview with Maryland criminal defense attorney Seth Okin.
What are the first things you look at in a criminal case?
Seth Okin: Genuine facts. Every criminal case has to have a base of facts. If it’s an assault, it’s unwanted touching of another. If it’s a speeding citation, you were going faster than the speed limit. Why were you going faster than the speed limit? The radar, laser, or if the officer was in a vehicle that could a provide pace, that’s what whichever tool they were using told them. So, where does it go from there? All genuine facts have to be presented in court. They have to be presented in a fashion that goes beyond a reasonable doubt.
I look for holes, I look for inconsistencies. What is someone not saying? What is someone leaving out? Those are the most important questions because you can argue genuine fact. Theory is theory; we can all theorize about a lot of things, but facts will make the case, for the state as well as for me. Without a solid analysis of the facts that are presented, we don’t know where to go. When a client calls me and says, “You know, I got a citation for speeding and reckless driving,” the speeding has to be substantiated, and the reckless driving has to be substantiated by other facts; what are they? We want the police report; we want to get a statement of facts from them. If the charge is driving while suspended, is your license really suspended? Let’s get an MVA record. If you’re accused of assault, did you hit someone? Did you know you hit someone?
Everybody knows when they’ve been touched by someone they don’t want to be touched by, but if someone can’t clearly prove that in a courtroom, then that’s not an assault or an unwanted touching. We all know that. If it’s an accusation of arson and no one mentions the word fire, it didn’t happen. Those are the facts. The facts have to relate to the law and if they don’t, you’ve got a clear shot at winning your case. There are rules; we always go back to rules.
What are some of the questions you ask a client during a first meeting?
Seth Okin: Before we even get into what happened, I like to know a little bit about my clients. I’ll ask them where they grew up, if they went to high school in Maryland, if they graduated from high school, if they went to college, if they have degrees, what that degree is in, if they have family, if they have children, if they’re married… I want to find out a little bit about who they are and everyone is uniquely different. Every instance is uniquely different because there’s a new individual involved. No two cases are the same because you as the client are different from everyone else.
Once we’ve taken some time to get to know each other and build a little bit of background, I ask the client to tell me what happened on that night, or that day, what they saw, or what they heard. I want to hear my client’s story because it’s the only story that matters. What they tell me, what they feel, and what they say, that’s what’s important because that’s what they know. They’re not going to know what the police wrote; they’re not going to know what the state is going to tell me. As we start those building blocks of the case, I need to know everything that my client knows. Then from there, we get into whether or not they knew the other individual involved. We’re trying to figure out where those causal lines are, and if we can get those lines together, then we can start really building up the case. In doing that, when the discovery comes to us, we have our building blocks together. Then, I figure out what the discovery is going to do. Is it going to shift anything, or do we truly have a nice strong foundation to win?