» Clients, Trial » Trogdor!


Figuring out when and to what extent to involve a client in the inner workings of a trial can be tricky. It’s his life and they’re his objectives, so you obviously can’t ignore him. He should know what’s happening and at times even have a say in what you do, but you also shouldn’t spend all of your time leaning over explaining why you can’t use your peremptory strike on the prosecutor or why the prosecutor’s “prejudice against gang-bangers” doesn’t bring up equal protection issues. Like pretty much everything in the world of criminal defense, it’s all about balance and exercising well-reasoned, independent, professional judgment in the midst of the institutional chaos of trial.

Voir dire is a time when client input seems most important to me. I certainly don’t believe jury selection is just voodoo magic, but I also don’t believe any amount of experience can enable a lawyer to pick the perfect jury every time. There’s a good chance my client’s instincts are as good if not better than my own, and involving the client in the process of choosing the people who choose his fate only seems fair. I treat clients like a second-chair when it comes to voir dire, and I give significant weight to their decisions about whom we should strike. Often, I’ve left some strikes completely up to the client.

Like all of my best plans, that strategy doesn’t always work. When it doesn’t work, it fails spectacularly and often humorously. I’ve had a few clients arbitrarily write “fair” and “unfair” next to each juror’s number before anyone asked a single question. The Louis Vuitton bag or the long beard apparently directly correlate to fairness, I guess. I’ve also had clients request that we strike all minorities, women, and/or old people. Leave the former sex crimes detective or the uncompensated victim of the same type of crime on the jury, the clients say. They just don’t want a [insert prejudice here]. It can make for some difficult situations.

I’m writing about this because my favorite client voir dire contribution to date came up in a conversation this weekend. I laughed so hard thinking back that I almost cried. Sometimes, people do things with my own special voir dire charts that I’d never have expected in a million years.

Several trials ago, after an intense voir dire in a case with serious consequences, I asked my client what he thought about the people remaining on the panel. I had given him a chart designed for him to easily keep track of each prospective juror, and he clearly appreciated my desire to get his input as well as the chart I had created for him to neatly track each juror’s answers. Sadly, he didn’t appreciate the chart in quite the way I intended for it to be used. My client didn’t really keep notes at all. Instead, he chose to draw a badass picture of a dragon.

That’s right. His life hung in the balance. I explained the process, and I tried to involve him as best I could. He drew something that looked a lot like Trogdor. I was discouraged, and I can’t say I’ve ever been more acutely aware of the fact that not everybody cares as much about things as I do, even the people who should probably care more. It was a real eye-opener, and it was also fairly disheartening.

In all fairness, though, it was a really awesome-looking dragon.

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2 Responses to "Trogdor!"

  1. Matt Brown says:

    I’m pretty sure I’d have to get his permission to publish the drawing, and I doubt that’s gonna happen. Sadly, I have no way of convincing you. Guess that’s another pitfall of writing about my own cases…

  2. Chris says:

    Pic of the Trogdor look alike or it didn’t happen.

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