10 August 2009

Sometimes You Look Back & Realize What a Snit You Were Being

There are times you look back at your behaviour and feel like kicking yourself.

Jury on Friday was credit card theft with Defendant stealing from Dad & Step-Mom. Defense Counsel wants Dad to testify during the sentencing phase of the jury trial, because he knows Dad is a reluctant witness who doesn't really want his son to go to jail. However, under Virginia case law Defense Counsel is clearly not allowed to present evidence of anything other than that which lessens his prior record or diminishes, but does not negate culpability for the current crime. Family wishes and effect on the family are clearly not allowed. See Shifflet and (last month) Jones Jr.. We argue back and forth on this with me pointing to the rule set out in the cases and Defense Counsel trying to play the precedent down by claiming the decisions just said the judge hadn't abused his discretion so the judge didn't have to follow the precedent. At one point the judge said something off the cuff about "Isn't family continuity one of the goals of Virginia law?" Anyway, after a while the argument shifted and Defense Counsel started arguing that he didn't want to call Dad because he was family, but because he was the victim. I point out that the statute only authorizes the prosecution to introduce victim evidence during the sentencing, thus excluding the defendant from doing so. In the end, the judge allows Defense Counsel to call Dad, "just to ask him what he thinks an appropriate sentence would be."

Faced with that, I introduce the defendant's prior convictions and the call Step-Mom to the stand. Defense Counsel objects and we go up to the bench to argue the point where the jury cannot hear us. Now, I've got a clear statutory allowance to "present any victim impact testimony" and she's as hooked into the checking account as her husband. I can just stand there and point at the statute and I should win the argument. Is that what I did?. Nope. When Defense Counsel objects because Dad's name is on the checking account, not Step-Mom's, I let out, "Judge, I thought we in family harmony mode, kumbyaland . . ." At which point Defense Counsel bows to my keen legal argument and withdraws his objection.

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