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Bewildering Bob and the dangers of not telling your attorney everything

I confidently stood up in front of the jury to give my opening statement -

“Ladies and Gentlemen of the jury - this is a case about a husband beating up on his wife. Today, you’ll hear from the victim’s neighbor, an INDEPENDENT WITNESS who jumped in and saved the day when he saw the defendant beating up on his wife. Consider the credibility of an INDEPENDENT WITNESS. What bias or motive does an INDEPENDENT WITNESS have to come in here and not tell the truth? None. None whatsoever...”

As I incessantly fired verbal arrows of proof beyond a reasonable doubt with every “INDEPENDENT WITNESS” that rolled off my tongue, my chest bowed out a bit more as I felt myself growing in stature in the eyes of the jury.

And with great confidence, I finished my argument and proudly took my seat.

The defense stood up (hardly believing his good fortune) and, in his old, deep southern drawl, said -

“Ladies and Gentlemen of the jury - what this nice, young prosecutor told you was a wonderful story indeed - he just failed to mention that this unbiased, INDEPENDENT WITNESS he loves so much just happened to be having an affair with my client’s wife.”

Wait, wait, wait...what did he just say? Um, uh, excuse me? Did he just...but I just...wait, what just happened?

As I tried to gather my thoughts, I did what any self-respecting trial attorney would do after being blindsided by an evidentiary 2 x 4 - I whispered sweet-nothings into the ear of the floppy-haired intern-pretending to be my co-counsel-guy sitting at my table while nodding my head as if this was all expected, and I really hadn’t just slightly peed myself.

Poker face, Charley, poker face.

And then the semblance of a rational idea came to mind. This must be a ploy by the defense.

Just a half hour earlier I entered the courthouse and found my nice, independent witness.

“Hey Bob (I don’t remember his real name). I’m the prosecutor on the case and I need to ask you a few questions. You saw the assault take place, correct? Okay, good. You even intervened, didn’t you? Great. Now, Bob, is there anything, ANYTHING at all that the defendant might have against you, a beef of any sort?

Bob: “No, not really. I think he (the defendant) got in a fight with my brother one time.”

Bob certainly would’ve told me if he’d been sleeping with the guy’s wife. I’m assuming that sleeping with somebody’s wife, in most people’s books, probably ranks up there as one of the highest “beefs” that someone could have with you, right?

So, of course, all I had to do was to get Bob to confirm the truth on the stand.

“So, Bob, you heard the defense attorney. Is that true?”

Bob dropped his head and nodded.

Bob, Bob, Bob, Bob, Booooob! Really, man? A fight with your brother?! And what about that other little thing?! It didn’t occur to you that…(sigh) forget it.

I’ll let you guess how long it took the jury to acquit the defendant.

Moral of the story: Tell your attorney everything from the beginning (and don't be Bob).

The worst thing that can happen to an attorney at trial is to discover negative information in the middle of the trial! And trust me it’s going to come out one way or the other.

If your attorney knows ahead of time, he or she can attempt to mitigate the damages, for example, by finding out if there’s more to the story. Maybe the missis got beat up a lot by her husband and that’s why she was sleeping with Bob. That kind of changes things.

So make sure you tell your attorney everything.

But the responsibility is not yours alone. Your attorney should also be taking the time to sit down with you, listen to your side of the story and ask the right questions.

How much time?

Everyone is different but I spend at least an hour to an hour and a half at the initial consultation, then, a minimum of several hours (and possibly much more depending on the complexity of the case) sitting with the client and reviewing the evidence. Then there’s the time spent speaking to important witnesses, friends, family members and anyone else that can shed light on the situation. Also, your attorney should be available to answer questions and address your concerns either by text, phone or email.

The bottom line is be forthcoming with your attorney. I can’t tell you how many times as a former prosecutor I’d interview witnesses two, three or four times only to have them drop some new and vital information on me at the last interview before trial.

So, help yourself out, don't be Bob. Tell your attorney everything from the beginning but also don’t be afraid to insist that your attorney take the time to listen to what you have to say.

For more information on what to expect from a good defense attorney, see here.

I am an attorney based in Greenville, SC and my office address is 16 Wellington Ave, Greenville, SC 29609.

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