Most individuals subject to an arrest of any kind instinctively assess the circumstances behind their ultimate apprehension and prosecution. We as human beings initially scrutinize our own conduct so as to get an internal accounting as to our own moral and/or legal culpability for any potential wrongful conduct. Once we are able to recognize the wrongdoing for which we are being held accountable we can legally take action with which to protect our best interests. Through the aid of defense counsel, individuals who are able to initially comprehend the nature of their own wrongdoing are most concerned that they are legally protected from criminal punishment to the greatest extent possible.
However, a far greater quandary inevitably exists for those who either do not understand the allegations of wrongdoing against them or acknowledge their misconduct but do not believe that their unlawful actions can be proven against them within a court of law. It is within these circumstances where a defense attorney’s assistance can be of invaluable aid in preventing a course of legal maneuvering that proves counterproductive to a client’s liberty.
So many defense lawyers are customarily fixated on appealing to a potential client’s wallet at the expense of a thorough and reasoned discussion as to the repercussions of any course of legal action within a courtroom prosecution. Lawyers are too frequently afraid of initially spelling out the risks of challenging criminal accusations with a potential client for fear that the individual will view such a stance as weak or an indication that the lawyer does not truly believe in the individual’s legal defense claims.
Nothing could be further from the truth in terms of what is imperative to discuss with a potential client at the outset of one’s potential legal defense. Psychologically, defense lawyers must often contend with the reality that one who has been accused of a crime might truly not know within their own mind as to whether legal culpability may exist in reflecting upon their own actions within a given circumstance.
In such situations, as in all beginning dialogues with one in need of legal defense assistance, a lawyer must establish a sense of trust among those he or she will be representing. Only through an initial consultation as to the accusations and legal burden of proof that a prosecutor must meet in order to legally establish all of the “elements” of a given crime can an accused individual take stock as to their legal standing. Only then can a reasoned and comprehensive strategy be planned in which a trial will be pursued or pre trial negotiations to resolve a case without risk of trial will be preferred.
Where claims of innocence are asserted those claims must be respected and aggressively fought for. However, a lawyer’s financial considerations in recommending trial cannot be permitted to trump a client’s firm understanding of the legal burden that a prosecutor must meet to secure a criminal conviction. Only then can one’s claims of innocence or misunderstanding as to whether their actions are legally considered a crime be knowingly waived in favor of trial vindication.
Many people commonly assert their ignorance of a law they have been accused of breaking. Quite reasonably such individuals understandably wish for a defense to be promoted that recognizes a misunderstanding of law and excuses the fact that their actions in any way constituted a crime. As a means by which to get criminal accusations they may be facing dismissed, such individuals justifiably seek a lawyer’s counsel in putting forth a defense that no longer subjects them to criminal prosecution based upon this, “ignorance of law.”
While in limited circumstances one must possess the, “specific intent” by which to commit a certain crime enunciated by state law to be found legally guilty, (ex. murder), for the vast majority of criminal offenses the specific intent to commit a crime is not required to be found guilty of a criminal offense. Many have heard the term in one form or another that, “ignorance of the law is no defense,” and in many respects such layman’s assertions have a base in fact.
As such, individuals accused of crimes must be informed as to the distinction between the specific intent and general intent criminal accusations. While specific intent prosecutions focus upon very case specific facts that a prosecutor must prove to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that an accused individual intended for the very result of a crime he or she perpetrated, the majority of crimes lawyers will consult with focus upon the commission of general intent prosecutions.
General intent prosecutions do not require that a prosecutor prove that an accused individual intended for a specific result to occur. Further, a prosecutor does not even need to prove that an accused individual knew that a law existed that rendered one’s conduct unlawful. Rather, a prosecutor only needs to prove within such general intent prosecutions that an individual engaged in conduct deemed unlawful either “knowingly” or recklessly.” The result of such legal analysis is that it will be considered legally inconsequential that a client is passionate in communicating that he or she did not know that their accused criminal wrongdoing was considered a criminal offense.
In recent months this dialogue has become more and more prevalent in regard to the changing landscape of Marijuana statutes throughout the country. Although, one state’s criminal code may have since adapted a policy view that has either legalized or decriminalized the use of Marijuana, one state’s legal statutes are not valid within another state jurisdiction.
For example, a valid medical marijuana prescription issued within the State of California will not be recognized within Indiana. Not only will such a license not be recognized in Indiana but such an admission that one has voluntarily transported, sold and/or possessed Marijuana will subject the individual to criminal prosecution within this state’s borders. As stated previously, ignorance of Indiana’s criminal statutes will not serve as a legal defense within this type of general intent crime prosecution.
I myself have been frustrated at the lack of prosecutorial discretion often applied in reference to these types of cases. However, non withstanding my own personal feelings in reference to a specific fact pattern targeted through a filed criminal accusation, a client must be made aware as to their potential legal culpability within a given case irrespective of the seeming irrationality behind filed criminal charges.
Recently I was put in the unenviable position of having to communicate with a client I had commiserated with who was traveling though the State of Indiana from Kansas. Due to the commission of a traffic violation within Indiana, events unfolded whereby my client had voluntarily disclosed to the investigating officer that he possessed a legal firearm within his vehicle. Although his concealed carry permit allowed him to travel with the firearm within his vehicle and on his person within the state of Kansas, (and potentially other states), criminal statutes within Indiana prohibit such possession, irrespective of an individual’s reasoned subjective belief that he had the lawful basis upon which to transport his firearm within his registered motor vehicle.
Such real world circumstances are but a couple among countless fact patterns that often confound even the most educated legal observers in regard to legal culpability in the commission of crime. As a result, a fundamental understanding as to what a crime is will often be dependent upon the state jurisdiction one has been prosecuted within.
Where a criminal offense has been universally recognized as a criminal offense no matter the state jurisdiction, lawyer and client must thoroughly analyze the legal elements that must be proven to sustain a criminal conviction. However, even in circumstances of universally accepted crimes codified within all state’s criminal statutes; the elements that a prosecutor must prove to establish commission of such a crime can very well differ.
As can be seen from the time one assesses their own culpability for alleged criminal wrongdoing, so many divergent factors and circumstances can come into play in determining the final objectives of a competent legal defense. Only after a confidential and open communication touching upon and and all circumstances related to one’s criminal defense can lawyer and client adequately come to the most complete understanding as to the manner in which one’s legal defense should be best conducted.