High Profile Cases-Some Tips for Trial and Appeal

In today’s media culture, almost any criminal case can become a high profile case.  All it seems to take is (1) the involvement of a relatively well known or notorious person ; (2) a sympathetic or outrageous crime; and (3) news coverage by the media.  If circumstances are right, even purely local cases can be picked up by the national media and become high profile.  (Anyone hear of the Casey Anthony trial??)  The purpose of this post is to make a quick note of some things that an attorney may want to consider prior, during, and after trial.

Investigation phase:  At some point, an attorney may learn that his or her client is the target of a criminal investigation.  While this may be more common in the Federal system, it may also occur in the State system where police are conducting a long-time criminal investigation, or a large grand jury investigation is being conducted at the direction of the Statewide Prosecutor.  Once an attorney is notified or learns that the investigation has targeted the client, an attorney may want to consult with the client about the possibility of approaching the relevant authorities to see if a deal can be worked out prior to indictment.  This kind of deal may entail cooperation in exchange for an indictment on a lesser offense, or perhaps the withholding of an indictment altogether.

Prior to and at the start of trial:  After the client gets charged with a crime, where the case involves co-defendants or multiple offenses, an attorney needs to consider a motion to sever pursuant to Fla. R. Crim. P. 3.152.  If the case has been the subject of pre-trial publicity, counsel may wish to consider moving to change venue pursuant to Fla. R. Crim. P. 3.240.  At the time of jury selection, counsel may wish use Rule 3.281 as a basis to request a list of all the prospective jurors, including their names and addresses and the juror questionnaires.  A search of the jurors’ names on Google may reveal valuable information about them, and such information could serve as a basis to exercise a peremptory strike or challenge for cause.  Where pre-trial publicity has been high or negative, counsel may wish to think about moving to sequester the jury pursuant to Fla. R. Crim. P. 3.370(a) to insulate them from publicity during the trial.  Motions to sequester and change venue are left to the discretion of the trial judge, so counsel should be sure to make a good record by filing a thorough written motion in compliance with the rule, and renewing it whenever necessary, prior to and during the trial.  The better record counsel can make of the court abusing its discretion, the better chances counsel may have of prevailing on any subsequent appeal.

Jury selection:   To state the obvious, jury selection is an extremely important time of the trial.  Attorneys may wish to come prepared with a list of the prospective jurors that was requested pursuant to Rule 3.281, and be ready to argue why certain potential jurors should be stricken for cause at the outset.  The more jurors that are successfully challenged for cause, the more peremptory strikes can saved for use later on.  Attorneys should remember to make as good a record as possible for appeal by stating objections on the record and the reasons for the objections.  Objections to the panel should be renewed at the time the panel is selected, and again prior to the time that the panel is sworn.  If objections are not made and renewed, an appellate court may find that the jury selection issues have not been preserved.  In really high profile cases, jury selection may take days or weeks.  In such cases, counsel should ask the court for additional challenges for cause and peremptory strikes.  Courts may grant such requests in their discretion.

Post verdict:  If the jury renders a guilty verdict, and if there is reason to believe that the verdict is subject to legal challenge, counsel may move to interview the jurors pursuant to Rule 3.575.

Post trial:  After trial, counsel may move for a new trial under Rules  3.580 and 3.600.  If the evidence sustains a conviction for a lesser offense, a court may, pursuant to Rule 3.620, enter a judgment for the lesser offense.

Bail pending appeal:  Where an attorney intends to appeal a conviction, the court may release the defendant pending appeal pursuant to Rule 3.691.