Are you interested in pursuing an exciting career as a high priced criminal defense attorney, but don’t have the time and money for law school? Then you’ve come to the right place. Westendorf & Khalaf is proud to announce the launch of our quick and easy video tutorial series that will have you in the courtroom defending clients in no time.
1. The first lesson is that being a criminal defense attorney is a serious responsibility. Our clients can be taken from their families and locked in cages if we don’t do our job competently. Our first video illustrates some basic mistakes that should be avoided when defending a client.
There are a few takeaways here. (1) We generally recommend meeting the client before court. Building rapport is important. (2) We also discourage assuming that your client is guilty. It’s important to view the evidence against them first. (3) Although it’s sometimes tempting, you should never threaten your client or celebrate when they're found guilty. Remember that you are there to defend them.
2. You're doing great. Now that you’ve learned the basics, you’re ready for trial tactics. The first thing we have to do is pick a jury.
This clip illustrates the use of preemptory strikes. You can get rid of a certain number of jurors for any reason! How do you choose which jurors to send packing? Fun fact: jury selection in Virginia typically takes less than a few hours even in murder cases so you have no meaningful chance to vet jurors. That means honing your skills conjuring random reasons to strike jurors. Getting rid of a juror because he polishes his shoes every day is a great example. Have fun with it! One time we struck a juror because he had a belt buckle and we created the backstory that he was a disgraced former rodeo clown who was forced into retirement when a bucking bronco gave him brain damage.
3. You've picked the jury! Now it’s time for opening statements. In your opening, you lay out the facts of the case and establish the theme of your defense. While you’re not supposed to argue, you’re pushing the envelope as much as possible if you’re doing it right. Here are two examples.
Pacino illustrates some of the dos and don’ts in opening statements. Do show passion. Do approach the jury and make a connection. Don’t appear unhinged and tell the jury that your client should go “straight to f'in jail.” Sometimes it gets confusing. We highly recommend practicing in the mirror to avoid what happened here.
Sometimes less is more! A long opening can bore the jury. Pesci grabs their attention and establishes his theme that the prosecution's evidence is less than compelling.
4. Now it’s time for the evidence! The prosecution gets to present their witnesses first. Your job is to cross-examine them to poke holes and highlight discrepencies in their testimony. Remember that you should always use leading questions. Don’t be afraid to be aggressive.
Smackdown! The techniques used here can translate to almost any witness. (1) Call them a liar; (2) Accuse them of being a drug dealer; (3) Tell the jury about other witnesses who will contradict their testimony (regardless if you those witnesses actually exist). Bonus points if you too can get the Dutchess of Sussex to sit in the gallery while you eviscerate the witness.
5. You're cooking with gas now. You’re almost half way through your first trial! Once the prosecution has finished putting on their witnesses, your next move is the motion to strike. This is where you argue why the case should be dismissed as a matter of law. An effective motion to strike requires legal research. Be prepared to cite cases and statutes that support your position.
Let’s be honest. Legal research is boring and you would probably have to go to law school to actually understand any of it. Just spout some gibberish and your client won’t know any better!
6. Now it’s time to have some fun and throw some punches of your own. It’s time for the defense’s evidence! One major decision is whether your client will testify. It can be the key to the entire defense. Don’t put your client on the stand unless he’s 100% prepared for the prosecution's cross examination.
In the plus column, the client looks fantastic. On the downside, he proclaims himself to be God. This is something that you can prevent with adequate preparation. Instruct your client that he/she should never describe themselves as a deity of any kind. Client control is critical!
7. That pesky evidence is done. It’s time for closing arguments!
The reality is that many of your clients will be guilty as sin. What do you do? The last thing you want to do is talk about the evidence when all of it points to guilt. Change the subject! Interesting fact: most juries have men; and men love sports. Talk about last night’s big game and segue into how the jury will be winning the big game by acquitting your client. Most juries will also have women and women love romance. Spin a yarn about how your client is just like Leo in Titantic and the prosecution is just like that dick Billy Zane.
8. Congratulations! You are a proud member of the inaugural graduating class of W&K. We’ll be looking forward to seeing you in court.
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