How to Prepare a Defense Strategy for a Criminal Case

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It is integral how an attorney and a defendant collaborate to produce their version of events regarding a criminal charge.  The term "version" is a legal term denoting a number of items surrounding a given event.  For example, a defendant’s version of events will include explanations for incriminating evidence, their motivations, their timeline leading up to an alleged crime, and any other statement a defense attorney and their client plan to make regarding the criminal case at hand.  Most important, however, is the open and collaborative communication between a defendant and their attorney.  This communication, version of events, and other considerations all culminate into a defendant’s overall defense strategy. 

Preparing the Defense Version of Events

When a defendant and their defense counsel prepare the defense’s version of events, a defendant should be aware of the following items, including:

  • Attorney-client privilege protects any statements you make in confidence to your attorney.  Therefore, being honest and open to your attorney’s questions is the best route of mounting a sound legal defense.
  • When determining the defense version of events, you and your attorney are not concocting a grand lie, but rather, using the existing evidence and future evidence as a means of corroborating your version of the crimes in question.
  • The version of events is the basis of preparing objective counterarguments to the charges and evidence brought forth by prosecutors.  This defense strategy, and in turn the version of events, may be added to, altered, or changed during the course of a trial.

In a broad sense, defendant’s version of events falls into one of three potential categories in criminal cases, which include:

  • A complete denial of prosecutor’s charges, which will require corroborating evidence such as an alibi, forensic evidence, and witness testimony for a defendant to argue successfully.
  • An admission and explanation of events leading up to prosecutor’s charges, which explain a different version of events than those proposed by a prosecutor, which will require forensic evidence, eyewitness testimony, and potentially expert witness testimony to prove.
  • A confession version of events occurs when a defendant readily admits to all charges and the version of events proposed by prosecutors, which may be a defense strategy to obtain a favorable plea bargain and reduce liability for other crimes.

Using this information, other witness testimony, community attitudes toward the respective crime, the evidence available, and the past criminal history of a defendant, a defense attorney will compile what is known as the “theory of the case”.  Sometimes, a defendant may erroneously reason that if they have nothing to hide, or are willing to speak to police candidly, they should do so right away in an attempt to clear their name.  This is highly inadvisable, and almost every instance, speaking directly to law enforcement will never promote your defense, but will actually weaken or ruin your defense ability. 

Other Ethical and Legal Considerations before Preparing a Defense Strategy

Each case is unique and defendants must keep this in mind when actually assessing their own individual case.  However, there are some universal considerations that defendants should take into consideration when developing a defense strategy with their attorney.  These include:

  • An attorney cannot ethically call witnesses to testify on your behalf if it is known that they will offer testimony that is likely perjury.
  • An attorney cannot advise, encourage, or help a defendant give perjured testimony, which would occur if a defense attorney learned from the defendant one version of a story and the defendant took the stand and testified otherwise.
  • This does not necessarily include if defendant changes their stance or disagrees with their attorney, but rather, in instances of blatant perjury, which a lawyer cannot ethically encourage in any fashion.
  • Defense lawyers have an ethical duty to prepare defendants for trial, including preparing their defense strategy, documents, and if necessary, coaching defendants for courtroom behavior and examination.
  • Any statement previously made to police, which conflicts a defendant’s version of the events during a trial, will be brought up and potentially damage the credibility of an entire defense.
  • An attorney may not request your version of the events as an ethical precaution, and instead, look to rebuff prosecutor’s cases by showing the crimes in question are not “without a shadow of a doubt” and other legal technicalities as well.

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