Natty Shafer Law

Utah lawyer for criminal and immigration cases

Representing Yourself in Criminal Court: Part II, the Trial

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When we left off in Part I, Jane Doe was getting ready for a trial after being accused of Theft of Services. She decided to represent herself because she does not think she needs a lawyer; only guilty people hire lawyers and she is sure the jury will see she is innocent.

Jane does not sleep very well the night before the trial. She shows up to court looking tired, she does not think as sharply as normal, and she is feeling the stress.

Jane’s two friends arrive at court that morning, which is fortunate because she is not sure if she properly served them with their subpoenas. The friends, John Jones and Sally Roe, ask Jane where they are supposed to go. Jane is not sure and spends ten minutes talking to the clerk, instead of calming her nerves. Eventually, they are asked to wait outside the courtroom until they are called.

Jane Doe has never been very good at public speaking, but she plans to keep it simple. The judge tells her that she can help select the jury and he explains how. The prosecutor does most of the actual selection. They all look the same to Jane. A few minutes later, the judge swears in the jury.

The Trial
The prosecutor gives a fairly short opening statement, but the prosecutor does make Jane seem dishonest. The judge tells Jane she may give an opening statement. Jane starts to tell her side of the story. Halfway through the opening, Jane tries to show the jury a copy of her credit card receipt showing she paid for her meal. The judge stops her and tells her she cannot introduce evidence at this time. Jane gets flustered and cuts her opening statement short.

The prosecutor starts her case by calling the restaurant server to testify. The server seems friendly, but he does make it sound like Jane personally stole money from him.

Jane then has her chance to cross-examine the server. Jane asks him if he saw her pay. He says he did not. She tries to show him her credit card receipt. The prosecutor objects and after some confusing discussion between the prosecutor and the judge, the judge allows Jane Doe to show the receipt to the server. The server denies having ever seen the receipt before, and Jane does not ask any follow up questions.

After the cross-examination, the jurors are confused about what Jane was trying to prove. All they know is that the server thinks he was not paid, and Jane has something that might be a receipt, but they do not know what is on the receipt.

The prosecutor calls the police officer. Jane does not see anything damaging about the police officer’s testimony. The judge interrupts the officer and asks Jane if she would like to make any objections. Jane cannot think of any. The police officer explains that in his experience it is very common for thieves to come up with a plausible explanation for their behavior. The prosecutor rests her case.

The judge tells Jane that she can call any witnesses if she so chooses. Jane calls friend #1, John Jones, to the stand. He begins to testify that he was at the restaurant with Jane for lunch. At this point, the prosecutor interrupts and asks the judge if the witness has been advised of his right to remain silent. The judge asks the witness a few questions and asks if he understands that he too could be charged with Theft of Services. At this point, John becomes less helpful answering Jane’s questions. By the end of his testimony, he has made it clear that he paid cash for his meal, but he did not know what Jane Doe or Sally Roe had planned.

The prosecutor is mostly happy with John’s testimony, and during her cross-examination she just uses John’s testimony to make absolutely clear that Jane was present at the restaurant and she ate food.

Sally then enters the courtroom. The prosecutor asks the judge to once again make sure that the witness understands that she could be prosecuted for any incriminating statements. Sally is similarly scared by this news. She decides not to answer any questions at all. The judge excuses Sally.

Jane then takes the stand on her own behalf. Jane does make some good points, but unfortunately she buries them in the middle of a rambling story filled with “ums” and “uhs.” By the time she mentions to the jury that she had paid for her portion of the meal, half of them are not listening. She repeatedly tells the jury that she is an honest person and that she would never steal; each time Jane starts to say this, the prosecutor objects. The judge asks her politely to keep to the facts and to avoid giving her opinion. This flusters Jane and she is not sure what she is allowed to say. She forgets to testify that she has a receipt for her share of the meal.

The prosecutor keeps her cross-examination short. She makes it clear to the jury that Jane was at the restaurant. She also gets Jane to admit that the full cost of her meal was not paid when she left.

The prosecutor tells the jury that it is very important that everyone pay for the services they use. It is part of living in a civilized society and Jane needs to be punished. The prosecutor says that she could have also prosecuted Sally and maybe even John, but Jane is here right now. It is the jury’s job to find Jane “guilty” of the charge.

Jane does not give a good closing. She mentions again that she is not a bad person and that she is so sorry that the restaurant was not paid, but it was not her fault.

The jury is completely confused as to why Jane thinks she should be found “not guilty.” The jury deliberates for about 20 minutes before returning with a guilty verdict. The judge asks Jane if she is ready to be sentenced. She says she is. Fortunately, the judge does not impose any jail time, but he does impose a fine and makes Jane go to a class about theft. Jane now has a criminal record which can be researched by anybody.

Author: Natty Shafer

Attorney practicing immigration and criminal law

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