Famous Criminal Defense Cases
Being charged with a crime is one of the most upsetting experiences most people could ever have. The criminal justice system is complex and difficult to navigate, and a defendant who tries to present their own case without fully understanding their rights and the charges against them could wind up with harsh penalties. A criminal defense attorney can help a defendant work within the system to get a not guilty ruling, get a plea deal for less serious charges, receive reduced punishment, or even have the charges dropped before the case comes to trial.
Plaxico Burress and His Gun
When New York Giants football player Plaxico Burress was arrested in 2008 for illegally bringing a gun into a Manhattan nightclub, he could have faced a prison term of three and a half years or more. He was originally charged with one count of reckless endangerment and two counts of second degree criminal possession of a weapon.
Burress, whose gun had been discovered only when he accidentally shot himself in the thigh, hired defense attorney Benjamin Brafman. Brafman persuaded the court to accept a plea bargain. Burress pled guilty to a lesser charge, attempted criminal possession of a weapon, and served a two year sentence followed by two years of monitoring.
The entertainment news is full of stories about celebrities given reduced sentences by judges, but criminal defense attorneys don’t just work for wealthy actors and athletes.
The West Memphis Three
In 1994, three teenagers, Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley Jr., and Jason Baldwin, were tried and convicted for the 1993 murders of three children in West Memphis, Ark. Echols was given a death sentence and the other two men were sentenced to life in prison.
The investigation and trials were full of irregularities. Misskelley, age 17, was interrogated by the police without his father or an attorney present. He confessed but later recanted and said he only confessed because the police frightened him. Misskelley’s former attorney Dan Stidham claimed that the crime scene was ruined by police; the surrounding ground was trampled and the victims’ bodies were pulled from the creek where they were found before the coroner could examine them; in fact, the police did not call the coroner until two hours after the bodies’ discovery. Regardless of the errors, all three men were found guilty.
In 2007, Echols’s defense attorney petitioned for a new trial in the light of advances in DNA testing. Circuit Court Judge David Burnett denied the request, but the Arkansas Supreme Court overturned the ruling. Defense attorney Stephen Braga took the case on a pro bono basis and negotiated a new deal with state prosecutors. On August 19, 2011, Circuit Court Judge David Laser accepted Alford pleas for all three men; they pled no contest to the murders while still maintaining their innocence. Judge Laser sentenced them to time served and the West Memphis Three were released.
The three young men had a great deal of public opinion on their side, but unpopular cases can also benefit from skillful legal defense.
Clarence Darrow and Ossian Sweet
In 1925, Dr. Ossian Sweet, an African-American, purchased a home for his family in a white neighborhood in Detroit. A white mob attempted to attack the family, and one member of the mob was killed by one of Sweet’s family members. All 11 residents of Sweet’s home were arrested. Fabled attorney Clarence Darrow took on the case. At first the prosecution attempted to try the entire family at once, but this resulted in a mistrial. When they tried the defendants one by one, Dr. Sweet’s brother Henry confessed to the shooting. The jury ruled that the shooting had been in self defense and the prosecution dropped the remaining charges. Darrow’s defense, pointing out that if the races had been reversed the men defending their homes would be celebrated as heroes, is a landmark of the Civil Rights movement.
If you have been accused of a crime and need someone to stand up for your rights, contact us for a consultation. We will listen to your side of the story and help you decide what to do next.
Austin Faux works for Wolf Criminal Law Lawyer Group as blogger and copywriter. When I’m not on the phone taking criminal law intakes I’m on the computer working on our Facebook. When I’m not at work I’m helping my beautiful wife relax, playing with my kids and messing around on my nerd podcast, “I Am A Super Nerd.”
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