Last week, I wrote about why so few people go to trial, and I talked about some of the challenges of going to trial in a criminal case in federal court, particularly in a white-collar case.
This week, I’d like to talk about another challenge with going to trial — statements made to law enforcement by the person who is accused of a crime.
After Zachary Warren was indicted in connection with the Dewey implosion, there was a lot of coverage of why, exactly, a smart, educated, fancy lawyer would talk to law enforcement without a lawyer present. (See, e.g., here, and here, and here).
As these prior pieces talk about, there’s a tactical problem with talking to law enforcement in the first place — the agent may say that he or she is just giving you a chance to “tell your side of the story” or “get the truth out” but, really, that person’s interest is in getting a conviction so they get a stat. They’re trying to build a case against you and that has less to do with celebrating the importance of impartial truth seeking, and much more to do with boxing you in so that a trial would be hopeless (see this on one way to think about the agent’s priorities when they’re taking a statement).
There is, though, another problem with talking to law enforcement — one that, hopefully, DOJ is actually making better.
Criminal defense lawyers who practice in federal court bemoan the lack of jury trials these days.
According to the administrative office of the U.S. courts, in the twelve months ended March 31, 2013, in our federal courts, 83,614 people entered a plea of guilty. Only 1,953 went to a jury trial (there were 173 bench trials too, for what it’s worth).
So, around 2 percent of the folks who are charged in federal court go to trial — the rest plead guilty.
The numbers in white-collar cases are a little better. For fraud cases there were 9,925 guilty pleas and 411 jury trials — so about 4 percent of people accused of fraud opt to see a jury. For regulatory offenses there were 1,480 pleas and 47 jury trials — about 3 percent.
There are a lot of reasons why so many people plead guilty and so few go to trial. One reason is that the acquittal rate is low — about 13 percent overall (there were 260 acquittals overall in FY 2013). For what it’s worth, while fraud acquittals were in line with that, regulatory offenses had an acquittal rate that was much higher — 20 acquittals (counting bench and jury trials) out of 55 trials. That’s about 35 percent.
Another big reason is that people accused of a crime are meaningfully prevented from testifying — and if a trial turns on what a person knew, as many white-collar cases do, their ability to put on a defense is compromised by their inability to testify. They can see a bad verdict coming….
A famous criminal defense lawyer was asked about how to hire a lawyer for a criminal defense case. Imagine, he was asked, that a relative was charged with a serious crime in a place where he didn’t know anyone. How would he go about finding a lawyer for his friend?
The answer — hire the best lawyer in the next town over.
A good criminal defense attorney will have relationships with the local prosecutors. She’ll know the local judges. And when you hire a criminal defense attorney, you assume that one thing you’re getting is a favorable presentation to those prosecutors and judges. The trouble is, that lawyer may have more of an interest in her professional standing in the community than in your case.
If you’re really in trouble — life is on the line kind of trouble — that criminal defense lawyer’s advice was to hire someone who knows what they’re doing and is willing to ruffle feathers on your behalf. Everyone is a little beholden to their own community. Find someone from another community.
There’s a nice example of that principle in action in a complex white-collar case in the Wall Street Journal this week.
Raven 23 was a team of Blackwater employees who provided security in Iraq for U.S. government personnel. On September 16, 2007, a car bomb went off, and Raven 23 was called on to secure an evacuation of a diplomat. As a federal court described it later, “a shooting incident erupted, during which [some of the members of Raven 23] allegedly shot and killed fourteen [Iraqi civilians] and wounded twenty others.”
After September 16, the firefight moved to federal district court in the District of Columbia when the U.S. Attorneys Office for the District of Columbia brought charges against some of the members of Raven 23.
And, as legal battles go, what a firefight it is.
There’s been a Kastigar hearing, a direct appeal, a mandamus action, a judicial call for an Inspector General investigation into the State Department’s conduct in the case, a promised request for the government to pay attorneys’ fees for one of the members of Raven 23, posturing about new charges, and threats of motions for vindictive prosecution.
If you find yourself with some time, reading the papers in the case – the case number is 08-360 on D.D.C.’s docket – isn’t a bad way to spend it.
If you find yourself without that kind of time, here’s a blow by blow of some of the most interesting bits.
a New Jersey judge turned comedian, noted, “It really is an honor to be standing next to what could be the next President of the—.” He shuffled some papers on the lectern. “I’m sorry, these are the wrong notes. I’m doing a roast next week with Jeb Bush.”
More damning, though, and more relevant to this column, is Jeff Smith’s piece over at Politico – “Chris Christie is Toast.” (incidentally, Joy Behar makes the same bread-based observation about Christie in Lizza’s piece).
Recently, Lat suggested that it wouldn’t have been worth it for Zachary Warren to hire a lawyer early in the Dewey investigation. As Lat frames the question, “How much could a lawyer have helped?”
Now that we know a little more about the case — especially the identities of the Secret Seven — let’s think about whether Warren could have benefited from hiring counsel early. And, more generally, what benefit anyone gets who is in a white-collar investigation from hiring a lawyer early.
We know that Warren was concerned about money (as most folks are). The reasonable question is what Warren would get with the money he’d spend on a lawyer.
Of course, there are no certainties — hiring a lawyer in a white-collar case, like in most litigation matters, is a little like buying a lottery ticket. How much does your spend on counsel change the odds in your favor?
So, what are the odds that a good lawyer could have made a difference?
Here’s a sentence from a recent Seventh Circuit opinion:
[T]his case shows every sign of being an overzealous prosecution for a technical violation of a criminal regulatory statute — the kind of rigid and severe exercise of law-enforcement discretion that would make Inspector Javert proud.
This was a sentence from the dissent.
Amazingly, though, the majority voted to reverse the conviction. Judge Sykes, who authored the dissent, would have affirmed the conviction — though, presumably, not because she thinks a Javert-like prosecution is a model that the Department of Justice ought to aspire to.
The indictment of Zachary Warren is troubling for a lot of lawyers because, well, he seems like one of us. His post-Dewey path to a great law school, two cool clerkships, and an offer from a great law firm, is something we, as lawyers, can identify with.
What’s most frustrating about Zachary Warren’s situation is that it looks like he was charged largely because he decided to talk to law enforcement without hiring a lawyer first.
Most of us would like to think that, as lawyers, we’re smart enough to make the right legal moves if we’re in a place where we need to. Yet Warren talked to law enforcement, when most of us know that’s the wrong move (and, if you don’t know that’s the wrong move, there’s a short video on my firm’s webpage explaining how we look at it). What’s up with that?
As Lat mentioned earlier this week, there’s a dispute about what happened. Some of Warren’s friends say he was essentially duped about his status or the nature of the interview he participated in. The Manhattan D.A. has pushed back, through spokeswoman Erin Duggan Kramer: “The facts [in this New York Times piece] are incorrect. The claim that an attorney with a federal clerkship could have any misunderstanding of what it means to speak with and agree to meet with the D.A.’s office is preposterous.”
Kramer’s point makes seems intuitively compelling. Why would a smart lawyer talk?
For starters, there are the emails laid out by the SEC in its complaint, such as:
“I don’t see how we’ll get past the auditors another year.”
“I assume you [k]new this but just in case. Can you find another clueless auditor for next year?”
“I don’t know anything about [the contracts] and I don’t want to cook the books anymore. We need to stop doing that.”
“I don’t know. He’s starting to wig a little. Maybe he’s hearing and seeing too much . . . .”
Sadly for people and happily for prosecutors, regrettable emails are simply a fact of modern electronic life. Still, “I don’t want to cook the books anymore” has to be pretty high on the list of things that one is likely to regret putting in an email.
I pity lawyers licensed in Virginia, or at other states that require CLE credit. When they go to a conference, they have to actually go to the conference.
For the rest of us, a conference – especially the ABA’s white-collar criminal defense conference – drops much of the pretense of being an educational experience. It’s an odd thing. One would think that the point of going to a conference would be to learn about the law. Yet, sometimes that’s not the move.
I spent some wonderful years in my 20s living in New Orleans. During Mardi Gras, social obligation would require that I attend certain parties before and then after a parade, but they often started really early in the morning and ended very late at night. The entire week before Fat Tuesday became something of a Bataan Death March of merriment, which, when you’re in the middle of it, is not quite so merry after all.
Jiminy jillickers! ATL editors are going all over the place over the next month or so. Or at least all over the Eastern Seaboard. If we aren’t heading to your neck of the woods on these trips, never fear, we may hit you up on the next time around. We’ve already hit up Houston, Chicago, Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles in the past year.
Kinney Recruiting’sEvan Jowers is currently in Hong Kong for client meetings and still has a few slots available through October 22. Evan will also be in Hong Kong November 14 to December 15. Further, Robert Kinney has been in Frankfurt and Munich this week and is available for meetings with our Germany based readers.
One of our key law firm clients has referred us to one of their important clients in the US, Europe and China – a leading global technology supplier for the auto industry – in order to handle their search for a new Asia General Counsel and Asia Chief Compliance Officer.
Kinney is exclusively handling this in-house search.
This position will have a lot of responsibility and include supervision of eight attorneys underneath them in the Asia in-house team. The new hire will report directly to the global general counsel and global chief compliance officer, who is based in the US. The new hire’s ability to make judgement calls is going to be as important as their technical skill set background.
The position is based in Shanghai and will deal with the company’s operations all over Asia and also in India, including frequent acquisitions in the region.
It is expected that the new hire will come from a top US firm’s Shanghai, Beijing or Hong Kong offices, currently in a top flight corporate practice at the senior associate, counsel or partner level. Of course, the candidate can be currently in a relevant in-house role.
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