A few years back, I was defending someone for failure to register as a sex offender. My client was required to registered because he had been convicted of a very nasty horrible disgusting tragic kind of rape. But, as far as his offense for "failure to register," he had a good defense, and I was thinking quite seriously about taking the case to trial.
I was concerned, though, that jurors, particularly women jurors, might have a hard time getting past the idea that my client was a "convicted sex offender. " I felt confident that the facts of that underlying rape case would never come out at trial, but I still worried that maybe jurors would have a difficult time acquitting a convicted sex offender, no matter what the circumstance.
While I was prepping the case, I was out to dinner with a few friends, who happened to be women of a very varied demographic - older, younger, mothers, married, single. Someone asked about how work was going, and I mentioned that I was working on this "failure to register as a sex offender" case. Right away, one of the women said that she didn't think it was such a big deal that my client was a sex offender. She said, "He could've just turned 18 before his high school girlfriend or something." And all of the other women agreed.
I thought to myself, "Wow, I really underestimated my jury pool." And, truthfully, they underestimated my client.
The case never went to trial, but that principle, that I don't always know exactly what regular people might think about a case, has stayed with me. That's one of the reasons that I often talk about my cases (generally, of course) with non-lawyer friends and family.
One of the things that we (criminal defense lawyers) talk about a lot is what "a case is worth." This is kind of the magical formula of taking the seriousness of the charge, together with the nature of the evidence (do they have you on tape or do they only have the word of a crackhead?), along with a person's criminal record or lack thereof, to determine whether a case is a good case for trial or what a fair plea would be.
It often surprises me what non-lawyer friends think a case is worth. Sometimes I'll tell a story, that ends with, "...and now he's doing 5 years" and people will react with shock and say, "You get 5 years for doing that???" Other times, I'll tell a story, and at the end people will say, "I bet he went to jail for a long time!" and I'll have to say, "No, he just did a one day anger management class."
This happens sometimes with clients too. I've had clients arrested for the first time, charged with something simple like shoplifting who will say, "I'm not going to prison, am I?" (Ummm, no, you're not. You can thank my amazing lawyering abilities.) And sometimes I'll have a jerk of a client, arrested for the 10,000th time, who will say, "Jail? Jail? It's not like I murdered someone!" (True, but no one ever said that you can only go to jail for murder, did they?)
All of this leads me to...
I wonder what you, my blog readers, think a case is worth.
I'll start with a fairly uncomplicated example. Here's the facts: 45 year old man, never arrested for anything, at all, in his life. He is happily married, has two beautiful children, a good solid, but not overly lucrative, job.
He did exactly what you see on Dateline. He chatted online with what he believed to be a "13 year old girl." The subject matter of the chats was very explicit, and he sent explicit photographs of himself to her. After a number of chats, he set up a time to meet the girl. He brought condoms and lubricant. He was arrested by police at the meeting place.
If you're a not a lawyer... What do you think would happen if he was completely cooperative with the police and wanted to plead guilty? What sentence do you think he would be likely to get? And, what sentence do you think would be fair? You can leave your comment below.
UPDATE: Lawyers are now invited to tell what they think this case is worth here (The Lawyers' Turn). I'd like to hear from the lawyers... What do you think the charges/sentence would be in your jurisdiction? I think it might also be interesting to see how this might vary across the country.
Non-lawyers, you might still like to read the "guesses" below (and leave your own guess, or thoughts, or whatever), before you go read the "answers" from the lawyers.