CRIMINAL DEFENDANTS ON TRIAL:
What You Must Know as a Defendant
Charged with a Crime
by Ira Still, Esquire
South Florida Criminal Defense Lawyer
In Trial: How to Relate to your Lawyer and Jury
You would like to come across well during the drama that
is being developed around you at trial. Some things that you should consider are to know how to relate
to your lawyer and the finder of fact, that ultimate audience, the Jury. The author, a seasoned criminal
defense lawyer, has culled from his vast experience to write this article as a guide in your understanding of how
to relate to your lawyer and jury during trial.
What to Do?
Your lawyer, in representing you, is actually speaking
for you during trial. As your case is presented, it is important for you to be supportive of his efforts
and aid him in any possible way. You need to be ready to discuss things at appropriate times and take
notes so that you remember your thoughts. Remember, you are the essential element in the
Your trial begins with a process called Voir Dire, the selection of the jury that will decide the
outcome of your case. Don’t think this is a boring time. Fight the urge to daydream.
Actually this process can be very exciting. Realize that out of the 20-30 people who are being questioned,
six will be selected as your Jury and one or two will sit as alternates. The process can take most of the first day of trial
and you need to watch and listen intently.
Your lawyer will ask questions to the prospective jurors to see if there might be bias on their part. He may
ask, “Just because a person is arrested by the police and charged with a crime by the State, could you still presume
he is innocent all the way through trial?” Many people will actually give the correct answer.
They might say, “The defendant is entitled to the presumption of innocence.” As he questions a
particular prospective juror, you may notice other jurors looking at you with contempt in their eyes.
Your lawyer could miss that because he is focused on his questioning. However, you see it.
When it comes time to discuss which jurors you want on your jury, your observations will help determine those you feel
you can trust.
The same is true during the prosecutor’s presentation of the State’s
case-in-chief. Witnesses will say things that you know are not true. At the appropriate
time, you can discuss what you have written on your note pad with your lawyer so that he can focus his cross-examination for
better success. Stay alert. Don’t miss a trick. Take notes.
the trial, the lawyers have side bar discussions with the Judge. Ask if you can take part at least to listen
to what is being discussed. It is your trial and often the Judge will make arrangements for you to take
part in sidebars.
Whenever the jurors enter or leave the courtroom during breaks or at the end of the day, stand
up and show them respect. They are there to decide the outcome of your case. It
is very helpful to have your family members present to show support for you. After all, this is a team
effort. You are part of the Defense Team.
What Not to Do?
It is important that you be aware of things that you should not do during your trial. Outlined below
are some essential Don'ts.
Don’t interrupt your lawyer during the progress of the trial.
Every time you tap him on the arm to listen to you, he misses what is being said by the prospective jurors during Voir
Dire or the witness during direct examination. To miss a crucial phrase might cost you a win.
Let the lawyer do his work. A huge part of “his work” is to have focused concentration
throughout the entire trial. This is where your note taking
is important so that you remember your thoughts at the appropriate time to tell your lawyer.
Don’t try to make contact with the jurors. When a witness
says something you don’t agree with and you make a face at the jury as if to say, “He’s lying!” it
will hurt you. They might think you are trying to unfairly persuade them and you will lose your credibility
with the Jury. If the Judge, the prosecutor or the bailiff observes that misbehavior, you will be verbally
chastised and may even be taken out of the courtroom for a portion of your trial.
Here is one example of a real case:
During Voir Dire on a case in Miami, the defendant decided to feign insanity. As Voir Dire began,
the Judge was addressing one prospective juror who happened to be a corporate lawyer. The defendant started
yelling, “I know who you are! You funna kill me! You funna kill me!”
The Judge had the jury panel exit the courtroom. That process took several minutes.
As the jurors shuffled past the counsel table they all peered at the defendant with disdain. He
kept on ranting and raving the whole time. Of course, the Judge removed him from the courtroom for the
remainder of the trial.
The particular juror, the corporate lawyer, had no experience with people like the defendant. He
was convinced that the defendant was saying “I’m going to kill you” as opposed to “You are going to
kill me by sending me to prison.” The juror feared for his life and for his family as well.
He was almost in tears trying to get off that jury immediately. The lawyers stipulated to strike
him from the jury. The trial resumed with no defendant in the chair at counsel table. He
was taken back to his cell. How do you think things went for the defendant at that trial?
Your Body Language is Under Review!
Understanding body language and how other people see and respond to it can help you present
your best possible demeanor during your trial.
The Jurors will often look across the courtroom
to observe your demeanor. The way you sit or slump in your seat, the way you stand, what you do with facial
grimacing or expressions, where you put your hands, and every aspect of your body language tells a story about you.
Jurors hear facts and testimony, but they are also observing these signs to determine what you are thinking and the
kind of person you are. If you have never considered Body Language before, learn about
it now and act it out positively during your time on the "stage" of trial. Here are some basic
principles of Body Language beginning with a general list of equalities:
Crossed means Closed.
If a person sits with their arms crossed, it means they are closed to receiving what you are trying to tell them.
They want you to stay away from them. Don’t pose with your arms crossed during trial.
If they are at your sides that means you are open and ready for the truth to come out. Don’t
cross your legs for the same reason.
Interested or Engaged. When you lean forward and alternate between taking notes
and listening to the speaker, it means you are interested in the testimony and the speaking during trial.
Fidgeting means Nervous, Inexperienced and Afraid.
Act deliberately and under control at all times during the trial. If the prosecutor during closing
argument steps over to counsel table, points her finger at you and says, “This is the guy who shot the girl in the back”
and you begin fidgeting, the Jury will see it as if you were failing a lie detector test right in front of their eyes.
Remain rock-solid at all times.
Fast, Uncoordinated and
Unnatural movements means Nervous and Inexperienced. Let the
prosecutor exhibit these traits; you stay solid and at a natural pace.
The jury observes the defendant throughout the entire trial, even
when he or she doesn’t realize they are looking. What they observe they translate into being your
story and your testimony.
In summary, prepare beforehand to take a passive-aggressive part during trial. Let your
lawyer do his work. Be helpful by taking notes. Be ready to discuss the progress of
the trial with your lawyer. Be aware of the body language of the jurors and witnesses and be very careful
of your own body language. You want the Jury to see and believe that you are not guilty. This
is the science of how to relate to your lawyer and jury.