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When the Prosecutor Loses Their Case...

Sometimes, it's not so much the defense lawyer wins as the prosecutor loses their case.

For example, in an attempted murder trial in Richland County earlier this month, the case ended in a directed verdict of acquittal for the defendant because the prosecutors on the case failed to introduce any evidence that the man on trial was the same man accused of the crime.

Not only did they fail to identify the defendant as the alleged perpetrator, but they also failed to introduce any evidence of the location where the alleged crime happened - either of these alone is a fatal error for the prosecution.

The attempted murder charges were "dismissed" mid-trial, and he cannot be tried again because it would violate double jeopardy.

When the Prosecutor Loses Their Case

All a defense attorney can do is all he or she can do - they can investigate the case, look for defense-friendly witnesses, examine the evidence, retain experts to assist in the investigation and trial testimony, and fight to exclude key bits of evidence from the trial.

There are some trials, however, where the prosecutor is fated to win - if they don't screw it up that is. Even in what seems like a "slam dunk" case for the prosecutor, an acquittal can result when "the prosecutor loses their case" if the defense just suits up and shows up ready for trial...

I've seen trials where prosecutors:

  • Lost the jury with their tone, demeanor, or language;
  • Lost the jury by attacking witnesses who were sympathetic to jurors;
  • Forgot to enter key pieces of evidence;
  • Realized at the sentencing hearing that they forgot to serve the defendant with notice of life without parole; and
  • Forgot or didn't know to do the most basic requirements in any prosecution, like establishing jurisdiction or establishing the fact that the person on trial is the person who committed the crime...

Establishing Jurisdiction

From their first trial after law school until their 500th trial as a distinguished, elderly trial lawyer, every defense attorney knows to listen carefully to make sure that the prosecutor establishes jurisdiction at some point during their case.

Why? Even if your client confessed to killing a person and the incident is preserved on videotape that the jurors see during trial, if the prosecutor fails to establish jurisdiction, they will lose their case.

In the attempted murder trial I referenced above, the Fifth Circuit Solicitor's Office was prosecuting a man who was accused of trying to kill a woman by running her over in a truck:

Goodwin was accused of trying to kill a woman he was arguing with by running her over in his 2008 Chevrolet pickup truck after she got out. Then he drove off, according to a warrant in the case.

Although prosecutors said the crime happened "on Wilson Boulevard," they failed "to provide any evidence that the incident location alleged by the victim took place in Richland County." Surprise! There are "Wilson Boulevards" in many towns and cities in many states across the country...

Establishing that the alleged crime happened in the county where it is being tried is one of the most basic principles for a prosecutor - if they do not establish where the crime happened, the court does not have jurisdiction over that crime.

"There are two fundamental things the state has to prove - that the case was brought in the correct county, and that the person who has been charged is the one that is actually on trial," said Goodwin's attorney...

"Every lawyer and every judge listens for identification and jurisdiction - venue - is it in the right place?"

Another fundamental principle in a criminal trial is that the prosecutor must establish that the person on trial is the same person who is accused of the crime.

Identity of the Accused

We've all seen the dramatic moment in a courtroom drama where an alleged victim or other witness points to the defendant in the courtroom and says, "That's him!"

Although a melodramatic courtroom identification is not always necessary, it is necessary to prove that the person on trial is the person who committed the crime. Which is also something the Fifth Circuit Solicitor's Office failed to do:

But in an attempted murder case last week in Richland County, prosecutors rested their case after three days without doing that or putting any evidence at all before the jury that the defendant in the courtroom was the man accused of the crime.

Those omissions caused state Judge Robert Hood to dismiss all charges against Tyronne Goodwin. He cannot be tried again.

"The state failed to provide any evidence that Defendant, Mr. Tyronne Eugene Goodwin, was present in the courtroom," Hood wrote in an order. Neither did prosecutors put up any witnesses who testified that Goodwin committed the crime he was charged with, Hood wrote.

Two separate failures of the most basic principles in a criminal prosecution, both in the same trial, resulted in the dismissal of an attempted murder case. If the defense attorney wasn't paying careful attention, the case might have gone forward to a verdict.

Sometimes, it's not so much the defense lawyer wins as the prosecutor loses their case.

Got Axelrod?

If you have been charged with a crime and expect that your case will go to trial if it is not dismissed, it is critical that you get an experienced criminal defense trial lawyer on board as soon possible.

Call Axelrod and Associates now at (843) 916-9300 or send an email to talk with a Myrtle Beach, SC criminal defense attorney today.

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