So many times my clients ask me if having a friend, family or community member write a letter on their behalf will help their case. Sometimes it will, sometimes it won't. ...But in those cases where a defendant could really benefit from having the DA (while we're in plea bargain negotiations,) or the judge get a glimpse into who "they really are," there are a few things the writer can do to ensure that their letter of support is as effective as possible.
First, understand why the letter matters. Your defense attorney is hoping to use the reference letter demonstrate that their client is a respectful person who leads a full life outside the criminal justice system. The purpose of this letter is NOT to argue that the defendant is innocent.
Second, give the reader a reason to believe that the writer actually does know the defendant is a person worthy of leniency. To do this, the writer needs to explain how he or she knows the defendant, including the context and length of their relationship, and that the writer knows the extent of the legal woes the defendant is facing.
Third, don't just tell the reader that the defendant really is a good person, show them. Give specific examples of things the defendant has done that prove to you that the defendant is a worthy person. tell a story.
Fourth, provide a way for the reader to reach out to the writer, if need be. Although the reader will seldom ever follow up, by providing a full name, and phone number or email address, the writer is not only demonstrating that their commitment to the defendant goes beyond writing a quick letter, it also sends the message that the writer is who they say they are.
Fifth, in almost all cases, keep the letter to less than one page. Judges and DA's are busy people and they may not take the time to read or really consider the contents of a longer letter. Further, by keeping the letter short, it will help the writer keep their focus concise.
Sixth, close the letter by thanking the reader for their time.
The following story was cut and pasted from Attorney John T. Floyd's website:
"On the first day of the trial, Judge Gallagher asked [Defendant Terry Lee] Morris to enter a plea, but Morris wanted to make a defense first. Gallagher warned Morris that he would be removed or shocked if he didn’t comply.
When Morris continued to ignore the warning, Gallagher ordered the bailiff to shock him. After the first shock, Morris said he had a history of mental disorders when Gallagher asked if he would cooperate with the proceedings. The judge then ordered ta second shock.
After the second shock, Morris said he was being tortured. Judge Gallagher responded to this charge by ordering a third shock. At that point, Morris was taken from the courtroom. A conviction and sentence was handed down without his presence.
According to the ruling by the Texas Court of Appeals, shocks of 50,000 volts can impair a defendant’s cognitive abilities. The court ruled that Morris was shocked for punishment, not as a method of containment, which was a violation of his rights. The Court had no choice but to overturn the conviction.
For anyone who cares about rights and freedoms, this is a great thing. No one should have to be subjected to what is essentially torture – especially when they have not even been proven guilty of the crime they’ve been accused of. What does this mean for Mr. Morris? Well, he’s currently serving time in a Huntsville facility for a 1992 conviction for causing a child to experience bodily injury. On top of that, he will be retried for his 2014 charge."
Misconception #1: You can't be charged with a DUI if you haven’t had anything to drink
When most of us think of about being "DUI," we think of alcohol. However, it is also a crime to drive a vehicle under the influence of any drug (be it illegal, prescription, over-the-counter or a combination of prescription and illicit drugs,) that impairs your ability to safety operate that vehicle. it’s also a crime to drive a vehicle when you are not normal, mentally or physically, due to drugs in your system, regardless of whether they are .
Misconception #2: If you're under the influence of alcohol, you can avoid getting a DUI by riding your bike ...or a horse ...or a golf cart ...or a boat
California punishes the act of being under the influence while operating any of those modes of transport.
Misconception #3: You can just "feel" whether you're over the legal limit or not
I hear this one all the time from clients: "I thought I was okay to drive." The reality is that the studies have shown that we are all poor judges of our own level of intoxication. While you may have a good tolerance for alcohol, meaning that your performance may not be as affected as a person with a lower tolerance, you can still be prosecuted for a DUI based on your blood alcohol level.
Misconception #4: You have to take the Field Sobriety Tests (FSTs)
The law does not require you to take these tests, and in fact, most attorneys will tell their clients NOT to take them. Why? Because the tests can be difficult for ever a sober person to perform, and when you're under the added stress of being stopped by law enforcement, the chances of doing well is small. These FSTs include taking a breath test before you are placed under arrest. That said, here in California, must take a chemical test after arrest or your driver's line will be suspended for a year.
Misconception #5: (On that same note) you have to answer the officers questions
With the exception of identifying yourself, and providing your license, registration and proof of insurance, you do NOT have to answer any of the officer's questions. Why? Because you have the right against self-incrimination. So what should you say then? Any of the following will work:
Misconception #6: If you refuse to give a chemical sample, the police will not be able to determine what your BAC is, and therefore you cannot be convicted of a DUI
While you have the right to refuse to give a chemical sample (but be forewarned, the DMV will suspend your license for a year if you had been lawfully arrested at the time of your refusal,) if you are arrested for a DUI the police can and will apply for a warrant to take your blood. If they can make a case to the judge on-call that there is probable cause to suspect you of a DUI, the judge will grant the warrant, and your blood will be (forcibly, if need be,) collected.
Misconception #7: A driver has no way to check the validity of the test results
If you are arrested for a DUI, you will have the choice between a breath or blood sample, and the officer is required to inform you that if you choose the breath test, a sample of your breath will not be preserved for retesting. However, if you choose to have a blood test, your attorney can arrange to have the blood retested. Your attorney can also request the accuracy and maintenance records of whatever device tested your breath/blood so that we can make sure the testing device was working properly.
Misconception #8: Because the officer didn't read you your Miranda rights, you can't be arrested
The Miranda decision only protects defendants from their post-arrest statements being used against them. Two conclusions can be drawn from this. First, Miranda is not required to be read when you are simply pulled over and the officer is conducting his investigation. Second, as long as there is other evidence of your DUI offense (bad driving, chemical test results, FST results, etc.) you can be successfully prosecuted for a DUI.
Misconception #9: Your driver's license will not be suspended until after you've been convicted
In California, you have only 10 days after an arrest for a DUI to notify he DMV that you want a hearing to determine if the DMV can suspend your license; if you fail to contact them before that deadline, the DMV will suspend your license automatically. Worse, if you are later convicted of the DUI, the court will restart the suspension period.
Misconception #10: If you are ordered to install an Ignition Interlock Device (IID) on your vehicle after a DUI, you can get around this requirement by driving someone else's car.
In California, if you are ordered to install and maintain an IID, you cannot operate ANY vehicle that does not have one.
Devina strives to make information relevant to the lives of her clients easily accessible.