Things We Wish Criminal Defense Attorneys Would Say

George Huguely’s first-degree murder trial began on 8 February in Charlottesville, VA. The defendant is charged with beating his ex-girlfriend, Yeardley Love, death in May 2010. At the University of Virginia, both the victim and the accused played lacrosse (this fact will become relevant in a moment, at least for the defence). This case, and others like it, seems as if it will come down to both sides not reading the law but using language. Checkout Criminal Defense Attorney for more info.

As the Virginia Commonwealth prosecutor called it a murder committed as part of a jealous rage, the defence argued that “she died in a horrific accident.” On the night of the murder, as Huguely took the victim’s computer and tossed it into a dumpster, he did so, the prosecutor claimed, to cover up the emails he had given her. The defence argued that Huguely’s way of trying to get Love to “reach out to him” the morning after their fight was to throw away her phone.

An e-mail he sent to Love on April 30th, 2010 before her murder said, “You said a week ago that if I started getting so drunk, you would get back together with me, and then you (they ‘re unfaithful) I should have killed you.”

The prosecutor claims Huguely got angry because she had a relationship with a University of North Carolina male lacrosse player. The defence attorney described what the Commonwealth attorney considered a threat to damage her as not a threat but a “innocent idiom.”

All right. So described thus, “I should have killed you” has the same semantic weight as, “I’m so hungry that I could eat a horse” or “I could kill for a cigarette right now”?

The prosecutor claims Huguely kicked in the door of Love ‘s bedroom and shook her so violently that she caused damage to her brain. His lawyer described it as having had a “physical contact” between the two. He said, “George never, never, never, never wanted to kill her.” In his opening speech, he told the jury that Huguely was incapable of a murder plot. “He’s not complicated, he’s not nuanced. He’s a lacrosse player.” (I wonder if Huguely, sitting next to his lawyer, suddenly thought, “Oh! Wait a minute! He ‘d just called me a dumb jock!”)

Huguely ‘s counsel advised the jury to believe his client guilty of accidental homicide (in view of this “tragic accident”) and not premeditated assassination.

Rice-potatoes, onions-tomatoes, murders-homicides. Having been a cop for more than a week, I realise the function for some members of the defence bar is to provide a vigorous and spirited argument on behalf of their clients, that either the law is wrong, the evidence is wrong, the police are wrong, the prosecution is wrong or the Constitution is wrong. “Everyone has the right to a good defence, their day in court,” or so we’ve been told for over a century.

But there are some defence lawyers I know about their clients who are both rational and honest because they are actually guilty of the crimes they have committed. It’s not about using different linguistic tricks with the jury to them, but about bringing the defendant into the system (mental health, punishment, or probation) in a manner that respects their rights but still doesn’t obstruct justice or dispute the obvious.

The jury is not being told in the Huguely case that the police arrested the wrong man, just that he didn’t mean to do what the prosecutor charged him with. So this is a deliberate case or is it just semantics.