Jeff Schwartz and Kirk Waible are both experienced trial lawyers in Fort Collins. Trial lawyers are attorneys who frequently appear in court, and have the knowledge and skill to present your case to a judge or a jury. The following sections are descriptions of the trial process in criminal cases.
Fort Collins trial attorneys, Jeff Schwartz and Kirk Waible, combined have defended people in approximately 100 criminal trials throughout Northern Colorado. This trial experience includes litigation on all levels of felonies and misdemeanors to include homicide, kidnapping, sexual assault, theft, drug possession and distribution, domestic violence and DUI. Both Fort Collins trial attorneys, Jeff and Kirk, have had extensive training and mentorship in all phases of the trial process.
Pleading Not Guilty
The trial process on a criminal case begins with entering a plea of not guilty. This decision is to be made by the client. The trial attorney cannot make this decision for the client. It is made only after considerable consultation with the attorney and review of the evidence and the legal issues involved with the charges. When a person enters a not guilty plea, the client is usually entering a not guilty plea to all the charges the state is bringing against them. Pleading not guilty triggers a defendant’s speedy trial rights. This means that after the court receives the not guilty plea, your trial must occur within six months from the date of the plea. In some situations, this right can be waived if a continuance is necessary to allow for more time to prepare your case.
Trial preparation is a team effort. It requires that the client be available to work with the trial attorney providing an accurate account of the client’s version of events and witness names as well as contact information. It is mandatory that the client provide a current address, phone number and/or e-mail address. Just as it is critical to give a doctor who is going to perform surgery on you have all the necessary information to prepare for a medical procedure, it is as important that the client make sure that the trial attorney has all the information he needs to prepare for court.
A motions hearing is held prior to the trial. Most cases, especially felony charges, involve some pre-trial litigation. Motions hearings can last an hour or even days depending on the complexity of the legal issues. A motion hearing is where the trial lawyer can challenge the admissibility of certain evidence because it was obtained in violation of the client’s constitutional rights. It is an opportunity to make the trial as fair as possible for the client and possibly weaken the prosecution’s case.
The first day of a jury trial starts with jury selection. If even just one of the charges against a client is a felony, the case will be heard in District Court and twelve jurors will be selected to hear the case. If all of the charges are misdemeanors, the trial will be held in County Court and the jury will consist of 6 people. Jeff Schwartz and Kirk Waible have both received extensive training on the law and subtleties of jury selection. A potential juror can be challenged for cause if the person exhibits a bias against either the defense or prosecution. Jury selection allows the trial attorney to ask a potential juror questions that could reveal this bias. In addition to challenges for cause, the trial lawyer and the prosecution or allowed a specified number of preemptory challenges to jurors based issues that may not be enough to strike the person for cause. The trial lawyer’s job in jury selection is to try to select a jury that will be open to the defense issues and not convict the client on prejudices or biases.
The burden of proof at a criminal trial is 100% on the prosecution. The burden on the prosecution is “beyond a reasonable doubt”. Beyond a reasonable doubt is the highest burden placed on a party in court because of the liberty interests at stake in a criminal trial. Since it is the prosecution’s job to try to meet this burden, the state must produce evidence to the jury to support the charges against the client. The primary vehicle for this evidence is witness testimony. A witness can be an average person who saw something happen, a person claiming to be a victim of the client’s actions, a police officer, or a qualified expert who has conducted a scientific test on the evidence. The most important constitutional right a client has while the prosecution is presenting their evidence to the jury is the right to confront witnesses. This means that the client has the right to be present in court when the witness testifies. More importantly, it gives the trial lawyer the opportunity to cross examine the state’s witnesses. Jeff Schwartz and Kirk Waible have cross examined hundreds of witnesses during trials and other hearings. It is the best chance to sow seeds of doubt in the jury members’ minds about the lack of credibility of the prosecution’s case.
The Defense Case
After the prosecution has finished presenting their evidence to the jury, the defense has the right to present evidence to the jury as well. There is no requirement that the defense present any evidence at all. This is because the burden of proof falls solely on the prosecutor. There is no burden for the defense to prove anything. However, it is common for the defense to present some evidence to impeach the credibility of the prosecution’s witnesses or to provide the jury with a different perspective on the case. If people who could be helpful to the defense case do not want to provide defense testimony, the trial lawyer can issue a subpoena to force the witness to come to court. The client has a very important choice to make during the defense case. That choice is to testify themselves or to remain silent. If the client testifies, the prosecutor will have a chance to cross examine him. If the client decides to remain silent, the Judge will instruct the jury that it is the defendant’s constitutional right to do so and that their silence cannot be used as evidence against them.
Closing Statements and Jury Deliberations
At the close of the evidence, the trial lawyer and the prosecutor can make a closing statement to the jury. This is usually the most dynamic part of the trial, because it gives the trial lawyer a chance to make an impassioned argument to the jury about the case. After the closing statements, the jury will meet in private and attempt to reach a decision, or verdict about whether the charges have been proven beyond a reasonable doubt. The jury must be unanimous about a verdict of guilty or not guilty regarding each charge. If the jury cannot reach a unanimous decision, the court can declare a mistrial and the case can be tried again.
Trials are a complex and challenging aspect of practicing criminal law. Jeff Schwartz and Kirk Waible are both experienced Fort Collins trial attorneys. Even if you are seeking a reasonable resolution of the charges against you through a plea bargain with the prosecution, it is essential that you retain a lawyer with trial experience at the felony and misdemeanor level.
Fort Collins trial attorneys, Schwartz & Waible, also serve the following locations throughout Colorado: Greeley, Loveland, Windsor, and Wellington.