Everyone has the right to an impartial and fair trial. But how easy is it to achieve? After all, there are two sides to every story, and no one but those who were involved might know the truth; but there are certain factors that may keep you from getting the fair trial that you deserve. If your past is a little on the murky side, and it’s in the public eye, that might sway the opinions of those around you or even those who live in your same town or state. While hearsay and gossip are never proof or evidence, it certainly affects the opinions of those who might serve in the jury that judges whether you’re innocent or guilty.
An example of this is taking place in Lexington Park, Maryland, where Wayne Key has been arrested and charged with the murder of his ex-girlfriend, Martina Patterson, and their six-year-old daughter, reports WUSA News. Their bodies were discovered buried in a shallow grave near their property. It was by no means a stable or healthy relationship, as Key had been known to make threats to his ex-girlfriend in the past when they’d been in a relationship. Patterson had also previously reported Key to officials for harassment, burglary, and assault. “Maryland court records revealed Key was the defendant in two separate domestic violence cases in St. Mary’s and Calvert counties in the last two years.”
“She saw it coming,” Lanelle Wald, Patterson’s sister-in-law and best friend of 20 years, told WUSA. “She said that he would make threats, so every time we would talk, she would say she wanted me and her husband to take care of her kids.”
Lexington Park is a close-knit community and as Wald’s comments suggest, Key’s previous criminal behaviors are likely well-known. Could these follow him to his trial?
What is the Sixth Amendment?
The Sixth Amendment states:
In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.
It’s everyone’s right to have a fair trial if arrested and charged with a crime. It appears Key will not be receiving any such trial in the near future, which means he may have to wait in jail for the talk surrounding his case to die down. It’s not fair to anyone involved in the trial, but it’s what often happens when a defendant is well-known.
So, what does that mean?
Well, it means that Key’s lawyer is probably gonna request a change of venue, first off. They’d be foolish not to. A change of venue just means moving a trial to someplace else – usually another country – where the jury pool may be less likely to have heard of Key and the case being made against him in the court of public opinion.
Now, a case like this? Where there’s a lot of coverage? You’d think it wouldn’t matter, right? And sometimes it doesn’t – but it’s the first step at getting a client a fair shot.
From there, it’s all about jury selection. The process can be brutal, but both sides get a chance to strike jurors from the pool. So, like, the guy who comes in wearing a tee shirt with the victim’s face on it? Strike him. The woman whose ex used to abuse her on a regular basis? She’s out, too. You only get a set number of chances to drop jurors, and you have to have a good reason to use those strikes, but they do help keep things fair.
After that? It’s up to the lawyer.
What happens if I am convicted at trial?
Sometimes, there’s no avoiding hearsay. Perhaps what you said or did in the past is so well-known that it doesn’t die down, and your fair trial ends up a little less than fair. It stinks, but it happens.
Welcome to the appeals process. You can appeal an outcome just because you’re unhappy with the outcome, but there are rules. So using this case as an example, maybe you appeal because the lack of impartiality by the jury made it impossible to get a fair trial. You’d argue in your petition that this was a material error in the trial. Or, if the appeals don’t go your way and you end up moving up the ranks of the courts, you have one last safeguard: the writ of habeas corpus, which argues that your Constitutional rights were violated.
You should know that an appeal isn’t a new trial – not the way you might think. Usually, you can’t introduce new evidence or call new witnesses. If you’re lucky, a court will read the brief you submit and make a decision. If not, you may need to go back to trial. The American Bar Association explains it this way:
If the appeals court affirms the lower court’s judgment, the case ends, unless the losing party appeals to a higher court. The lower court decision also stands if the appeals court simply dismisses the appeal (usually for reasons of jurisdiction).
If the judgment is reversed, the appellate court will usually send the case back to a lower court (remand it) and order the trial court to take further action. It may order that
- a new trial be held,
- the trial court’s judgment be modified or corrected,
- the trial court reconsider the facts, take additional evidence, or consider the case in light of a recent decision by the appellate court.
Why defense lawyers are always telling clients to keep their mouths shut
We can’t always keep our reputation to our community as clean as we’d like to; but once arrested, we have the very important right to remain silent. Anything you say while in custody, even if you have not officially been arrested, is no longer simply hearsay or something you said and didn’t mean.
The police are looking for any and every reason to convict you of the crime you are charged with, so even if you say something you don’t mean or weren’t thinking through, can be used against you in court. If you are arrested, stay quiet until you can talk to your lawyer. Innocent or not, the police cannot use hearsay against you, but they can use what you say. So be like Thumper: if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.
The United States has many laws to try and keep our legal and judicial system fair and balanced. Everyone is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. The only problem with that is that sometimes, the peers who are the jury for your crime may not always be impartial, whether they realize it or not. They watch the news, listen to the radio, or simply chat at the water cooler, and everything they hear can influence their opinion. So it’s important to present yourself in the best light possible if you’re arrested. Contact Drew Cochran, Attorney at Law, at 410-271-1892 to schedule an appointment. Feel free to use our contact page as well.
And remember – Keep Calm, and Call Drew.