The Answer Guy Online

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Wednesday, October 22, 2003

It is said that the lawyer who represents himself at trial has a fool for a client. And John Allan Muhammad isn't even a lawyer.

Well, looks like John Allan Muhammad isn't going to be his own attorney after all.

I don't think it's going to be enough to save him, mind you; I still strongly suspect that Muhammad is going to be convicted, sentenced to death, and executed, only in part because he can't undo whatever damage he did to himself over those two days.

And as bad an idea as representing oneself in a trial like this one might normally be, it's even worse in this case. Virginia is among the strictest states in the union from a procedural standpoint - it's hard to correct mistakes made at trial. Reversible error is hard to come by, and there are all sorts of timeliness requirements that kick in. If you don't object to a question, a remark, or anything at the moment it is made, you generally lose your chance to do so for all time. Someone not trained in the procedure of Virginia criminal law going up against a prosecutor's office, in a jurisdiction where the deck is already stacked heavily in favor of prosecutors, is a terrible idea.

Not to mention that the circumstantial evidence appears strong (from the perspective of someone who isn't privy to everything a jury in this case might be privy to) in his case, even if there weren't eyewitnesses.

But that's also the attorney's bias showing. The main reason that lawyers - even those who don't deal with criminal law - aren't usually seated on juries is that defense counsel knows the dirty little secret of trial by jury: that most criminal defendants are in fact guilty - at least of something criminal, even if they happen not to be guilty of whatever it is they are being tried for. Most fellow attorneys are in on it.


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