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Sometimes A Guilty Verdict Is a Win (At Least That Is What I Tell Myself)

Jamison KoehlerFirearms/Weapons, Law Practice, Trial Advocacy


Although Virginia juries have a reputation for being unforgiving, I have also been told that juries in Prince William County can be pretty unpredictable.

Going into trial yesterday, my client was facing a mandatory 5-year sentence for being a violent felon in possession of a firearm.  During execution of a search warrant at his home, police had recovered a firearm at his home.  The government also had my client’s sworn testimony that he put the firearm there.

The jury acquitted my client of being a violent felon in possession of a firearm but convicted him of the lesser-included charge of being a simple felon, a surprising development considering we had not challenged his previous convictions. They apparently decided that he was guilty but not that guilty.

My client’s acquittal as a violent felon eliminated the five-year mandatory and since his other felony was outside the 10-year-timeframe, the two-year mandatory was also gone. The jury then sentenced my client to twelve months, the judge reduced this to time-served, and my client walked out of the courtroom yesterday a free man.

The prosecution called eight witnesses to testify to things we conceded in our opening statement.  (We challenged the “knowing and intentional” part of the possession, not the possession itself.)  Of these eight witnesses, we asked a grand total of two questions on cross-examination.  I tell you, there is no better thing than that ability to say:  “No questions, Your Honor.”

But my favorite part of the trial – if you will indulge me yet again– came when, during his closing statement, the prosecutor forgot to include the “knowing and intentional” language from the statute when reviewing the law.  It was like he couldn’t bring himself to actually utter the words. After I made a big deal about this during my closing, the prosecutor got up for his rebuttal . . . and then referred to “knowing and intelligent” possession.

Yes, an outright acquittal would have been far better for my lawyer’s ego. Two other lawyers recently got my client acquitted on other charges. Referring to ourselves as his crack legal team, the three of us have gotten to be good friends, with all three of us attending each other’s trials for moral support, and I wanted to join that exclusive club of lawyers who have beaten cases on his behalf.

But today, as I clean up the papers that have sat on my office floor for the last six months, I decide I will have to settle for what we got.  I think of my client’s 10-year-old nephew who walked up to me in the hallway during the jury’s deliberations.  It was very important for him to know which car his uncle would drive home in – his mother’s or his sister’s – if the jury decided to let him go.  I guess we lawyers are supposed to know these things.