I Have A New Question On My Intake Form

Circuit Court Workhorse


Circuit Courts fly into a community, dispense justice and fly out.  Criminal lawyers who do circuit work face serious challenges in making sure that their clients get proper assistance.  Time pressures sometimes make for client meetings that are rushed and it is always important to record as much detail about the client for my own purposes and for the lawyer who may next have the file.  I am not the only lawyer to use an intake form to make sure I cover all the bases.


Wally and Stevie claimed that Billy kicked in their door and struck both of them with a stick from a tree. Stevie ended up with a head injury that required 5 stitches to close. Wally and Stevie both gave statements to police; they said that they kicked Billy out of their house for being drunk and obnoxious following which he returned, kicked in the door and then hit Stevie with a stick.  When he went to Stevie’s assistance, Wally got hit with the same stick.


My client is Billy.  He has no phone so I could not speak to him before I flew into the community to defend him at the trial scheduled to take place during the two-day circuit.


On Day 1, before Court, I chatted with Billy and it was immediately obvious that Billy is challenged.  I suggested (pretty strongly) to Billy that he should think about a guilty plea with the two witnesses present and waiting to testify that he had struck them with a stick.  We spoke a couple of times during the day about what happened (and what was going to happen at trial) during the first day Court was in town.


From our conversations, I gleaned the following: He insisted that he was not drunk, just a bit high and, although he wasn’t too sure about what else happened, he was sure that he had not hit Stevie or Wally with a stick.  He didn’t know why they would be lying about him.


His trial was scheduled to take place on Day 2.


On Day 2, as part of an attempt to get Billy to do (what I thought was) the right thing I asked him who the judge would believe if both witnesses said that he hit them with a stick. He agreed that the judge would believe the witnesses.


ME: So if both Stevie and Wally say you hit them with a stick, isn’t the judge going to believe them?

HIM: Stevie told me that Richard hit him with the stick.

ME: Ok let’s talk to Stevie.


I find Stevie and Billy and I talk to him together; sure enough Stevie says that he remembers that it was Richard that hit him with the stick.  I get the Crown and tell him that Stevie is going to say it was Richard.  Together, the Crown and I confirm that Stevie is certain it was Richard.


I then go and find Wally and the Crown and I speak to him; Wally is certain that it was Billy who hit both of them with the stick.


At this point I figure maybe we have a shot at an acquittal. It sounds as though Stevie is maybe just more intoxicated than Wally, but two different accounts of who did what, may raise a reasonable doubt.


Coincidentally, Richard happens to come to court with his girlfriend (who had just been arrested by police on a witness warrant).


During lunch, the Crown tells me that he asked Richard whether he had hit either of Stevie or Wally with a stick and he said no.  The Crown says that he is going to call Richard to testify that it was not him with the stick.  He is going to suggest to the Court that it was Billy who hit both of Stevie and Wally.  I say don’t worry about getting a statement Richard; I didn’t need any more disclosure than that.


I now figure that this a loser but Billy wants a trial and I am not going to continue to try and talk him out of it.


The Trial starts:


Wally testifies, as expected, that it was Billy who was hitting them with the stick.


Stevie testifies, as expected, that it was Richard who hitting them with the stick. The Crown could have maybe cross-examined Stevie on his statement to police (that it was Billy), but it Stevie also has some limitations and it seems obvious that this would be an unproductive exercise.


Then to close the door and bolster Wally’s evidence, the Crown calls Richard:


CROWN: Were you at Stevie and Wally’s that night?


CROWN: Did you hit either of them with a stick?


CROWN: Did you see Billy there?

RICHARD: Yah he was calling for help so I ran into Stevie and Wally’s. They had him on the floor.  I pushed them off of him and then Stevie came after us with an axe so we took off.


The Crown is stunned by this turn of events (as was I).  Not surprisingly, I did not cross-examine this witness.  He had already done lots to damage the Crown’s case.


The Crown asks for a quick break (to figure out if anything could be resurrected from what has become a stinker for the Crown).


I ask Billy about the axe and it seems that’s what happened:


ME: Why didn’t you tell me about Richard and Stevie’s axe? 

HIM: You didn’t ask me.


Court resumes; the Crown concedes there is no case; the charges are dismissed.


That new question on my intake form – “Did anyone have an axe?”