What To Do If I’ve Been Wrongly Charged?Published: Feb 04, 2016, by in Criminal Defense, Legal Blog
When thinking about what to do if you’ve been wrongly charged with a crime, it can be helpful to think of Steven Avery. An ex-convict who had been released from prison after DNA testing showed that he had been wrongly convicted of sexual assault in 1985, Avery subsequently became a suspect in the 2005 murder case of Teresa Halbach. After a hotly contested trial, he got convicted again—this time for life.
Many people know about the case of Steven Avery because of the Netflix show that portrayed the investigation and trial, raising serious doubts as to whether he was actually guilty of murder. This focus on the suspect’s guilt or innocence makes for good television, but in the context of a criminal trial, the suspect’s guilt is an issue of secondary importance. As evidenced by Avery’s prior conviction (where he was certainly innocent), a suspect’s actual guilt or innocence has little to do with whether he or she will end up in jail after a trial.
The most important issue in a trial is what evidence the prosecution can legally use to support their case. The defense lawyer’s job is to keep that evidence from becoming part of the prosecution’s case, and if that fails, to demonstrate that such evidence does not prove the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Suspects—whether guilty or innocent—will greatly enhance their prospects for obtaining an acquittal by exercising their right to remain silent from the moment they are arrested. Talking about the case in public or to the police can prove disastrous—as it did for Steven Avery.
The Basic Facts of the Murder of Teresa Halbach
Teresa Halbach, a 25-year-old photographer, disappeared on the afternoon of Halloween 2005. She was last seen with Steven Avery outside of his trailer on the 40-acre Avery family property in Manitowoc County, Wisconsin. Five days later, Halbach’s cousin—allegedly acting on divine intuition—found the victim’s vehicle hidden in the Avery Auto Salvage yard. Later, Halbach’s bones and traces of her DNA were found in several areas of the Avery compound.
Halbach often visited the salvage yard to photograph vehicles that Avery was selling on Auto Trader magazine. On that fateful Halloween of 2005, Avery had called Halbach several times—using a fake name—to ask her to come over and photograph a vehicle. On November 9, 2005, Avery was arrested for being a felon in possession of a firearm—a charge the authorities said was unrelated to the Halbach investigation. Nonetheless, Avery was charged with Halbach’s murder six days later.
Steven Avery Acted Against his Lawyers’ Advice
Steven Avery was a free man between the day Halbach’s body parts were found in the salvage yard and the day he got arrested on unrelated weapons charges. During this time, Avery’s attorneys advised him to remain silent about the Halbach murder investigation. Ignoring this sound legal advice, Avery spoke openly about the investigation, widely proclaiming his innocence and expressing fear that the police were trying to plant evidence against him.
Obviously, the authorities were not convinced by Avery’s conspiracy theory. Instead, they carefully gathered (or planted, depending on whom you believe) evidence against their suspect and indicted him once they felt sure they could prove his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. There is no plausible scenario in which Avery’s proclamations about the case could have helped him. In fact, it is likely that Avery’s statements gave the investigators helpful information about how to build their case against him.
As United States Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson famously stated: “Any lawyer worth his salt will tell the suspect in no uncertain terms to make no statement to the police under any circumstances.” His statement holds true today: never talk to the police or investigators if you are suspected of a crime, even if you are innocent. Call a lawyer instead. Chicago criminal defense attorney Michael O’Meara of O’Meara Law LLC is ready to take your call today at 312-909-0706 and give you a confidential consultation of your case—free of charge.