The Criminal Defense of "John Smith"
Posted by: Trey Pettlon
September 12, 2010
Topic: War Stories and Inspiration
I read recently where Alan Dershowitz, an attorney I have tremendous respect for, wrote that he is never disappointed to find out that his clients have lied to him because he starts off not believing what they say. I understand his idea. If he does not accept his client's version of what happened, it helps him critically evaluate the evidence in a case and ultimately, if his client was telling the truth, it will help him defend his client. I have always chosen a different approach. I always try to accept what my clients say as true...and then I carefully evaluate the evidence just as Mr. Dershowitz does...as any good criminal defense lawyer should. I just fear that if I don't believe my clients, my skepticism may cause me to miss or even ignore some important piece of evidence.
This leads me to the Story of "John Smith" (A story that demonstrates the importance of working hard until the trial begins. Innocent people get charged with crimes.)
The police got a tip that a man named "Jim" was selling meth. They got his phone number and called to set up a drug sale in a recorded phone conversation. When they called for Jim, a man answered and said that Jimmy was not there. The man went on to say his name was "John". He asked what the undercover officer needed. When the officer said he was trying to get some meth, John advised him that he could get him some. They negotiated a sale, and John suggested they meet at a Quick Trip in 30 minutes. He said that he would be driving a U-Haul. After the call, officers hurried over to the Quick Trip and set up surveillance. Within minutes, a U-Haul pulled in, and the undercover officer met the man who identified himself as John and completed the purchase of methamphetamine. Officers did not arrest John, however, because they wanted to make some additional purchases and try to find out who John was getting his meth from. Afterwards however they couldn't get him on the phone again. Officers did catch a break though when they searched a database of known drug offenders. They found the booking photo of the man who sold them meth. He was a man named "John Smith" who was a known meth user who had a previous conviction for selling meth.
A felony charge was filed, and a warrant was issued. Almost a year later John Smith was arrested. When I met John, he had been in jail for several months. His sister hired me after he had lost his preliminary hearing and his case was set for a jury trial. I liked John. He had lived a troubled life which he freely admitted, but he was a very friendly person, and he somehow managed to maintain a terrific sense of humor. John insisted he was innocent this time. He said he didn't sell drugs to the officer and that it wasn't him on the phone during the recorded phone conversation. His situation was dire and to make matters worse, because John had a prior conviction for selling meth, if he was convicted this time he would have to serve around seven years in prison without parole.
I read the transcript of the preliminary hearing. The officer testified he was certain it was John in the Quick Trip parking lot that day. As much as I liked John, I found it very hard to believe him. Meth addicts are notorious liars. Still I hired a voice expert to tape John's voice on the phone and compare that with the recording of the phone call a year earlier. I received the expert's report less than a week before jury trial. The results were "inconclusive". It was no help. The jury trial was scheduled for Monday. Then on the Friday before jury trial, we got a break. My private investigator found "Jimmy", the man the officers were trying to call in the first place. He was in custody in western Kansas. The jail faxed me a copy of "Jimmy's" file with his booking room photo. Jimmy looked exactly like John...other than the fact that John was a little taller, the resemblance was uncanny. For the coup de grace...Jimmy had been arrested in a stolen U-Haul. John was telling the truth. He was innocent. On Monday morning, with a jury paneled assembled to hear the case, the prosecutor dismissed the case against John.
April 13, 2013
Sheriff Curry Press Release, April 1, 2013
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Paul Morrison - Press Release, December 17, 2008
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August 08, 2012
Election Of Judges in Johnson County
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Judge James Horton