Criminal defense work at The Howard Law Firm usually involves serious felony charges in the state and federal courts. Firm attorneys have handled more than 100 jury trials and successfully represented criminal defendants charged with a wide range of criminal offenses, including murder, drug conspiracy, drug trafficking, rape, aggravated assault, Medicaid fraud, kidnapping, theft, extortion and armed robbery.
For example, James Howard represented a defendant in United States v. Rivera, et al., the longest federal drug conspiracy trial ever conducted in Georgia; his client was eventually acquitted of each drug charge after a six-month trial of 17 co-defendants. In 1999, The Howard Law Firm represented a physician in State of Georgia v. Watson and won a rare acquittal on charges of Medicaid fraud. In 2000, the firm successfully defended the lead defendant in United States v. Harriston, a federal racketeering and drug conspiracy trial. This defendant was acquitted of some charges at the trial; the remaining charges were ultimately dismissed after a successful appeal. In 2015, the firm successfully completed its defenses in a federal drug conspiracy and in a separate armed robbery trial despite incriminating DNA evidence and cell tower data.
In some criminal cases, the defense attorney must challenge the prosecution’s use of inadmissible evidence. For example, physical evidence seized in a search, a defendant’s statements, or a witness’ identification may be challenged if the evidence is improperly obtained. The “suppression” of such evidence may require careful legal research, a thorough investigation of the facts, effective cross-examination of witnesses, and persuasive argument to the presiding judge. The firm has successfully suppressed critical evidence in several federal and state courts.
Although the firm has won many criminal trials, it is also committed to negotiating fair sentences and the dismissal of unjustified criminal charges. A primary objective in the defense of any criminal case is to avoid the risk of going to trial. Unless a case is dismissed, the defendant must make the final decision on going to trial. However, the defense attorney must objectively evaluate the evidence and carefully advise the defendant in making this important decision. The defendant may have more favorable options if the defense attorney is able to effectively challenge questionable evidence and to negotiate a reasonable sentence.
The firm’s top priority is to avoid a formal prosecution of unjustified criminal charges. In the state courts, a preliminary hearing is intended to determine whether there is enough evidence, or “probable cause,” to “bind over” a case to the superior court for a felony indictment. The firm has a much better chance of obtaining an early dismissal or preparing a later defense if it is employed before a preliminary hearing. Felony cases may be prosecuted without a preliminary hearing or regardless of the outcome of that hearing. However, the development of the evidence at the preliminary hearing generally controls or influences whether the State will proceed with a formal prosecution.
An “indictment” is a formal criminal charge issued by a grand jury. Most felony prosecutions require a grand jury indictment, although some designated felonies may be prosecuted in the state courts with an “accusation” drafted by the prosecutor. After an indictment or accusation is filed, a defendant must appear for a plea and arraignment in a state court, a superior court or a federal district court.
The defendant should retain defense counsel by the time he appears for arraignment. At that point, the defendant is given a copy of the indictment or accusation; he must plead “guilty” or “not guilty”; and he must file pre-trial motions. The deadline for filing motions may be extended, but proper motions should be drafted and filed by an experienced criminal attorney.
The vast majority of criminal cases are resolved without a trial. The defense attorney’s role is simply to obtain the best possible outcome for his client. A trial is always a great risk, so the defense attorney must aggressively argue for a dismissal before trial if the evidence does not adequately support the criminal prosecution. The defense attorney may also seek a reduction of charges that are too severe. Even if a defendant has committed a crime, the penalty is negotiable and there are often alternatives to a permanent felony conviction or incarceration. The attorney must be fully aware of these alternatives to properly advocate for the most lenient sentence.
A defense attorney can never guarantee the outcome of a criminal case. Many factors are not within the defense attorney’s control, including the conduct and decisions of the judge, the prosecutor and prosecution witnesses. However, the defense attorney can and must control his own preparation and efforts to resolve the case. Thus, the outcome of a criminal prosecution may depend substantially on the quality of the defendant’s legal representation.