On the theory that a lawyer is only as good as his last verdict, I am not very good at all. A jury returned a verdict against my client this afternoon, convicting him of two counts relating to the sexual abuse of a child. That the jury acquitted on two related counts is no consolation. My client faces fives years behind bars at a minimum. He insists he is innocent.
A hard truth of criminal defense work is that we lawyers are not witnesses to the events that bring a case to trial. We are advocates. Hence, when a jury returns a verdict against our client it is a very personal rejection. The jury has listened to, and then rejected, the argument we made on behalf of a client.
But some cases cause me to scratch my head and wonder more than others. In the verdict returned today, my client, a man in his forties, was accused by an eight-year-old girl of having placed his hand down her pants and "tickled" her. When he was done, she claimed he smelled his fingers.
At least that was one version of her testimony. At trial, the girl, now ten, claimed the tickling took place in a different location, and that events wholly at odds with her prior statements had taken place. We were shocked by the difference in recollection and argued that all of her testimoney was unreliable. The state was reduced to arguing that all the jury had to do was believe any part of it, begging for an incoherent conviction. The jury forgave the inconsistencies, and did not credit my client's denial at all.
The terror of the case is that there were no other witnesses, no corroboration of the girl's claims. Nothing. Just the word of an eight-year-old living in a house characterized by the turmoil of a bitter divorce. This and this alone is sufficient to convict.
I tried a good case. I know I did. And there is nothing more I could have done for my client. But still the sense of failure weighs heavily on me. I look at this case and wonder whether I would ever consent to babysit an eight-year-old child, or otherwise be left alone with a child. And the answer is simple: I would want a witness. It is too easy for a child to see Santa one moment and wicked uncle Ernie the next. Jurors apparently feel obliged to take any utterance from the mouth of a babe and rely upon it.
So I failed my client. He was convicted. He proclaims still his innocence. But to six jurors and now a world of strangers who will never know him, he is a child molester. But I wonder, really, whether it should be so simple to reach these devastating judgments on such flimsy evidence. I wonder whether the truth was not crucified in this trial. I wonder, and I retreat into a place of silent recrimination as I prepare for the next such trial.
I am free today. My client is out on bond. The state can crow over a conviction. But somehow this seems less justice than casting darts. When the lone word of a child, inconsistent and uncorroborated in any respect is sufficient to convict, we are all potential victims.