Taking It On The Chin

At a recent gathering of graduates of the University of Miami School of Law, I spoke with Barry Wax, an excellent criminal defense attorney. I had not seen Barry in a long time and was very interested in what he had been doing for the last 14 years. During the course of our conversation, Barry suggested that I write an article regarding one of his favorite trial subjects: the credibility of attorneys before a jury. During the course of the evening, Barry fully developed his philosophy on trial credibility. His advice: “it is important for the trial attorney to take it on the chin.” What Barry meant was that trial attorneys must be honest with the jury and accept the evidence as it is. “Taking it on the chin” means not ignoring the damaging parts of your case. Rather than trying to explain away obviously negative evidence, it is best to accept that evidence, be accountable and honestly discuss the damaging evidence with the jury. You must always maintain your credibility with the jury. The moment the jury feels that they can not trust you, your case is lost. Barry’s advice to “take it on the chin” is among the best advice that anyone can give a trial lawyer. People are tired of hearing excuses and having responsible parties blame others. Once you establish credibility with a jury, it will be easier to convincingly persuade the jurors to listen to every aspect of your client’s case. The jury will accept the truth. This will prove more effective than a twisted, illogical explanation of what might have happened in the case in an attempt to distinguish the damaging parts of the case. Many are very critical of our jury system. Nevertheless, the jury is an impartial and neutral group. Jurors have no personal or political interest in the case that they judge. The jury is made up of persons from different jobs, professions and backgrounds who come together to resolve the problems of the parties in a particular lawsuit. Jurors deserve a fair and honest presentation of the evidence so that they may properly and fairly adjudicate the facts. We can help maintain the integrity of our judicial system while promoting the best interest of our clients by being honest, direct and credible before the jury. The next time that you are faced at trial with damaging evidence against your client, remember Barry’s advice and “take it on the chin” and then ask the jury to consider all of the other aspects of your case. If you maintain your credibility, your clients and the system will greatly benefit.