It’s the type of thing that has journalists licking their lips — a jailhouse letter received from a high-profile defendant.
Yet, it’s the type of thing that makes a Jacksonville criminal defense attorney cringe. Defendants certainly have a right to do what they want, but they must also be smart about their situation and consider the years of experience their attorney has in giving them sound legal advice.
The court of public opinion can be a strong force, especially in heavily covered cases of murder in Jacksonville. Defendants often want to explain their side of the story. They see what is in newspapers and what is broadcast on television and don’t want friends and family to think badly of them.
But what they must consider is that what a jury thinks of them and their case is much more important. If they say something to a jail inmate while awaiting trial or to a friend or neighbor while out on bond, it can be used against them. And certainly writing a letter to the local newspaper can be potentially devastating.
This happened recently in the case of a Jacksonville mother whose 2-year-old was beaten to death, allegedly by his half-brother while she was at home. Police have charged the 12-year-old with first-degree murder, the youngest such defendant in Jacksonville history, and the mother with aggravated manslaughter of a child. Prosecutors believe her negligence led to the boy’s death.
Both she and her 12-year-old son are now in custody awaiting trial. The Florida Times-Union recently reported that the 25-year-old sent a letter to the newspaper. The letter is in response to stories the newspaper has written about the situation, in which police allege the woman put ice on the 2-year-old’s head and researched concussions while the boy was dying. She allegedly waited two hours to get him professional care.
In the letter, the woman said the Florida Department of Children & Families knew that the 12-year-old had been abused by his father, who killed himself in front of the family months earlier in Miami. Yet, they were put on a waiting list for therapy that never came. Her 4- and 6-year-old children have been put up for adoption.
It appears the letter doesn’t contain significant facts about the case, but rather the situation she finds herself in, sitting in a jail awaiting trial while her firstborn son does the same and she has no access to her other children.
But this can be a very dangerous situation for a defendant. Most in the public don’t recognize that anything said or written can be used as evidence by the state. They can tape jailhouse phone calls and play them to a jury or use another inmate’s testimony against the defendant. Prosecutors will go to extraordinary lengths to secure a conviction, especially in a case they know the entire city is following.
A defendant should follow the advice of their lawyer. Certainly there are times when going to the media can be to a client’s advantage.. But without your lawyer, don’t discuss your case in jail or even while awaiting trial if you are free on bail. It can come back to be used against you at trial.
The Forbess Law Firm has been aiding clients who face criminal charges in Jacksonville for more than a decade and is here to provide aggressive criminal defense to anyone accused of a crime. If you or a loved one require a Jacksonville criminal defense lawyer, contact our firm today. We are available through our website or by calling us at 904-634-0900.
More Blog Entries:
Jacksonville Mom Charged in Son’s Death May Be Able to Attend Funeral: September 9, 2011
Cristian Fernandez’s mom responds to T-U with letter, by Bridget Murphy, The Florida Times-Union