Keeley Blanchard, Michigan Trial Lawyer and TLC Faculty member, and Jason Savela, Colorado Trial Lawyer, on TLC’s Winning Methods that helped win Freedom For Their Client!
|You two just had an amazing win! Jason, can you tell me about the case?
Sure. Back in January of 2015 there was a party at fraternity house in Boulder where a young woman met our client. The two flirted and ended up kissing fairly aggressively in a crowd of people before going to a more private location, a closet, in the house. The young woman said later that what happened then was against her consent. Our client argued that it was an extension of what had been happening in the hallway, only more private, and that it was completely consensual. At the end of that event, he left and she walked out into a room full of people she didn’t know, she felt used and angry, and she was drunk. A little while later she was crying and upset and told her friends she was not happy about what happened. So that is basically what happened that night but eventually the college got involved in the case. Their Office of Victim Advocacy contacted her and, as she said, it was the first time she had ever connected herself with the word “victim.” So the first time she ever thought she might be a victim was after talking with the Office of Victim Advocacy and they told her she had been sexually assaulted.
The college investigated but did not report it to the police for nearly a year. They threw our client out of school, he lost his friends, he was thrown out of his fraternity. He was living at home, working in a restaurant and he was very depressed. So he basically sent her a note saying, “Why did you lie and cause so much trouble in my life? I don’t understand.” This made her angry and she went to the police, which is when we got involved. It wasn’t until he contacted us that anyone challenged her story.
The prosecutor wanted him to have a felony sex crime on his record for the rest of his life, with a lengthy period of probation, and we were not interested in that so we started investigating the case more thoroughly to see what we could do to prepare for trial. One of the major things we did was build a replica of the closet where this happened.
|In order to help the jury understand that certain things the young woman said could not have happened, we had the closet built to scale and brought into the courtroom. It was an important piece of evidence because it showed that it was a small space, a pantry in the fraternity house kitchen. The door to the closet opened into the closet so getting in and out was difficult. According to the complainant, she was able to get out because our client had moved to a certain spot in the closet and then she was able to “escape.” But with the closet, we were able to show that was essentially impossible, that she could not get out of that closet unless he allowed her to. He physically had to move so if he didn’t want her to get out, she wasn’t getting out. That was a big piece of deciding consent.
Keeley, tell me about how you thought to build a closet and why you believed it would help win your case.
Well, what made the closet important is that we were able to convince the judge to let us get our client up off the stand and use TLC techniques to show the jury what happened, rather than simply telling them. And because we had this giant closet admitted as an exhibit, everybody was interested, including the judge, in seeing in what we were going to do with it. So it allowed us a little more freedom inside the courtroom to utilize the Trial Lawyers College techniques that sometimes we get push-back from judges on. One other important factor is that I did the direct examination and I think it was important for the jury to see a woman inside this closet with our client. I think we projected an image of someone very different than what the complainant described in her testimony. The jury was able to see what type of person he was, that he wasn’t aggressive and that he was really a sweet, gentle kid. I think being able to give that visual to the jury was very important.
Jason, was bringing new and interesting ways to tell the story part of what you and Keeley thought about when you were building your case?
Well, certainly we wanted the jury to be interested and to that point, we were already seeing some issues with attention based on the length of the trial. So when the jury walked in the next morning and saw the closet, their heads kind of popped back in surprise. It definitely got their attention. But we always want the jury to visualize things. We always want them to look at things in ways that help them to see the story the way that we would like them to see it. I think the closet helped us to show what our client had said all along, and literally what he said within a month of this event to the university investigators.
We just wanted to show, using whatever evidence we could find, that this was a consensual hookup with somebody who was upset with how she was treated afterwards. That was our story from the very beginning. Our story was told in opening and it was told through our client’s testimony. Those TLC methods we used got us the Not Guilty verdict for our client.
So Keeley, how did you convince the jury?
I think the biggest thing that we take away from using Trial Lawyers College methods is that you have to stay with your story. We very much believed our client’s version of the story was the truth and we had to always be telling his story, and not trying to answer the prosecutor. There were times during the trial that the prosecutor would try to bait us into making arguments. He had the complainant testify about the effects of the top she was wearing and the cleavage that was showing and to try to get us into a “well, she was asking for it because of how she was dressed” kind of argument. This, of course, was ludicrous but the prosecutor wanted us to be answering that story, rather than talking about the true story, that this was a consensual act and that she got upset later. So we tried very hard to continue to do that through all the evidence. We held firm on sticking with our story and not answering the prosecutor’s case. Because once you’re talking about their story, I think it’s a lot easier for the jury to go their way.
It was also important that we left room for the jury to have empathy for the complainant. I think the way the case was handled through the university encouraged her to exaggerate some things and I think she had a difficult time going through this process. The university investigator sort of pushed her into a story where she considered herself a victim, rather than the true story of what actually happened. And by working together on the methods and skills we had each learned at the Trial Lawyers College, we were able to collaborate and figure out how to tell this story to the jury in a way they could hear it and could understand.
What is your final takeaway about TLC and how it helped you win this case, Keeley?
I would say that whether it’s about winning a case or improving your skills, it’s not something that’s fixed in 3 weeks at the Trial Lawyers College or in a week in a Grad program. It’s a constant work in progress and it’s the reason Jason and I keep returning to TLC and why we continue to seek out people and local groups to work with on these methods. That’s why we continue to call each other and work with other people who understand this process. The hope is that I continue to get better, and better, and better. But it’s not a process that ever ends.
And Jason, your final thoughts?
I concur with all of that. The other thing I would say is that when I’m having trouble being in my TLC self, when I’m having trouble working on a case because my brain isn’t doing what I think it should, I get a podcast or email from TLC and I listen to it or read it and it might not be on the subject that I’m working on but by the end of it, I took a mental trip to the Ranch for a few minutes and it makes a big difference.
|About Keeley Blanchard:
Keeley D. Blanchard is a highly-rated Michigan criminal defense attorney who has been practicing with Blanchard Law since 2005. Keeley prides herself on providing the best representation to each and every one of her clients, focusing primarily on defending serious felonies including criminal sexual conduct, child pornography, child abuse and assaultive crimes. She is an active member of the Criminal Defense Attorneys of Michigan, including being a former member of the Board of Directors and a featured speaker at their annual training event and an instructor in their Evidence Boot Camp program. She is also a three-time graduate of the CDAM Trial College. Keeley is a graduate of the prestigious Trial Lawyers College and in 2016, joined its faculty team. She has also been recognized for her excellent work in the area of criminal defense, being named in Super Lawyers® Rising Stars in the area of criminal defense in 2011, 2012, 2014, 2015 and 2016.
|About Jason Savela:
Jason Savela attended the Gerry Spence Trial Lawyers’ College in July 2010 learning from and with the best trial lawyers in the nation. In his Boulder, CO practice, he uses the TLC method regularly with other Colorado TLC graduates. Jason represents individuals against the government and other powerful entities. For over 12 years, 50% of his practice has been defending those accused of driving under the influence and the remainder has been defending domestic violence cases, sexual assault, theft, drug possession/sales accusations and other felony and misdemeanor cases. Jason tries cases at all levels for Colorado state courts and Federal court.