Aida Spahic, TLC ’10 Grad – May 3, 2012

On April 27, 2012 I went to trial for a client accused of domestic violence and larceny.  Specifically, he was accused of choking his ex-girlfriend, with whom he has a child, for 15-20 seconds, picking her up by the throat, and throwing her to the ground, as well as stealing her phone so that she could not contact the police.  This incident allegedly happened at a gas station as my client was dropping his daughter off to his ex-girlfriend, the accuser.  From day one, my client denied that he did any of this to the accuser.
This was my first solo jury trial and boy, was I nervous.  I have been practicing law for three years now and have done several trials with my boss and mentor, Daniel Ambrose, and other colleagues; however, never by myself.  I was mortified.  I wanted a safety net; someone there in the courtroom, even a law clerk or an intern…just someone…anyone… to sit at the table next to me, to make sure I don’t somehow destroy my own case.  Dan was unavailable as he was out of town.  I tried my best not to show him that I was beyond mortified but I am pretty sure he noticed it.  What made it even more nerve-wrecking was that the client was a friend from high school.  I have known him for 15 years now and am very close with his family.  His mother and his stepfather were present at the courtroom, only adding to the pressure I was already feeling. 

There was no physical evidence or any type of injuries to corroborate the accuser’s story; however, there was an independent witness.  On top of that, the judge allowed, over my objections, testimony regarding my clients’ two prior alleged domestic violence incidents, involving the same accuser.  This did not look good, even if they were all false accusations.  The jury trial was definitely a battle!  Even before trial started, a decision was made not to put my client on the stand.  Since he was not taking the stand, I had to make sure the jury loved me.  If they loved me, they would love my client and believe that he truly was innocent.

Trying to get the jury to love me started with voir dire.  Jury selection was on April 13, 2012, two weeks prior to trial.  I had to do well so that the jury members did not forget about my client two weeks later.  Throughout voir dire, I just kept thinking “build a tribe” and get the jury members to open up.  As Mr. Spence, another mentor of mine always says, “you have to show them yours, before they will show you theirs.”  I tried to do that as much as I could.  A couple of people who were sitting in the jury pool inside the courtroom, but not picked to be on MY jury, came up to me and said “good luck.”  I figured this was a good sign.  If they hadn’t liked me, they wouldn’t have wished me good luck.  And if I had built good rapport with them, then I must have built good rapport with the people picked to be on the jury.  I left the courtroom that day feeling pretty darn good!  However, I knew that the battle has only begun.

My biggest hurdle to overcome in this trial was trying to figure out why the accuser would make up so many lies.  Why lie? Why try to make my client a criminal? I mean, she gets child support from him and he actually wants to see the child, so why ruin that?  I knew the jury would want answers to these questions.  In order to give them those answers, I had to get inside her head.  And that was the most difficult thing for me to do.  I couldn’t do my opening statement without these answers.  There was no theory to my case without these answers.  I was stuck for a while.  I didn’t know what to do.

Finally, through my discussions with Dan, I realized that I had to reverse roles with her.  As TLC teaches us, it is all about reversing roles.  I became her.  I became the accuser.  I knew my client, I knew his story, and through him I was able to learn the accuser’s story as well.  I also talked… a lot…to my client’s mother, and his friends.  They knew about my client’s relationship with the accuser…their issues…their arguments.   Finally, it all dawned on me.  “Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned, nor hell a fury like a woman scorned.”  The accuser was this scorned woman.  Her once strong, powerful love for my client turned to hatred, and that hatred became just as strong, just as powerful.  She was furious that he left her.  In her eyes, my client abandoned her.  She wanted to get back at him and knew one thing that would hurt him the most was to keep his daughter away from him.  But no matter how hard she tried, he never gave up.  He fought for his daughter, even taking the accuser to court to get parenting time established.  Needles to say, she didn’t like this very much.  To make her become even more enraged, he noticed bruises on his daughter’s face and told her that if bruises continue to appear on his daughter’s face, he will contact CPS.  And he did contact CPS.  By having these charges hanging over his head, the accuser attempted to get what she wants…keep my client’s daughter away from him and gut his credibility with CPS.

“Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned, nor hell a fury like a woman scorned” – this became my theory.  I used this quote throughout my trial, especially in my opening statement. 

As taught by TLC, I conducted a soft cross on the accuser.  It worked!  Her attitude and her spiteful responses to my questions made her look like she was, in fact, “scorned”, proving my theory.  However, I was most proud of my closing statement.  I prepared an outline for it and had many notes but, after listening to the prosecutors closing statement and his personal attacks on me, I got rid of the notes and conducted my entire closing statement, speaking directly from the heart.  I definitely felt the passion and the righteous indignation.  I think the jury felt it too. 

While the jury was deliberating, I talked to my client’s mother and stepfather about what they thought about the trial, and they both said that the independent witness, who testified that it “looked” to him like my client dragged the accuser out of her car and threw her on the ground “pretty hard”, made my client look very guilty.  I was crushed hearing this from them and was beating myself up for even requesting the 911 call.  You see, I requested the 911 tape, a tape that the prosecutor would probably never have listened to had I not requested it.  On that tape, a woman can be heard saying that a guy threw a woman onto the ground.  The prosecutor was able to identify this woman and get in touch with her a day before trial.  He then subpoenaed her husband to testify at trial because the woman apparently only relayed the information to the 911 dispatcher that she obtained from her husband who allegedly witnessed my client throw the accuser to the ground.   Lesson learned – be very careful what you ask for.  Despite the testimony offered by the independent witness and my client’s mother and stepfather’s opinion regarding the witness’s testimony, I tried my best to stay positive.  

Jury deliberated for approximately 30 minutes, the longest 30 minutes of my life.  Once the jury came back into the courtroom, my client and I stood up for the verdict to be read.  Then the judge asked the foreperson to stand and read the verdict.  As soon as I saw her stand up, I knew my client and I had won!  I felt a connection with all of my jury members, but even more so with the foreperson.  I could see, her, nod in agreement several times, and smile at me as I was making my opening and closing statements.  As soon as I saw her stand up, a sign of relief came over my body.  The jury found my client “NOT GUILTY” of both domestic violence and larceny.  I truly believe that I was able to get over the whole “independent witness” because the jury had already decided the case after my opening statement.  Everything they heard from that point moving forward that contradicted their belief in my client’s innocence, they ignored.  And everything they heard that supported their belief in my client’s innocence, they listened to.  Primacy at its best!

After the verdict was read, I looked over and saw my client with tears running down his cheeks.  I knew then, more so than ever before, that I did the right thing representing him.  This was a pro bono case and the stress, the sweat, and the tears were all worth it.  (Dan did yell at me for taking this on pro bono as “he claims” we no longer take pro bono cases…yeah right Dan, refer to your murder case!  But I’m sure as heck glad I didn’t listen to him!).  The hug I received from my client and his family after the case was over was the biggest hug I have ever received from any other person.  It felt good!

I’m still on cloud 9 and I have TLC, including my TLC Michigan friends here, to thank for it!  Thank you all from the bottom of my heart!