Charles F. Koehler's Philosophy of Criminal Defense
In law school, students are taught the elements of individual crimes. These elements are memorized, and the students are tested on these elements, both in law school and on the Virginia Bar Exam. However, understanding the elements of a given criminal offense is only part of being an excellent criminal defense attorney. If an attorney is going to provide you top quality representation, he or she also needs to understand you.
At the Law Office of Charles F. Koehler, P.C., we don't just defend crimes, we represent people. We meet with our clients to understand not just the facts of the case, but also the person charged with a crime. Knowing you as a person allows us to provide the government with relevant information that may lead to a more appropriate resolution. Often, we find criminal charges are a symptom something else is wrong and which impacts that person's decisions. By getting to know you, we have the opportunity to understand what may have motivated certain choices. We use this knowledge to build our case and to resolve it in favor of the person behind the charge.
Charles F. Koehler's Approach to Criminal Defense
In every criminal case, a criminal defense attorney will take several steps to analyze a case.
GET TO KNOW THE CLIENT. We see our clients as people, not a series of criminal charges. As such, we want to know the whole person – not just the facts and circumstances of the case charged. We offer our clients resources to deal with issues that may have impacted past choices, including issues such as chemical dependency, anger issues, and other counseling needs. We also make sure our clients understand the potential for collateral consequences when considering various approaches to case resolution.
REVIEW THE CHARGING DOCUMENTS. Criminal cases officially begin when a defendant is charged with a crime. Whether it be a summons, warrant or direct indictment, charging documents provides actual notice to the defendant what he or she is accused of doing. These documents should contain sufficient information to properly identify the defendant, state the law that was alleged to be violated and a brief description of the crime. Occasionally these documents contain errors that are so significant it is fatal to the prosecution's case.
REVIEW THE ADMISSIBILITY OF THE COMMONWEALTH'S EVIDENCE. Every defendant is afforded constitutional rights to protect him or her against abuses by the government. Many of these protections have to do with the collection of evidence that may be used in a trial. If the government goes beyond its' constitutional authority, the defense has the right to challenge evidence based on the following government conduct:
- Illegal stops of a person or their vehicle;
- Statements taken improperly or via intimidation;
- Illegal searches of a person or property;
- Illegal seizures of a person's property; and
- Improperly obtained or executed warrants.
In addition to Constitutional protections, there are Rules of the Court that control if and how evidence can be presented. Understanding what evidence will be presented at a trial is critical in assessing the strengths and weaknesses of the prosecution's case or a client's defenses.
ANALYZE ADMISSIBLE EVIDENCE TO SEE IF IT SUPPORTS THE CHARGE AND DETERMINE WHAT DEFENSES ARE AVAILABLE. While every defendant has a right to go to trial and defend himself or herself, before choosing to do so it is important to understand the strength the prosecution's case and potential defenses There are cases where a person charged with a crime simply isn't guilty of the offense or the Commonwealth does not have the evidence to support the accusation. Sometimes, a defendant may be guilty of a lesser offense. Other times, a defendant may have a defense to the charges. Some examples of defenses to criminal charges include:
- Not Guilty – When someone simply did not commit the crime of which they are accused.
- Self Defense – When someone reasonably fears, given the circumstances, they are in imminent danger of great bodily harm or death, and the force used is the force necessary to prevent such harm.
- Insanity – When someone either
- Doesn't understand what they are doing (in legal terms, the nature, character, and consequences of the act); or
- Cannot distinguish between right and wrong; or
- Is overtaken by an irresistible impulse to commit a criminal act, they may have a defense to their conduct.
- Entrapment – Where government conduct influences someone to commit an act not otherwise predisposed to commit.
- Duress – When someone engages in conduct due to force or threat of force, which compels the conduct.
There are many legal defenses available to people charged with crimes. Many, as you can see, are dependent on the facts of the case. However, everyone has a right to enter a plea of “not guilty” and have a trial. There are risks and benefits to trying a case over taking a plea agreement. Charles F. Koehler is committed to explaining those risks and benefits to clients, so they may make informed choices.
OPEN A DIALOGUE WITH THE PROSECUTING ATTORNEY REGARDING THE STATUS OF THE CASE AND PLEA AGREEMENTS. In virtually every case, the Commonwealth Attorney will offer a plea deal. It is best to start this dialogue early so that the defense can be proactive in addressing any concerns the Commonwealth may raise. An early dialogue also allows the client to fully understand what is being asked of him or her and make any necessary arrangements.
SENTENCING. People make mistakes and are convicted of a crime, but that is not the end of the story. Once a person is convicted, he or she sentenced. Sentences can range from deferred findings to community service, fines, jail sentences, incarceration in a penitentiary and in the most heinous crimes, death.
When it comes to sentencing, it is important to understand that a proper criminal sentence is not only to punish a defendant but to rehabilitate that person. This is where knowing the client as a person becomes critical. What reasons exist for leniency? What sentencing alternatives are available to help rehabilitate the defendant? What steps has the defendant taken to show he or she accepts responsibility?
Knowing the answer to these (and other) questions allows a criminal attorney to advocate for a resolution that provides a client the best opportunity to be successful in the future.