Editor’s note: Eboni K. Williams is a criminal defense attorney and legal analyst based in Los Angeles. She has worked as a public defender, private trial lawyer and also provides commentary on legal and political issues from a pop culture perspective. You can follow her on Twitter @Eboni_K.
(CNN) – In a few terrible seconds, teen star Justin Bieber made his attorney Roy Black’s job a heck of a lot harder.
Bieber, who was arrested in Miami Beach on Thursday for drunken driving, resisting arrest and driving without a valid license, decided it would be a good idea to spill his guts to the Miami Beach Police Department.
According to Miami Beach Police Chief Raymond Martinez, during his arrest, Bieber “made some statements that he had consumed some alcohol, and that he had been smoking marijuana and consumed some prescription medication,” before getting behind the wheel of a yellow Lamborghini.
On the surface, this could look like Bieber was just being an honest guy, admitting to his wrongdoings. But look a little further, and you’ll see a young man who has done the worst possible thing a defendant in any case could do. He opened his mouth. And in doing that, he’s also doing the state’s job for them.
Justin Bieber should have just shut up.
The great thing about the American justice system is that it is based on an adversarial process that requires the state to actually PROVE your guilt with evidence.
Guess whose job it is to gather that evidence? That’s right, it’s the job of the state — in this case, the state of Florida.
The defendant is entitled to a presumption of innocence. The defendant — nor his attorney — doesn’t have to prove a thing. The defense attorney only needs to raise reasonable doubt to the state’s version of the story.
Where Bieber went wrong was voluntarily handing over evidence of his own guilt by admitting to criminal behavior, and therefore assisting in handing the prosecutor a conviction on a silver platter.
The moment Bieber was placed under arrest, he was read those words that we hear on every procedural cop drama on television: “You have the right to remain silent.”
All Bieber had to do was shut his mouth. Such a simple concept.
It makes no sense why more defendants don’t use this precious liberty. Contrary to popular belief, keeping your lips sealed is not an indication of guilt. It’s just plain smart.
It gives your defense lawyer a much greater chance of success, because his client isn’t participating in his own prosecution. When you are fighting the state and their plentiful resources of investigators, detectives, crime labs and prosecutors, the last thing a defense lawyer needs is his own client working against him.
Roy Black is NOT happy with his client right now.
Defending a client against an impaired driving charge is no easy task. The public interest in keeping impaired drivers off the road is understandably great. No one wants to see our society in harm’s way because of irresponsible drivers.
However, the integrity of our justice system requires that every defendant get an opportunity to have his guilt or innocence determined according to the evidence against him.
By making statements against his own interests, Bieber actually helps to undermine the whole process. His lawyer’s job is not to get him “off.” Black’s task is to hold the state accountable to its burden of providing evidence — beyond a reasonable doubt — that Bieber is in fact guilty of the crimes charged against him.
By failing to perform the simple task of remaining silent, Bieber has done the exact thing Miranda rights are designed to prevent — he has incriminated himself.
Unlike instances where outside evidence can be refuted by the defense as speculative or circumstantial, self-incrimination is incredibly tough to refute because the defendant himself provided it. Unless you want to attack the credibility of your own client, the defense lawyer is in an awful position. Sure, defense lawyers can try to suppress the statements, but without facts to support coercion, this can also be a tall order.
The right to remain silent is a gift from our Constitution (from the Fifth Amendment, to be exact).
So if you are ever in as an unfortunate situation as Bieber found himself in early Thursday morning, listen to the police officer’s instructions, cooperate fully, call your attorney — and keep your mouth shut.
Remember, you have that right.
Jurors like the big picture. The big picture is easy to understand. The big picture allows jurors to plainly see the issues so that when it comes time for them to deliberate and render a verdict, they can put the pieces together and reach the correct legal conclusion. Because after all is said and done, that’s exactly what these 6 women jurors in the Zimmerman trial will be asked to do. After all the investigators, experts, and character witnesses testify, and after all of the evidence is submitted, these women will be asked to come to a legal determination about what happened on that fateful night that ended with an unarmed 17-year-old young man being shot to death.
One of the first things any trial attorney learns is the value of a strong “theory of the case.” Ultimately, your job is to get the jurors to see the facts from your perspective. This can be a lot easier said than done. The prosecutors in the Zimmerman trial have failed to succinctly present a clear and concise theory, and they’ve also failed to plainly lay out their witnesses in a way that makes it easy for the jurors to see this case the way prosecutors need them to see it. Zimmerman is charged with second-degree murder, and in Florida the state has to prove three elements to get a conviction. The first two elements are almost a given: Trayvon Martin is dead and George Zimmerman killed him. Proving the third element is the crux of the entire case: was Zimmerman’s use of deadly force the result of a depraved mind or recklessness? Put another way, the state carries the burden of proving that by pulling out a gun and firing at this unarmed young man on that rainy night, Zimmerman’s actions were unreasonable, and therefore, legally criminal.
How do they do that? Based on the case they’ve presented thus far, the prosecution is still struggling to find an answer. While the prosecutor is getting lost in seemingly spotty lines of questioning and witnesses who seem to assist the defense as much as (if not more than) the state, the defense is well on its way to creating reasonable doubt. The state needs to (quickly) use Zimmerman’s words against him. But at the rate this trial is going, the likelihood of Zimmerman taking the stand is incredibly doubtful. He’s already presented video stating his version of the night without being subject to cross examination, so he really doesn’t need to take the stand. The state can and should, however, use that video against the defendant.
In the video and in other evidence, Zimmerman has over and over again referred to Trayvon Martin as a “suspect.” During the 911 call we heard Zimmerman saying that he was following Martin because Martin was suspicious, but we’ve yet to hear exactly what was so suspicious about this young man. Martin was heading back to his father’s fiancé’s home, wearing a hooded sweatshirt in the rain, and carrying candy and a soft drink, tell me again what is so suspicious about it? The lack of reasonably articulable suspicion leaves a logical conclusion to be drawn that what Zimmerman found “suspicious” was Martin’s skin color. Blackness is NOT a reasonable cause for suspicion. It can’t be, because if we allow that type of blatant racial profiling, we might as well willingly forfeit our black and brown boys in droves. And isn’t this what made us all so upset at the onset of this case? Zimmerman’s lack of ability to tell anyone, including the investigators on the case, what he found so initially suspicious about this young man that compelled him to disobey the 911 operator’s instruction to stop following Martin, approach Martin while carrying a handgun, and ultimately used that handgun to shoot this young man to death.
As we watch this trial continue to unfold, I want the prosecution to make it easy for the jury and take us back to this big picture. The big picture of Zimmerman’s actions being patently unreasonable under the circumstances. The big picture of Blackness, in and of itself, not qualifying as “suspicion.” The big picture of Zimmerman shooting and killing this unarmed boy being unmistakably, tragically, and most importantly, legally criminal.