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Straight Talk from an Oklahoma Murder Defense Lawyer

I have tried almost fifty (50) jury trials, over a dozen of those being homicide cases, questioned over a thousand potential jurors, cross-examined hundreds of witnesses, and spent the equivalent of an entire year in trial. I can generally tell you whether we won or lost by the looks of the jurors before the verdict is read. I have taken my clients out for steak to celebrate our victory and I have held my client's sobbing grandmother after we lost. I've walked clients out of the courtroom that I know were guilty and I have clients who will never walk free again that I don't believe were. I am a trial lawyer and if you or someone you love is charged with murder, a trial lawyer is what you need.

I'm not saying I'm the lawyer for your case or even that I would take your case, what I am saying is that if you are charged with a homicide or other serious crime, you better find yourself an experienced criminal defense trial attorney. I wrote this page to give people charged with murder and other serious crimes some insight into the criminal justice system and to tell them things that they are not going to hear anywhere else. I hope you find the information helpful.

You can also read Hiring the Best Attorney to Fight your Murder Charge in Oklahoma, Tips for Hiring a Criminal Lawyer for more general information on hiring a criminal defense lawyer, learn about the Oklahoma law as it relates to murder cases, Justifiable Use of Deadly Force in Oklahoma or you can learn more about me. If after reading this page you have questions feel free to email me at lawyeradams@me.com.


All it Takes to Be Charged with Murder is Probable Cause

Probable cause is all the state needs to prove in order to force a defendant to choose between a jury trial or a plea. Probable cause has been defined by courts as “Enough evidence to make a reasonably prudent person believe that a crime was probably committed and the the defendant probably committed the crime.” Probable cause is less than half of the evidence. This means my client could be charged with murder and I could literally have more evidence that my client is innocent than the state has that they are guilty and the state legally has enough evidence to force my client to choose between entering a plea or standing trial for murder.

Everyone always talks about the ”Presumption of Innocence“, but the ”Presumption of Innocence” is a trial right, a right a defendant must risk their freedom to exercise. There is nothing about the ”Presumption of Innocence“ that allows the judge to dismiss a murder case if the state has enough evidence to establish probable cause and wants to proceed to trial. Read about how probable cause drives the criminal justice system.

When accused of homicide affirmative defenses such as self defense and defense of another are trial defenses, not defenses that prevent the state from getting the case to trial. While it may be within the District Attorney's discretion not to file charges because the District Attorney believes that someone was acting in self defense or defense of another, that is the District Attorney's call and not the judge's call. (This is a separation of powers issue.)

A district attorney has the legal right to push a murder case to trial if they have probable cause, even if it is the wrong thing to do or even a dumb thing for them to do. Some district attorneys believe they should push all murder cases to trial and let the jury decide and other district attorneys are simple too cowardly to tell the family of the decedent that the homicide was justified.

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The Stand Your Ground Law is not All it is Cracked up to Be

While there is some great language in the “Stand Your Ground Law”, nothing about that law changes the probable cause standard. In fact the law specifically says:

A law enforcement agency may use standard procedures for investigating the use of force, but the law enforcement agency may not arrest the person for using force unless it determines that there is probable cause that the force that was used was unlawful. (See Oklahoma Statute 21 OS Section 1289.25)

The “Stand Your Ground Law” will not save a defendant from trial; if the state has probable cause, and the state wishes to push the case to trial, it will be up to a jury to decide whether a defendant was acting in self defense or defense of another.

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If the State Has their Witnesses, Few Murder Cases are Dismissed at a the Preliminary Hearing

Remember probable cause is all it takes to get a murder case to trial. Let me give you an example.

Let's say there is a shooting and the shooter claims he was acting in self defense, but for whatever reason the police do not believe him. So the police arrest the shooter for First Degree Murder and book him into jail. The officer who made the arrest did so because he believed that he had probable cause. Then a judge will review the arrest and booking report to see if the judge agrees. Then the District Attorney will review the police reports and decide whether to formally file homicide charges against the defendant. If formal charges are filed, they are filed because the District Attorney believes there was probable cause.

So the defendant hires a lawyer and goes to the preliminary hearing. Up to this point the officer that arrested the defendant, the judge that reviewed the arrest and booking report and the District Attorney that filed the charges all agree that there was probable cause. However, this has all been without the Defendant having a say in the matter, all that happens at the preliminary hearing is that a judge listens to the evidence, listens to the cross examinations of defense counsel and makes a determination of whether there is probable cause. So if the District Attorney can produce the witness and evidence he or she relied upon to originally make the probable cause determination and the District Attorney was right, the case is going to be bound over for trial,

The preliminary hearing is nothing more than an adversarial determination of probable cause. If the previous determinations were legally correct, the case will be bound over for trial. Don't forget probable cause is a low standard of proof. Our system is designed to allow juries to make determinations of guilt or innocence.

So why is this so important for those accused of homicide? Because these cases are more likely to go to trial because the penalties are so severe. Murder defendants must be realistic about the situation they are in. I have seen dozens of murder defendants waste their money on an unqualified lawyer falsely believing that “the judge will see I was right and dismiss the case at preliminary hearing ” only to be broke and disappointed after the preliminary hearing. I have met with numerous defendants and their families that are out of money after the preliminary hearing because they hired and unqualified crook for a lawyer, a lawyer that knew they had no business taking on a murder case and no intent of ever trying the case to a jury. Is this the lawyers fault? Yes it is. But, it is also the fault of the defendant and his family that did not take the time to research the lawyer they were placing someone's life into.

The judge at the preliminary hearing is not making a determination of guilt or innocence, the judge does not have the authority to dismiss a case if the state has admissible evidence that establishes probable cause. I have had numerous judges express their opinion that the District Attorney should dismiss a case, immediately after binding the case over for trial. If a judge were to order a case dismissed and probable cause existed, all that would happen is the District Attorney would appeal the decision and the judge would be overturned.

I have won a murder case after a preliminary hearing, because, I convinced a judge that the state did not even have probable cause that my client committed First Degree Murder. However, that does not happen often. Generally when a case is dismissed for lack of probable cause it is because the District Attorney could not produce the evidence they expected to produce. This is also important to know when defense attorneys “brag” that a case was “dismissed at preliminary hearing”, most cases that are dismissed are not dismissed because of anything the lawyer did. Many lawyers falsely take credit for the misfortune of the District Attorney to persuade potential clients that they are good lawyers.

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Once a Murder Case is Set For Trial, Unqualified Lawyers Often Start Pushing their Clients to Plea

I have seen this dozens of times, family hires the wrong lawyer for a serious criminal case, a case that any qualified lawyer knows will likely go to trial, and as soon as the case is bound over for trial the lawyer changes his or her tune and starts making excuses and starts pushing a defendant to take a plea. Don't get me wrong, a lawyer must convey all plea offers to their client and a client should seriously consider all plea offers. Trials are risky and sometimes a defendant is better off taking a sure deal. But, it is always the defendant's choice, and if you have a lawyer that is trying to overcome your will to make you “take a deal” you are either making a really bad decision in rejecting a plea offer or you made a really bad decision in hiring that lawyer. If you or a family member is in this situation, it may be time to reevaluate your choice of lawyers.

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Murder Defendant's Have a Much Greater Chance of Winning at Trial Than on Appeal

Only 1 out of 20 appeals are successful. In state court criminal defendants generally win 3 to 4 times out of 20. Without knowing anything about a defendant's case, just talking about the odds, a criminal defendant has a 3 to 4 times better chance of winning at trial than they do on appeal. And even if a defendant does win on appeal what do they most often win? A new trial. An Appellate court is not going to find a Defendant “Not Guilty” except in exceptionally rare cases. That means a defendant that has their conviction overturned on appeal, almost always has to make the decision again of whether to plea the case or proceed to trial.

So while an attorney and defendant must always be aware of what the implications the trial strategy may have on appeal, its generally poor strategy to lower your chances of winning at trial in order to increase your chances of winning on appeal.

This is often has implications when it comes to hiring a qualified trial attorney, the family has the money but they don't want to spend it, so they don't hire the best lawyer they can find and the defendant gets convicted. Then the family spends a fortune hiring the best appellate lawyer they can find. This is a poor allocation of resources, spending the majority of your money where you have the least chance of success.

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What to Do if You Can't Afford to Hire a Trial Lawyer to Fight a Murder Case

You may be able to find a good young trial lawyer that just does not have as much experience that you can afford. This is a young lawyer that wants to be a trial lawyer and has tried a few cases with some success. A lawyer like this is someone that has “second chaired” some cases with a more experienced trial lawyer for free, just so he or she can learn. This lawyer also may have attended some trial lawyer training around the country and / or competed in “moot court” competitions in law school. They will tell you what they really want to do is be a trial lawyer. They are trying to make a name for themselves and even though they are a private lawyer they may have tried several court appointed cases. This lawyer will show up and watch jury trials when they know good lawyers are practicing. Experience matters, but good trial lawyers are born not made.

it is very hard to find lawyers like this unless you are in the legal system, otherwise you just don't know. The best way to find someone like this would be to ask experienced trial lawyers that you can not afford if they know anyone like this.

You may be better off sticking with a public defender. Sometimes public defenders get a bad wrap. There are good public defenders and there are bad ones. I have seen many people fire their public defender for a “Private Lawyer” who is many times worse than their public defender. So how do you know? You can read Hiring the Best Lawyer to Fight Your Murder Case to get an idea if the lawyer you are planning on hiring comes close to being qualified. You can also ask a lawyer that you know is qualified, if you can find one that will give you the unvarnished truth.

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When facing Murder Charges there are no Guarantees

Run from any lawyer who “guarantees” victories in a homicide case or any serious criminal case. If you don't run at least ask them to put the guarantee in writing.

All you are doing, by hiring the best criminal trial lawyer you can afford, is giving yourself a better chance. There are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of decisions a lawyer must make during a trial. The better the decisions the better the chances of success. But, at the end of the day all you can do is give yourself the best chance of success, nothing you will do can ever guarantee success. If things go badly, at least you will know that you did everything you could.

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Send your questions to LawyerAdams@me.com I try to respond to all inquires as quickly as possible. If you need immeadiate assistance you can call my office (918) 582-1313 or my cell phone (918) 230-9513. If you are in need of emergency assistance feel free to call my cell phone anytime either day or night.