Introduction: Case Category or How a Lawyer Handles the Case?
Rather than “What kind of cases do you handle?” the better question to ask a lawyer you might retain is “What kind of work and preparation do you do on the cases you do handle?” In other words, it is not necessarily about the case category, but about how the lawyer handles the case.
Some criminal defense lawyers handle cases involving only a very narrow category of crimes, emphasizing, for example, the defense only of sex crimes or of certain white collar crimes. While this may create some efficiencies for the lawyers who do this, with some exceptions I do not feel that this approach necessarily produces substantial benefits for the clients. First, there are few categories of crime for which a very narrow emphasis is needed in order to master the legal and factual issues with which a lawyer might be confronted.
Second, a high proportion of the legal and factual issues in any criminal case are repeated across cases involving all categories of crimes. For example, the investigative, legal, and trial advocacy skills necessary to deal with a dishonest law enforcement witness are largely the same no matter what crime is charged. To the extent there are differences (there are always some differences from case to case, even when the crime category remains the same), good lawyers are trained to respond to them through investigation, legal research, and trial preparation.
Mostly, the important and critical differences that do occur from case to case arise not from the crime category in issue but, rather, from the unique facts and circumstances of the specific case and from the unique human being who is the client. In my view, a too-narrow focus tends to put uniqueness into a press, to stamp it forcibly into a recognizable form rather than seeing it for what it is.
Although, over the years, I have been drawn to working on cases involving certain general crime categories, the areas and issues in which I have developed a particular expertise that can benefit clients cut across all categories. Moreover, the approach I prefer to take on my cases – one that leaves no grain of sand unexamined – is not category-specific but benefits clients with cases in any crime category.
Finally, if I do not feel that your unique case and my skills and experience are a good match, I will let you know and, at your choice, either refer you to or associate with another lawyer who is a better fit.
A trial is not a narrow crime-category or a type of case, but conducting trials is probably the second most important emphasis in my practice. Preparing for trials is the most important part, because without intense preparation and planning and the ability to use the evidence to tell a compelling story favorable to the client, there is no trial, only a game of chance.
Good trial skills are adaptable from category to category and from case to case. They cause good plea bargains and settlement proposals to be made by opposing counsel. They get cases dismissed before a trial is necessary. They permit a lawyer to offer sound advice, based on a realistic appraisal of the likelihood of success, to his or her client. Of course, without good trial skills, the likelihood of a favorable verdict is substantially reduced, no matter how narrowly the lawyer focuses his or her practice on a particular category of cases.
Michael Iaria has been trying cases since he was a public defender intern in 1981. He is on the faculty of the National Institute for Trial Advocacy and regularly teaches trial skills to other lawyers and to student-interns. He has been selected by his peers as one of the top 100 trial lawyers in the state. He has been called one of the best criminal defense lawyers in Seattle.
One colleague calls Mr. Iaria an “artist” in the courtroom, and another feels that watching him perform a witness examination “challenges you to raise your quality of practice.” A third colleague believes that when “Michael speaks, he has a sense of authority that makes you want to believe what he says.”
Finally, another colleague notes: “I have worked with him on two death penalty cases. It is hard to imagine how anyone could have done a better job.”
Introduction: Death Penalty
With virtual certainty, you are not facing the death penalty, which is sought only in the most serious, “worst of the worst” aggravated murder cases. Thus, it may not seem that my experience in this area of the law would have a direct benefit to you. However, handling death penalty cases is less about a “crime category” and more about a particularly intense and exceptionally demanding way of practice that translates into direct and specific benefits for my clients across the board.
Recognized standards for lawyers handling death penalty cases can be summed up as: nothing is off the table, the entire world is relevant, and weariness is not an option. These cases are among the most difficult of all to defend and handling them demands extraordinary and sustained effort, stamina, and creativity. The lawyer in charge must lead an extensive investigation into not only the case facts but also the life history of the client and his family going back generations. He or she must be familiar with a broad range of mental health issues and evidence and also with other types of expert or forensic evidence and be prepared to challenge expert witnesses on their own terrain.
In virtually every capital case, the potential for law enforcement and prosecutorial misconduct and witness dishonesty must be considered, investigated, and evaluated. Inevitably, there is a vast amount of disjointed data that must be analyzed and synthesized, in order to turn chaos into a compelling narrative that favors the client. Every possible legal issue must be spotted and scrutinized. Finally, the lawyer in charge must select, lead, and coordinate the efforts of the members of a substantial team of other lawyers, paralegals, investigators, mitigation specialists, and experts.
Michael Iaria has represented clients facing the death penalty since 1989. Under Washington Supreme Court Rules, he is qualified to handle capital cases at the trial, appellate, and post- convictions levels or stages. He has been a co-chairman of the Death Penalty Committee of the Washington Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. Additionally, as a lawyer in the Mexican Capital Legal Assistance Program, he regularly is retained by and works on behalf of the Mexican Foreign Ministry and its consulates in this country to ensure that, as part of Mexico’s efforts to provide assistance to its citizens under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, its nationals facing the death penalty in this country receive the best representation possible.
Mr. Iaria’s death penalty work includes direct representation at the trial, appellate, and post- conviction levels on behalf of many clients who are alive today because of his efforts. Additionally, his consultation work on behalf of the Mexican Capital Legal Assistance Program has assisted local counsel avoid death sentences in Washington, Oregon, Utah, and California. He has also submitted an affidavit cited, among other pieces of evidence, by the International Court of Justice in The Hague, Netherlands, in reaching a judgment that the United States had violated the rights, under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, of numerous Mexican nationals facing the death penalty in the United States.