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Guns, Violence and Society – Causes

Guns, Violence and Society – Causes by John F Hays, a Seattle Private Investigator

I think we already know at least some of the causes of violence in our society; but we’re too diverted and divided to look closely at the problem and take it on.

Aside from a limited number of cases where brain damage, drugs (Phencyclidine or PCP, et al.), or psychosis (schizophrenia, paranoia, et al.) contribute to violent behavior, most people, including researchers, believe that violent behavior arises from conditions that might be labeled as environmental. While the scientific community seems unwilling to say that they know the exact causes of violence in society, or in the case of any individual violent person, they do acknowledge a number of conditions or factors that appear to make individual violence more likely. They also point out that sometimes these factors show a “which came first” complexity.

It’s a nature versus nurture question. We are all born with the potential for violence. However, civilizing factors make most of us much less violent than that potential. I believe that most of us can be brought to violence by certain situations or conditions that threaten the life and safety of ourselves, our loved ones, and our communities.

The factors cited that contribute to, if not cause, violent behavior are numerous and often interrelated. It is clear that some people survive the adverse influence of these same factors and never act out violently. The following is only illustrative and is not an exhaustive treatment of the subject.

Causes within the family

Being born into a dysfunctional family, including some combination of

    poor or nonexistent parenting
    intra-family violence
    drug abuse
    unemployment and poverty

Causes within the larger society

Being raised in a society

    that glorifies violence and distorts its true nature and consequences
    that feeds us violence as entertainment
    that engages in a violent domestic war, labeled The Drug War, which enables violent gang culture and police corruption
    that engages in perpetual war against domestic and foreign terrorists as a substitute for The Cold War, in order to feed the Military Industrial Complex at the expense of our warriors, our domestic needs, and our economy
    that has turned our prisons into advanced training bases that fail to rehabilitate while enabling the incarcerated to learn more criminal skills.


Guns, Violence and Society – Addiction

Guns, Violence and Society – Addiction By: John F Hays, a Seattle Private Investigator

In spite of the best efforts of my history and civics instructors, I eventually found out that they lied and distorted many things about the history and government of my country of birth. They didn’t do this out of malice. They were doing no more than unconsciously engaging in the propaganda and indoctrination that they were subjected to in their own educations. It’s what the political classes do in every country. The victors not only get the spoils; they get to write or rewrite history, the revisionist history that glorifies the winners and ignores or justifies all the less than glorious truths behind their “victories”.

I’ve been around for more than 66 years and I’ve been paying attention for most of that time. I credit my political awakening to the Jesuits who ran my high school and the first university I attended. Though I am no longer a Catholic or a Christian, I greatly appreciate Jesuit involvement in my intellectual development, such as it is. They taught me two things that inform my way of thinking to this day. They taught me how to think, as opposed to what to think; and they taught me to question authority. These are dangerous traits, but are, in fact, essential to citizenship in a democracy. How can we learn and advance as a nation if we don’t know the truth about our past and the current machinations of those in power? How can we aspire to match the potential espoused in our high and mighty principles if we aren’t willing to look at our failures at living by those principles?

Our history starts with an invasion and the forceful taking of land belonging to indigenous peoples. By violent revolution, we broke away from an onerous overseas government. We continued our violent subjugation of the indigenous people, an effort that continues, in a somewhat less overt way, to this day. We fought wars to establish our northern and southern borders. We fought an internal war over the economic and human rights issue of slavery. We’ve had labor wars. We’ve had outbreaks of violence directed against voluntary and involuntary immigrants (Africans, Chinese, Japanese, Hispanics, Irish etc). We’ve experienced political assassinations and attempts at assassination. We’ve fought numerous foreign wars, some seemingly justified, some not. Violent crime, domestic violence, sexual violence, gang violence, road rage, highway carnage fueled by alcohol and drugs, the Drug War, the list goes on.

Modern culture is rife with violence and we wallow in it willingly. Movies, TV, music, games, sports, all glory in violence. Billions are spent producing and consuming violence. We honor and pay handsomely the actors, singers and athletes who feed our blood lust.

We are a product of violence…and we love it.

The debate continues over the effect of media depictions of violence on human behavior, especially that of our children. Now we are debating whether violent and hateful political speech can influence or cause violent behavior. We love to debate. We hate to actually engage collectively in defining problems that can be solved, finding real solutions and doing the hard work to attain them.

We are like alcoholics; and like alcoholics, we must admit to our addiction to violence before we can begin the journey to a cure. As a citizen, I have a stake in this situation. As a Seattle private investigator, working mostly in criminal defense, the stake I have has become more clear and tangible.


Eyewitnesses Can’t Be Trusted.

Eyewitnesses Can’t Be Trusted by John F. Hays, a Seattle Private Investigator.

Eyewitnesses helped send an innocent man to prison. He ended up spending 30 years in prison for a rape he didn’t commit. Seattle Times article. Because of cases like this, this Seattle criminal defense investigator is against the death penalty. Because of cases like this, this investigator is strongly motivated in my criminal defense and personal injury cases to get the best information from witnesses that I can and to expose unreliable witnesses when I find them.

Eyewitness identification is unreliable. We’ve known that for a very long time. An eyewitness can be honest, but wrong. An eyewitness can be confused by a variety of factors. An eyewitness can lie for a variety of reasons. An eyewitness can be manipulated by careless or unscrupulous law enforcement officers. In the absence of substantial collaborating evidence, why do we continue to accept eyewitness testimony as sufficient to convict anybody of anything?


Mock Juries for Mock Trials

Mock Juries for Mock Trials by John F. Hays, a Seattle Private Investigator.

Serve on mock juries for mock trials; and no one has to go to jail.

Whether or not you have ever been on a jury, if you wish to have some experience and education on the matter, you might try what my wife and I have done and thoroughly enjoyed on a summer weekend for each of the last two years. We plan on doing it again next summer.

We act as jurors in mock civil and criminal trials argued by practicing lawyers in front of practicing judges.

The National Institute for Trial Advocacy (NITA) trains practicing lawyers to be more effective trial lawyers.

A bit about NITA from their website at http://www.nita.org/:

“NITA’s Mission Statement

“NITA, a 501(c)(3) charitable organization, is a dedicated team of professors, judges and practicing lawyers who believe that skilled and ethical advocacy is a critical component of legal professionalism and all systems of dispute resolution that seek justice.

“NITA’s mission is to:

* Promote justice through effective and ethical advocacy;
* Train and mentor lawyers to be competent and ethical advocates in pursuit of justice; and
* Develop and teach trial advocacy skills to support and promote the effective and fair administration of justice.

“NITA’s Mission Statement defines NITA and articulates its Mission. We will fulfill our Mission through NITA’s Goals and Objectives to be carried out through a Strategic Plan outlining NITA’s programs and publications.

“NITA Long-Range Goals and Objectives

“NITA’s Goals and Objectives are to:

* Enable and encourage lawyers to become effective, ethical and professional advocates.
* Create and promote the highest quality professional and ethical advocacy training and educational materials.
* Support and assist the Judicial System in providing the important, effective administration and resolution of disputes.
* Encourage, support and assist advocacy training for and dedication to public service.”

You can participate for both days or either day. If you do both days, you hear a civil case on one day and a criminal case on the other.

You sit in court, listen to the arguments, select a jury foreman, weigh the evidence and present your verdict to the court.

One thing that happens in these mock trials that doesn’t happen in real life is the post-trial discussion involving the judge, the attorneys and the jurors. The trial experience and the post-trial discussion provide an incredibly educational and entertaining way to spend a day or two.

They give you a small stipend and a box lunch each day. You meet and spend the day with some really nice people.

Go to the NITA website at http://www.nita.org/and explore.

Find out where the programs entitled “Building Trial Skills” are being held and contact them about your interest in participating as a juror in the mock trials. If they haven’t already filled the juror pool, volunteer. I believe you will find the experience (plus the stipend and the lunch) to be well worth your time.


Jury Nullification – Judges Trumped

Jury Nullification – Judges Trumped by John F. Hays, a Seattle Private Investigator.

In jury nullification, juries trump judges. And prosecutors. And legislators.

While I’m on the subject of jury duty, here’s a peculiar feature of the law that some prosecutors and judges and others in the legal field seem to be afraid might become general knowledge.

Jury nullification

General public knowledge of jury nullification might put greater power in the hands of juries than that held by judges, prosecutors and legislators (in a very limited but useful sense).

The concept of jury nullification challenges the idea that, in the courtroom, judges interpret the law and juries interpret the evidence and render verdicts under the instructions of the judge regarding the law and its application.

Jury nullification allows the jury to ignore the judge’s instructions and, in essence, nullify, or throw out, the law or its application in the specific case being tried. Jury nullification is the finding by the jury that either the law is a bad law or it is being applied improperly in a specific case.

The concept is centuries old and is based in Common Law, which is part of the foundation of our legal system. Its history in North America starts in 1734 when a printer named John Peter Zenger was acquitted of seditious libel, contrary to the instructions of the judge hearing the case.

Jury nullification challenges State power. As such, it is a dangerous, subversive and powerful tool for maintaining the peoples’ hold on power.

It has a potential dark side. Theoretically, it could be used by a jury of racists or homophobes to acquit a person guilty of a hate crime.

On the other hand, consider the medical marijuana controversy. What if juries in Federal courts refused to convict medical marijuana growers, distributors and users in States that have legalized such use? Could the Federal government continue to interfere with the medicinal use of a proven, beneficial and natural drug?

There are a lot of questions that come to mind as I study jury nullification; I’m just getting started. It’s not my purpose here to expound on a complicated and controversial subject. I would be happy if a few of my readers pursued the study, on their own.

Following is a list of web-based resources. Google for more.








Criminal Defense? Part 2

Criminal Defense? Part 2 by John F. Hays, a Seattle Private Investigator.

Criminal defense or, more correctly, defending the accused, is defending the criminal justice system. Lady Justice doesn’t find the accused guilty or innocent until the trial is over, and maybe not even then.

Has anyone ever been accused of a crime he or she did not commit? Unless you have been living in a cave somewhere, with no contact with the outside world, you know the answer to that question.

Even before the advent of DNA testing, it was not unusual to hear about a person tried and convicted of a crime who was later released after new evidence was presented or the original evidence was refuted.

I’ve often wondered how many innocent people have been executed or have been left to serve out their terms in prison because they didn’t have the resources or the good luck to prove their innocence.

Why are innocent people sometimes convicted?

Because of the fallibility of juries of what are usually well-meaning citizens

Because of bigoted, bad-intentioned juries

Because of the errors, intended or unintended, of police, prosecutors, defense attorneys and judges

Because no system of justice is perfect

Because… Because… Because…

While our system of justice isn’t perfect, it is arguably the best in the world, if…

…if all players in the process are competent and do their best to fulfill their roles.

I firmly believe that if I do my job as the defense investigator and the police, the prosecutor, the defense attorney, the judge and the jury do theirs to the best of their abilities and with the best intentions, then justice has the best chance to be served.

For me the presumption of innocence is the critical underlying principle setting the tone for the process.

Anybody can accuse you of a crime, but for you to be held accountable for the alleged crime your guilt must proven beyond a reasonable doubt in a public court of law. It is my duty to play my role as the defense investigator competently and to the best of my ability because justice requires it.


Criminal Defense? Part 1

Criminal Defense? Part 1 by John F. Hays, a Seattle Private Investigator.

“You help criminal defense attorneys?”

“You want to help set criminals free?”

I get asked these questions all the time when I tell people I’m a criminal defense investigator. “What if the person you are helping to defend is really guilty; and the defense attorney you work for on the case gets him acquitted so he walks free? How can you justify your part in his defense?”

I’ve been asked these and similar questions by some family and friends and by a few people whom I’ve just met. It usually happens just after they find out what I do for a living. These questions usually come from good and well-meaning people.

But the question shows that the person asking is woefully ignorant of our system of justice and its underlying principles. In my experience, it’s unusual to find a person who does understand, who isn’t in the business or wasn’t involved in a criminal or civil lawsuit.

I’m a private investigator who assists defense attorneys, not an attorney.

My job is to find, verify and document information, gathered from a variety of sources, which my attorney/clients need to properly defend accused persons from criminal charges. I am not judge, jury or prosecutor. It is not my role to judge the accused, even if the accused has a criminal record.

I’ve developed an answer that seems to work for me and for my questioners.

Consider an answer in two parts

I’ve come to the conclusion that the answer to this sort of question has two elements: 1) an examination of the language we use and 2) a review of the basic legal principles involved. I’ll give the first part of my answer in this blog and the second part in the next blog, in about a week.

Is language part of the problem?

Why is it called criminal defense rather than defense of the accused? If a person accused in our court system is presumed to be innocent until proven guilty, why do we use a term that labels the person “criminal” before the trial is conducted and concluded?

I’m a criminal defense investigator. I work for criminal defense lawyers. We work to defend accused persons, only some of whom are truly guilty, truly criminals. The trial is where the guilt or innocence of the accused is determined.

Why is it guilty versus not-guilty instead of proven versus not-proven? In criminal cases the jury must find the accused guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt” in order to convict. Doesn’t the use of “guilty” imply certainty? This term is subjective and less than absolutely certain.

A jury in a criminal case examines and evaluates the evidence and the arguments of opposing attorneys and then deliberates to come to a conclusion about guilt or innocence based on a judge’s instructions about the applicable law.

If a jury doesn’t deadlock, they come back to the courtroom after concluding their deliberations with a verdict of guilty (beyond a reasonable doubt) or not guilty (meaning that they have a reasonable doubt). Where is the certainty in this usage? Shouldn’t it be “proven” beyond a reasonable doubt or “not proven” beyond a reasonable doubt?

Words are powerful. They sometimes convey meaning beyond, or at odds with, the intent of the users. They consequently program those who hear the words to misunderstand and prejudge.

Maybe people would have a better understanding if we were more precise in the language we use to discuss our criminal justice system and the people charged with crimes in that system.

Maybe my first jury experience would have been different had the language used been different and more precise.

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