Texas criminal law has a “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard, which means that a jury is charged with finding guilt only if the admitted evidence and testimony suggests that reasonable doubt of guilt does not exist. As such, even if the jury reasonably believes that the defendant is guilty of the crime, the system tasks the jury to provide a no guilty verdict when, despite the belief in the defendant’s guilt, reasonable doubt exists. In turn, a defense attorney’s job, when advocating on behalf of a defendant, is to demonstrate reasonable doubt. Such doubt is sufficient to win in court.
Nonetheless, prosecutors often provide a narrative of how the defendant committed the crime. The point of this tactic is to engage the jury’s senses by telling a compelling story that depicts the defendant as a criminal. Often, to counter the prosecutor’s narrative, a defense attorney will supply another narrative. Studies show that arguing a case before a judge is significantly different than arguing before a jury; a judge tends to be more mechanical in his or her approach whereas a jury tends to be more emotional and less logical.
Defendants commonly tell their lawyers that the defendant wants to testify so he can tell “his side of the story.” From a strategic standpoint, such a move can be detrimental. A defendant who takes the stand will require a significant amount of preparation and opens him or herself to cross-examination. Taking the stand and then “pleading the Fifth” when facing a prosecutor’s question can insinuate guilt. Under Texas law, a jury can factor a defendant’s refusal to testify as acknowledgment of committing a crime. While the jury cannot infer a guilty verdict, it can apply pleading the fifth as a factor in determining guilt.
Thus, depending on the facts and circumstances, a defense lawyer and possibly the defendant will be compelled to supply a narrative.
In a recent case in Toronto, Canada, the police arrested Dr. Mohammed Shamji, a surgeon, for killing his wife, Dr. Elana Fric-Shamji, a family doctor. While circumstantial evidence and media depiction suggest that Mohammed is guilty, he has yet to face trial. Therefore, until found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, Mohammed Shamji is presumed innocent.
The Shamjis were highly educated, lived in an exclusive neighborhood, and seemed successful and happy. He was a world-class surgeon performing highly complex surgeries while she found success as a doctor despite her blue-collar upbringing They posted numerous pictures on their shared Instagram page showing them vacationing with their children and running marathons together. On the inside, though, the facts were otherwise. Police reports and verbal statements from friends show how Mohammed was physically abusive. He also admittedly engaged in numerous affairs and used it against his wife.
Dr Fric-Shamji’s body was found in a suitcase near a river in Ontario. Based on the surrounding facts, it seems that Mohammed Shamji wanted her dead. Did he commit the crime? Perhaps. However, having a violent past does not necessarily rise to the level of murder. Dr. Shamji will have his day in court, when the prosecution must prove that he is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
Accused of a crime? Contact the law firm of Christopher Abel, a board-certified criminal defense attorney.
(image courtesy of Claire Anderson)