Is a Public Defender a Viable Option in a Vehicular Homicide or Manslaughter Charge?
Interviewer: Would a public defender be appointed to defend a vehicular homicide?
Paul Cramm: Absolutely, they would. Anytime a defendant is facing incarceration, whether in the county jail or in prison, if a possible outcome of the charge is prison, that person is entitled to counsel regardless of their financial position.
Those drivers are always entitled to representation by appointed counsel or by public defender’s office.
While Highly Qualified, Public Defenders Carry Heavy Caseloads That Limit the Time They Can Devote to Each Case
Interviewer: What’s the difference between a private attorney and a public defender and what are the advantages or disadvantages?
Paul Cramm: Well, I’ve said repeatedly and I mean it from the bottom of my heart, I think the lawyers at the 10th Judicial District Public Defender’s Office here in Johnson County, Kansas are outstanding lawyers. I think they do a phenomenal job with their cases.
I think that most of the lawyers in our public defender’s office would be the first ones to tell you that the biggest disadvantage to working in that office is the caseload. Those lawyers have very little control over their caseload and they are assigned extremely serious cases for folks that cannot afford counsel.
The majority of these lawyers in the public defender’s office will tell you that they wish they had half the caseload so they could spend twice as much time on each file.
It Is Always Wise to Be Careful When Retaining a Private Attorney for Defense as Experience Is an Important Factor in Legal Defense
I also know that there are a lot of private attorneys that truth be told, probably are not as experienced or good a lawyer as the attorneys in the public defender’s office. I think people need to be extremely careful when meeting with and interviewing private counsel, particularly for these very serious cases.
Just because someone is in private practice, does not mean that they are qualified to handle the most serious and most complicated of criminal matters. By and large, though, I do believe that if someone has hired competent and experienced private counsel for a case like this, I think what they are hiring is more time, more attention and more availability.
Private Attorneys Have More Control over Their Caseloads
Private Counsel will have a lot more control over their caseload and private counsel should be aware to limit the number of extremely serious time-consuming matters that the lawyer will be committed to at any one given time in his or her practice.
The Right Attorney Will Understand Your Feelings about a Case of This Nature and Realizes That Patience as Well as Appropriate Legal Counsel Is Necessary
Interviewer: I would imagine that many of your clients are dealing with a number of issues like stress, guilt, remorse. How do you help these clients if they are feeling this way?
Paul Cramm: Well, I think as counsel, I need to be very patient with my clients, I need to understand what they are feeling, for having handled cases like this in the past. I need to understand that sometimes, time is the best medication.
Sometimes, your client will come to realizations about the events, about themselves, and about their involvement over time. They will have understanding and realizations six months after an incident occurred that they could never have six weeks after that incident occurred. I think it’s important when you step into a case like this to understand that you and that client are entering a very long-term relationship.
You don’t want a case like this to be pushed through the system very quickly. You want to have plenty of time to review the state’s evidence and you want to have plenty of time to conduct an independent investigation.
You want to have plenty of time for the client and the lawyer to forge a meaningful relationship where the client really trusts the advice and the direction of the lawyer and the lawyer really understands what the client is feeling and what the client is experiencing.
Can Retaining an Attorney Help to Have the Charges of Vehicular Homicide or Manslaughter Reduced?
Interviewer: How often are you successful in reducing a charge when it comes to vehicular homicide and manslaughter?
Paul Cramm: I think the answer to that question depends a great deal on the facts and circumstances of each case. For example, if we have a case where two young gentlemen in their early 20s are unquestionably engaged in a speed contest. They are drag racing and in an accident and one of these young men are killed.
Mitigating or Reducing Charges Is Dependent on the Individual Circumstances of the Case; That Is Why It Is Important to Retain an Experienced Attorney
I think as a prosecutor, you’re going to see that at trial, it will be very difficult to present or to paint the surviving defendant as really a bad person and culpable party. This is true when the decedent, the victim, was engaged in the exact same reckless behavior and it was mere toss of a coin as to which one of these two would or would not survive.
That’s the type of case that as we get close to trial, a prosecutor is likely to say to the defense lawyer, “Can we find some common ground here?” I don’t know that you’re going to get that type of latitude if your client is driving under the influence of alcohol.
Perhaps they have a prior DUI some years past and while intoxicated, they drive straight through an intersection and run into a young mother with children in the car, who was not doing anything wrong at the time of the accident. It may be very difficult to get some relief or some concession from the prosecutor in that type of case.
Whether or not the prosecutor will agree to reduce or amend charges, I think it’s going to depend almost exclusively on the unique facts of each case.
Accident Cases Attributed to a Driver Texting on a Cell Phone Are Becoming More Prevalent
Interviewer: I’ve heard cases that involved texting. Have you heard of cases like this or even handled cases like this?
Paul Cramm: I have not had a text or cell phone case in my practice yet. However, those are far more prevalent now. What I have seen particularly here in the metro area with the two or three cases that have been covered by our local media, it does appear as though courts are very strict with these texting cases and cell phone cases.
They are treating these cases very very seriously and I think the reason for that is because of the knowing and willful decision by the driver to engage in the texting behavior. That’s a decision they make at the time they’re driving. It’s not as though someone can say, “My gosh, somebody’s pet darted out into traffic in front of me and I swerved to avoid this cat or dog and ended up striking this vehicle in the oncoming lane.”
These texting cases are not a result of something unexpectedly appearing and the driver is forced to make a snap decision. These texting and cell phone cases are cases wherein the driver is willfully, deliberately deciding to divert their attention from driving task. I think that’s why courts, at least here in the Kansas City area, have been pretty strict with the few cases that have been reported in our media.
Is it Likely That Your Life Will Radically Change after Being Charged with Vehicular Homicide or Manslaughter?
Interviewer: When someone has been charged with vehicular homicide or manslaughter, how radically do their lives change?
Paul Cramm: Life changes dramatically for these people. Again, the people who I have had the privilege of representing have all been very good people who faced a dreadful situation. The feelings of responsibility and guilt and sadness were just overwhelming to these folks.
It’s difficult to deal with the very understandable anger from the surviving family members of the victim. We have greatest empathy for those folks, but that is another source of distress to my client. Mu client already feels terrible about what has happened and is already second-guessing every moment of that accident. Now they have to face and deal with some pretty harsh feelings and sentiments from the family members of the victim. It’s just an added layer of stress. These are very difficult cases all the way around.
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