Homicide - What to Do When You or a Loved one is Facing Murder or Manslaughter Charges - Part 2
Have you or someone you care about been charged with murder, manslaughter, or another homicide-related offense? If so, you're in the right place.
North Carolina Attorney Bill Powers has been representing clients charged with murder and other homicide-related offenses his entire career. In this episode, Attorney Powers answers the questions that matter to you when you when you or a loved one is facing a murder or homicide offense.
What's the… Read More.Modified Transcript of “Homicide - What to Do When You or a Loved One Is Facing Murder or Manslaughter Charges - Part 2” for the Hearing Impaired
Bill Powers: Right. Well, first I hope that that never happens to anybody listening. Sometimes people listen to a podcast 'cause they're just interested, you know, they're lawyers, or law students, or paralegals, They're just interested in the law. But I cannot think of any circumstance where it makes sense just to go down there and start talking. Even if you've done nothing wrong, the fact that you are being questioned ... There's questions. They want to know. Maybe they think you've done something.
Even if you haven't, I think it's very, very, very smart to immediately make contact with a lawyer. Even if you are going to give a statement, you have a right to have counsel present. You have a right to counsel with a lawyer. And there are times where you may not have committed the murder itself, but you may be an accessory to, and we used to call these things accessory before the fact, or rendering aid after the fact, and in large measure we've gotten rid of that because in many instances you're considered a co-equal, see, because, let's use a bank robbery example.
Now, if we bring a bank in it probably brings it under federal law, but I'm using it as an example where you and I decide to rob a bank. I'm going to drive the car. You're going to bring the gun. Someone gets killed. Because we have a common plan or scheme, we are treated in large measure under law the same.
Robert Ingalls: Right, so don't be like, "No, I just drove the car."
Bill Powers: Right, you could be admitting to something as serious or quite serious in and of itself that may clear you of the murder, but may cause other charges to come down the road. I think speaking to a lawyer makes sense. Now, when people call, we don't get a lot of these, there just aren't a lot of ... I know Charlotte set a record in 2017 for the number of homicides, but you don't see a lot of them, in the layer cake as I described before, but when we get them, which we do, we're prepared for them.
I treat them a little bit differently. I, generally speaking, will not speak to somebody on a phone about it. I want it in my office. I want to make sure that we have established a level of confidentiality, that we will recognize that there is a privilege, meaning attorney client privilege. We set forth the parameters of what the purpose of the representation is, and why we're meeting. That's meant to protect the client, not the lawyer.
In murder cases, who knows? They may have a tap on your phone, I don't know. That's why we want to get you in to the office. We also encourage, the vast majority of these people that call are family members, loved ones, and someone that they care about's in jail, and they are reaching out to seek assistance. The first thing I tell the family members, realize that you have no rights or privileges regarding attorney and client privilege, talking to your loved one, your son, your daughter, your family member. Don't be talking about this on the jail phone.
Don't be talking about this on the telephone. Now, recently we've changed how things work in Charlotte, where you don't really get to see people in person anymore, it's all done digitally. I don't know if you know this, but I don't particularly like it. I like it as an option. I liked it as an either or. I don't like it as a, "This is your only choice," but it's done as a video conference.
Well, how hard is it to tape that, or record that? So you need to realize that communications made with family members are not necessarily protected, and I've seen cases, I've done murder cases where they roll out a table. They've got some sort of a device that plays the audio or video, and there's the jail recording. It's the recording of the person accused talking to the loved one, and admitting certain things. I've seen it, and it's high drama in court.
It's, the jury hears it, and then when the jury is trying to infer, they're trying to gather what was in the mind, and they hear the person speaking, and their tone, and being calm as opposed to upset, and heat of passion, and maybe plotting, or what appears to be plotting, or planning, it doesn't go well with the jury. I tell people, "Stop talking." One of the things I say everyday is, you know the saying, "Don't just stand there. Do something?" Don't just do something, stand there. That's the best advice I can give you.
Speak to a lawyer, whether it's us or somebody else. Get the lawyer into the jail if possible to visit the person. Sometimes that's worthwhile. And I tell the client, "Everything we talk about is confidential. I don't want you speaking with anyone else in the jail cell. I don't want you talking to law enforcement. The only people that you have attorney client privilege are your attorneys, are your people who work in our office."
Robert Ingalls: Now, let's say that I am in Maryland the weekend of a murder, and I come home, and the police show up at my house and they want to ask me a few questions about that murder. In that moment, I know I wasn't there. I know I have a rock solid alibi. I was with my mother, what have you.
Bill Powers: Right.
Robert Ingalls: Maybe she's not a great alibi because I'm relatively sure that she'd say whatever she needed to do to keep me out of prison, but if I'm in that moment and I know I have nothing wring, is there any harm in speaking to the police in that moment?
Bill Powers: Yes, 'cause you don't know all of what they're looking for or at. You may not think this is fair, and I'm not commenting on this aspect, but police officers are allowed to not tell the truth on an investigation. It would be very difficult to do an investigation where you just blindly accept an answer. They're allowed to see your level of involvement.
You may have an alibi that you were in Maryland at the time, but you may have put steps in place that caused the murder in the first place. You see these in the murder for hire cases, where someone thinks they're smart, and they can outsmart the police. They go to a movie, and make a big splash of things, and the whole time they're working behind the scenes. I just don't think it's a good idea in those circumstances. That's not to say that police are terrible people.
They have a job to do. They're investigating. And don't kid yourself. The people that they have doing homicide investigations are really, really, really good at what they do. They tend to be most personable in my experience. They're very good talkers. They're very good communicators. They get people talking. They tend to be very, very, very smart. This isn't some out of the basic law enforcement training cadet rookie that they're throwing capital homicide on.
These are people that have been in the system for year, after year, after year, after year. They have a particular level of training. This isn't just a matter of learning how to shoot a gun and put handcuffs on somebody. They are trained on interrogation, investigation techniques. They have training, particularized and specialized training on DNA or collection of evidence, or blood spatter evidence. And they have a lot of years, normally, there are exceptions, but normally they tend to be the best, and the brightest, and the most experienced detectives.
Robert Ingalls: They're kind of bringing psychological warfare to your door?
Bill Powers: I haven't really thought about it that way. I guess. I have a cousin who is a detective. He's a homicide detective in Alabama, and he actually just got a promotion. Congratulations. He's actually one of the smartest people I've ever met, probably scores out on MENSA, or one of the genius scales. And I wouldn't want him investigating me for a speeding ticket let alone a murder. He's so darn quick, and smart, and he tells me they go to classes, and when you're talking to a person if you look down and to the right it means this thing. There's a psychological, or in the military they call it psych ops or whatever.
There is an aspect of that. I hadn't really thought of it as warfare. Maybe they do. I don't know. Good question.
Robert Ingalls: Well, and one of the reasons I bring that up is, I know North Carolina, over the last 10 years, has gotten a lot of national attention for inmates that had been sentenced to life without parole, or had been sentenced to death, and it turned out that they had been wrongfully convicted.
Bill Powers: Oh, it's shameful what's happened in North Carolina. I actually met, this past summer, one of the guys that was on death row forever, shook his hand. Not only they didn't prove they case, they proved that he didn't do it, and that is my fear in our culture and our society, that time, after time, after time, case, after case, after case, they're clearing these people who were convicted and put on death row. Thank goodness due to, normally either something called The Innocence Project there's some really good lawyers, Christine Mumma is one of them that I think of that work on these projects, the actual Innocence Project that was established by one of our chief justices in North Carolina Supreme Court.
There are times where there's some terrible level of politics and some inappropriate action on a prosecutor. And there are times where it's not the case where, because of the condition of the human heart, the nature of humans, we make mistakes, and we may be sure of something. And we may be positive that someone did something, and then we find out later we were wrong, I can't even imagine how hard it would be to not only be convicted of something, and sitting in prison for the better part of your life, but to be on death row wondering when and if they're gonna ...
I've been in that room. I've been in Raleigh Central Prison. I've seen the room where they do, it used to be electric chair. When I was there the electric chair was actually in the hallway. They just removed it and put it in the hallway. They had two options at the time, one was lethal injection, which was relatively new, and the other was the gas, or they had the pellets. It was not high tech, and it was not what you see on TV. It wasn't dramatic, and it was the most horrific thing I've ever seen, where we toured Raleigh Central Prison and we saw the wing where they kept the capital murder people.
Again, I'm not commenting on whether there should be or should not be a death penalty. I have opinions about it. It may surprise some people. As a defense lawyer I do have opinions that may run contrary to what you may expect, but because I've seen the reality of the situation, that is incredible. That's where it gets weird. This isn't a TV show anymore. This isn't just some great novel, or a mystery. You're sitting across, just like you and I are, as close together to another human being that may have their life ended by the state as the ultimate consequence.
That's scary when I hear of case, after case, after case, after case, not just in North Carolina ... This has been a problem nation wide, because people are upset. I understand why people are upset that someone died not due to natural causes. That's homicide almost by it's pure definition. But what's worse is we put an innocent person in prison. It happens more often than you would think, and then the person that did it is still out on the street, which means they're fully capable again. That's why you see these serial killers go for years, and years, and years, which is a kind of scary thought.
Not to put too fine of a point on it, be a downer, but that is. That's the level we're dealing with. Now, even if you're not looking at the death penalty, I promise you you don't want to do a decade. Everyone wants to get tough on crime, you know, and I see this when I pick jurors, and I understand that anger towards crime and criminals, but there's a reason why we have these protections in place. They're a reason why we force the state to prove things beyond a reasonable doubt, because mistakes are made all the time, and everyone can be proceeding in good faith, and in the best interest and what they think they should be doing, and you get the wrong person.
It irritates me more than anything when people are in court joking around like, no one wants to serve jury trial. I'll tell you who wants you to serve in the jury trial is the person sitting next to you, or when that's you, then you want to make darn sure people are taking their responsibility seriously, that they aren't assuming that you're guilty. That they're going to enforce the presumption of innocence and make the state prove beyond a reasonable doubt in each and every element of the offense.
Courtroom is really where the rubber hits the road. What you see on TV is so far from the truth, in the sense of that's not how things happen. Jurors are, when I talk to them afterwards, are like, "Golly, I didn't realize how much of a really emotional and mental marathon it was sitting through, and how much more slowly things take to develop." There's not this Matlock moment, it's the best, most scary prosecutors I know ... We lost a really good one this last year in Charlotte, and he was a dear friend and someone I admire greatly, but the best prosecutors I know are these methodical, precise, almost mathematical in their presentment of evidence, slow, careful, almost painful as a defense lawyer.
Like, oh, can we just now move on? Why are we doing ... The best prosecutors are the ones that just take their time and go through piece, by piece, by piece, by piece. This particular prosecutor just kind of set the standard in Charlotte for doing that. That's different than what you see on TV. It's not this laser projected image on some sphere. It's not like the CSI you see in Miami at all. It's normally graphic, gross pictures that frankly, sometimes the normal reaction is you want to vomit when you see them.
Robert Ingalls: To kind of wrap this up, it sounds like maybe at least the takeaway for me from most of this was, no matter what the circumstance is, if the police want to talk to you, or if you've been charged, the best thing to do is maybe be quiet ...
Bill Powers: Right.
Robert Ingalls: ... and reach out to an attorney.
Bill Powers: Right. Exercise and use your constitutional rights. Use your fourth amendment right. Be polite. I always say be polite. Respectfully decline to speak with them. Don't engage in the conversation with experts, really, specialists in engaging you in conversation. Separate yourself from the situation as you can. Now, sometimes they won't let you. Sometimes they'll say, "You're not going anywhere. Put your arms behind your back. If you don't want to give a statement that's fine."
But as you can, invoke your right to have counsel, legal counsel. It is one of the fundamental rights, and the reason it is is it's so important to have someone on your side defending you who has the skillset and experience hopefully as equal to that of the people that are prosecuting you.
Robert Ingalls: Now, one last question that just kind of popped into my head. You said how when they talk to their family members, sometimes that comes back to bite them later. Let's say that they need to talk to you. If they make a phone call to you, is that something that they need to be concerned about what they're saying over the phone?
Bill Powers: Well, actually yes. In fact, they don't turn off the recording devices. And I think sometimes people confuse or conflict this with Miranda Rights. That doesn't mean they don't get the evidence. It may not be admissible in court, and there's a difference. Don't conflate that. If I'm talking at the jail I will say, "This conversation is protected. I do not consent to the conversation to be recorded. I ask that recording devices be turned off." And I feel certain that they ignore that, okay.
So I am very, very, very careful about what I say on any type of telephone, and even in jail when I speak to people. I don't even like talking on the phones with the cords. If I can talk through the glass I will attempt to do that without hopefully being heard. But even if it can't be used in court it may be used for some other purpose. If nothing else, why would we want to kind of show our defense in a particular case, or anything of that nature?
That's also why I think it's so important that people are not in jail in the first place, because it makes it very, very, very difficult as you might imagine, to review discovery, to talk about potential witnesses, and evidence, to go to the scene, when your client is sitting in jail. We do all those things anyway, but it would sure be nice if you had the client sitting next to you going, "Nah, no they said this in this report, but this is actually where I was standing. That's not possible it happened that particular way." There's no substitute on these cases.
I can't think of a murder case that I've done in the last decade where I haven't gone out to see not just once, but time, and time, and time again. I just handled on recently where it was out, well, in the southeast part of town. It's close to where I live, and I drive by all the time, and every time I drive by I think about it, and I think about, you're looking at the pictures and the science of the thing. But it's really important to not speak with any, even family members, even your lawyer if you can. I'd prefer speaking to you on the other side of the wall in my office, helping prepare a defense.
Robert Ingalls: Alright, well those are my questions. Do you have any last words on this?
Bill Powers: Well, I appreciate people's patience listening to what most certainly is probably a somewhat disturbing topic. I'm always willing to sit down and talk with people. That's something that lawyers, we do, especially on the DWI related incidences where we go to schools, workplaces, church, where we help educate people. Whereas heat of passion murders, by their very nature, homicides, there's not a whole lot of preventative aspect of it, in DWI there is.
In DWI I can explain why, and I've done this, I've done it for some of the local schools for many years now where it's not a good idea to have the house party where your parent's serving the alcohol and something bad happens, or you're the person driving around and something bad happens. If we can help educate, if we can help explain the system, if we can help explain the law, or the laws, or the consequences, we're more than willing.
We have PowerPoint, will travel. And I do thank you for addressing this issue. I'm not aware of many podcasts nationwide, let alone locally, that do stuff like this. This is kind of raw. I've never done one myself, that I can think of either, so I thank you for doing this with me.
Robert Ingalls: Absolutely. I mean, I know it's an important issue. I, not to make this too long, but you know I went through law school.
Bill Powers: Right.
Robert Ingalls: I worked with The Innocence Project during law school. I saw a lot of this stuff first hand, so it's certainly close to me.
Bill Powers: It changes you.
Robert Ingalls: Yeah.
Bill Powers: I think what really surprises many people is the person he helped set up that program, the chief justice, these aren't pro-defense necessarily type of people. This is a system wide problem that we need to get our handle on. One, we don't want to commit the wrong person. Second, we want to make sure we get the right person. I didn't know that. Thanks for sharing that, 'cause that will change you, the actual Innocence Project where you see innocent people are being convicted.
Robert Ingalls: Yeah, I met Ronald Cotton. He came and spoke to us. I met Dwayne Dale. One thing that he said stuck with me is he said, "The day I had court the only thing I cared about is I look good for the cameras, 'cause I knew I was going home." He didn't go home for another 18 years.
Bill Powers: We've seen cases in North Carolina time and again where the prosecutors have joined the motions saying please set aside this verdict. We got it wrong. The person we talked to turned out to be a liar, or had psychological problems. There was one of those at Raleigh. We had a three judge panel reverse the case.
Robert Ingalls: Yeah.
Bill Powers: It's an important topic. It's not something that is really fun to talk about on a podcast, not a whole lot of joking around, but I think it's one that hopefully people can learn from.
Robert Ingalls: Alright, well thanks Bill. I appreciate your time.
Bill Powers: Thanks, brother.
Robert Ingalls: Alright.
Bill Powers: Bye bye.
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