Homicide - What to Do When You or a Loved one is Facing Murder or Manslaughter Charges - Part 6
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.
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."