On April 23, 2018 we received one of our biggest victories to date, securing a win in Federal Court .
We knew our client was innocent, but it would be the decision of a federal jury to acquit our client of what are considered to be some of the worst crimes on earth– aggravated sexual abuse of a child and abusive sexual contact against his daughter.
In any case involving a child, juries and the courtroom tend to have bias for the child, making it difficult to establish innocence for accused an uphill battle. But with tremendous preparation and skillful argument in the courtroom we were able to win this case and reunite our client with his family.
How did we become involved?
Back in December 2017, we were asked by Attorney Andrea Wooten to join her in defending her client in federal court. At first we passed on the case, as we were neck-deep in a murder trial.
Andrea called us again in January and at that point, as our attorney Casey Davis says, “We took the case because we knew we had to.”
Trial Preparation Challenges and Fighting the Accusations
The alleged crimes of aggravated sexual abuse of a child and abusive sexual misconduct took place aboard a cruise ship in the Gulf of Mexico. As an off-shores incident, the case was under the jurisdiction of the federal government, and our client was facing a mandatory minimum of thirty years in prison.
Some of the challenge we faced in preparing for the case:
- Time: Even though we entered the case late, the judge held us to the same deadline as the previous attorney.
- Collecting witness testimony and talking to investigators: Tracking down witnesses and investigators from a cruise ship was no small feat. We had an expert legal team in Texas handle a lot of the legwork in a short amount of time. We also brought in a world-class expert witness who has dealt with these kinds of cases on both sides.
- Fighting a paper battle with motions: Prosecutors fought to exclude our expert witness, but the judge denied this claim. We also fought to choose a different venue to try the case. While we were denied, we won a lot of credibility with the judge for this approach.
Game Changers: Voir Dire and Demurrer
While everyone expected us to file a motion of continuance to buy us more time, attorney Casey Davis filed a motion for voir dire, which calls for the judge to individually ask for surveys of the jurors. It was only the second time in sixteen years that the federal judge had granted such a motion.
This made a huge difference because we were able to find out about people’s experiences with sexual abuse in a way they might not normally share. We were able to find out which people might not be in the right mind space to sit in judgement of something like this because they have their own life experience and biases that they can’t set aside. We were able to have those jurors removed from the panel for cause.
After the federal prosecution put its evidence out on the table, Bill Campbell, our second chair and federal court mentor, successfully argued a rule 29 motion for demurrer. This meant that there was no way a rational trier of fact could find our client guilty of count 2 (abusive sexual contact). This left only the first count to deal with.
The judge’s granting of our demurrer was huge for the case. This too has only happened twice in our judge’s tenure on the bench.
Courtroom Strategy: Talking to the Jury
Sexual abuse cases are exponentially more difficult to defend than any other kind of crime. No one is ever able to justify child molestation.
Finding the real story was key to winning this case.
The jurors had to have no doubt in their mind that this person was innocent to feel good about their verdict.
We never went after the young lady making the accusation, and we freed the jury from having to judge her. Instead, we kept the attention on the people who were putting the pressure on her to make these allegations, which turned out to be her mother.
Jacqui Ford skillfully handled the arguments presented before the judge and jury.
Casey Davis observes:
“The most dreaded position a lawyer can find him or herself in is having to cross-examine a child alleging sexual abuse. It is not only excruciating for the lawyer, but also everyone in the courtroom. Jacqui handled the situation masterfully.”
Ford revealed herself to be the soft-spoken, big-hearted conversationalist that she is. She set a tone that put the witness and the courtroom at ease.
In that moment of ease, the truth of the case was revealed.
After a full day of voir dire and four full days of evidence, the jury returned with the verdict: not guilty.
Our client soon reunited with his whole family with his dignity and reputation intact.
Seeing the case to conclusion in just eighty-four days was a real all-hands-on-deck situation. We credit the process we developed through the Trial Lawyers College, which allowed us to work as team by diligently handling the paperwork and managing the case in the courtroom.
While we put tremendous effort towards this case, it was also a case about the jury. It took twelve people to rationally sit down and do the right thing. We are grateful for the care and consideration the jury took throughout the trial.
Says Jacqui Ford, “I am so grateful to be a trial lawyer. I am so honored to be chosen to be the voice of the innocent. I am inspired by those around me who stand up with courage to fight the government everyday.”
If you or someone you love is facing federal accusations of aggravated sexual abuse, you need a skilled defense attorney. Contact the law offices of Jacqui Ford today.