Freddy: Another interesting case would be where I was a part of a defense team and it was during the time when it was very early in my practice when I worked at another law firm. My firm represented a notorious motorcycle gang. I was a part of a team that represented a member of this particular motorcycle gang and one member of one motorcycle gang was accused of killing another member of a rival motorcycle gang.
The fact in that particular case was that one person was alive to tell their story and the other person involved was dead. Our client was alive. They claimed that it was murder in cold blood. We found out during the case and after having about two weeks of being locked in that trial that what had actually occurred was that they both had challenged each other to an old-fashioned duel, such as one that a person might see in a western movie.
Using a Statute from the Past to Defend a Present-Day Charge
At one point in South Carolina’s history dueling was still on the books as an old law. Where if you had a duel using pistols, for example, you could walk away ten or more paces in two separate directions with your gun loaded. Then, both parties could turn and shoot. That action was actually allowed, under the law in the past. We used that reference to paint a picture to the jury that It was an agreed upon duel. It was evident that these men had agreed upon and intended these consequences. It wasn’t in accordance with modern law, but they had an agreement between themselves.
Interviewer: That’s very interesting. What that says to me is that if you handled murder cases that, when someone comes to you with a DUI case or traffic infractions or other crimes, not to minimize their severity, but you are well able to handle them, if you can handle that high level of case.
Freddy: I wasn’t responsible for the whole case, that was the first chair, senior attorney’s job to direct that case.
Interviewer: You’ve said that you were a part of the legal team, could you break it down and tell us what that means?
Defense Attorney’s Working in Teams: Fourth, Third, Second and First Chairs
Freddy: Sure, I started out representing clients in criminal cases and working on defense teams, working doing case research and cross-examininations during high-level criminal cases. When you first start practicing, you may sit “fourth chair,” meaning that you’re usually just doing the legal research on the case. That’s what you’re relegated to and it’s the bottom rung of the defense team. This is where you learn the background on your firm’s cases. “Third chair” is most usually the lawyer dedicated to preparing witness case questions and minor witness cross-examinations.
“Second chair” is dedicated to cross-examinations of key witnesses and direct examinations and “First chair” handles the opening and closing arguments and sets the strategy and tone of the case at trial.
When I started in private practice at that firm, I would sit fourth chair, doing research for the other attorneys during my first major trial experience. For my second trial they said, “We’ll have you do a cross-examination. The third day of the trial, my boss at that time, a partner at the firm said, “I want you just to do all the remaining cross-examinations, the whole day and I will watch you and take over if you can’t handle it.” He watched me do cross examinations all day and didn’t feel compelled to step in. So, I essentially went from third to second chair in that case in one day.
So, I ended up doing all of the cross-examinations that day. I would step back to the desk to ask him a question and he would usually whisper a point or two to me and then say, “that’s good, keep going.” He handled the opening and closing and various other aspects and our firm won that case. The third major case that we had, he let me do the entire cross-examinations again. On that case, I’d done most of the research and a lot of the preparation so you could actually say I was fourth, third and second chair for that case.
He let me, again, handle the entire cross-examination process and he let me do a lot of the direct examination as well. He did opening and closing and then one of the days he sat back and said “you got it” and for 3 hours I was at the podium or the desk asking questions. Working with that defense team in that firm, I worked on seven murder cases and all of them were interesting and intense for me.
Criminal Defense and DUI: Deciding on an Area of Practice
I decided that I was going to do just a few areas of law, because as I got older in practice you learn that there’s things that you can do really, really well and that you can’t do well at everything. Now, I focus my practice on DUI, Criminal cases and personal injury cases because those are the areas that interest me the most. I’m able to handle DUI trials with confidence because I work hard at it.
I am generally pretty comfortable in trial. I usually know how to accomplish my goals for the case. I know what questions to ask, what avenues to pursue to help my client. The DUI trials have actually become much easier for me as I have gained more experience since I come from a trial background. The issues are most often quite similar between cases unless it’s a complicated case. I’ve made it a point to study the caselaw I use most often because I want to be really good at what I do. I believe if you work hard, it can definitely show up at trial.
I’ve defended a lot of different criminal cases in different areas, whether they are drug cases, DUI’s or CDV cases. Because of my experience, I’m able to focus more on the type of cases that I enjoy and generally do better job for my clients.
Experience Counts: Choosing an Attorney with Knowledge in the area of law you need help with
Freddy: I think f you want to get good answers you should ask good questions. You need to find a firm that has experience in the area in which you need help. Real experience. I think that if you have a case that could end up in trial, you probably need to have an attorney who can go to trial. You should have an attorney that has actually went to trial before. You may benefit from an attorney that knows his or her way around the courthouse, has been before many judges, has worked with the prosecutors or against the prosecutors, has seen a lot of different cases and has a lot of different cases under their belt. I encourage people to ask me as an attorney about their experience and see they feel about my answers. We are not allowed to compare ourselves to other attorneys in the State of South Carolina, but I can surely tell a person what my experience is and answer their legal questions in my areas of practice.
Interviewer: Why do you think you’ve been able to be around for so long? Do you think that helps your clients because you get a higher level of respect?
Freddy: No, I believe that I have been around so long primarily because I work very hard and I’ve grown up wanting to be a lawyer in order to help people. I believe that when you give respect you get respect and that’s the way I try to conduct myself in a professional and respectful manner. I appreciate the file clerk in an office as much as I respect the Judge. People are people, we all have a job to do and we all are worthy of courtesy and respect.
Interviewer: I guess one of the best calling cards is that someone literally sees you in court, and they hear what you have to say and they may think that you do a good job. So if their uncle, or cousin or brother or someone they know gets in trouble, they may say, “Hey, that’s the guy to talk to.”
Freddy: I hope so. I think that if someone sees me “in action” they can say, “This is the person I’ve seen in court so we know his work, we’ve seen his work.” Also you’ll have court personnel who’ll come over from time to time and watch all or part of one of the many trials in the courthouse, which as a lawyer, I always encourage. I think the more the merrier. You can see, firsthand, what we do and see how the process works you understand it better. Hopefully, that translates to greater respect for the lawyers involved in the cases.
* Results achieved for one client in one matter does not necessarily indicate the ability to achieve the same results for every client because every case is different, every judge is different and every jury is different.
By Freddy Woods