Trial By Jury

Jury trials are the centerpiece of our criminal justice system, and for good reason.  Every arrest is backed up with the implicit promise that the charges can be tested in front of a jury.  Twelve Dubuque County residents are the ultimate deciders of whether a defendant is guilty or not. 

Putting in the Work

Getting a case to a jury requires hard work.  Prosecutors are responsible for jury selection, opening statements, coordinating and presenting witness testimony, preparing and admitting exhibits, arguing legal issues that come up before and during trial, objecting to inadmissible questions or exhibits from the defendant, drafting jury instructions, and presenting closing arguments. 

Preparing witnesses, and especially victims, for testimony is a big part of trial prep.  Prosecutors have to know both what they will ask of witnesses and also what defense counsel is likely to ask. 

Since January 2019, no attorney in Dubuque has presented as many cases to a jury as I have.  Since then, I’ve had 29 fully contested jury trials.  The next highest total for any attorney in the Dubuque County Attorney’s Office is 5.  The rest of the office combined does not have half as many trials.

 

The only trial in 2020 after COVID shut down the courts was State v. Booker, which I tried in September 2020 (a conviction and life sentence for sexual abuse as a repeat offender).  During one stretch after trials reopened fully in 2021, I tried five felony cases in six weeks, including four sexual abuse cases and a felony domestic abuse and eluding case.  

Who Cares?

Trials are important for the parties, but they're important for plea bargains too.  If defendants know that they are going to be held accountable in front of a jury, and they know the case will be competently tried, defendants are much more likely to accept a plea bargain that holds them responsible for their crimes. 

On the other hand, when defendants (and defense counsel) think that a prosecutor does not want to go to trial, they will hold out for a better deal, or even a dismissal.  Once the promise of trial by jury is gone, so is a defendant’s incentive to accept responsibility.  A prosecuting office’s willingness to go to trial is directly correlated with the quality of plea deals.

Bottom Line

The central focus of a prosecutor should be preparing cases for trial.  That translates to better outcomes both in the courtroom and in resolutions outside of court.  It takes a lot of work for prosecutors to be prepared for trial, and the County Attorney needs to lead by example, train new prosecutors, and provide support to trial attorneys.

That’s why we need an experienced prosecutor as the Dubuque County Attorney.  Vote Kirkendall.

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