Denver Bar Association
January 2000
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Your Choice of Counsel


by: Emeritus

Keeping with past practice, The Docket begins the millennium with a new series of articles.

These articles will be devoted to choosing the appropriate counsel for your specific legal needs. For example, the article you are currently reading will examine the issue: if facing certain domestic problems, should you hire a divorce lawyer or a criminal defense attorney?

Such was the question facing Jimmy Watkins of Fort Worth, Texas, as reported by the Associated Press. The domestic problem he faced arose when he discovered his wife in their home with another man. Jimmy made his choice of counsel decision quickly.

Jimmy killed his wife, hired criminal defense counsel, went to trial, and was sentenced to four months in prison. Although four months in prison put a crimp in Jimmy’s lifestyle, Jimmy’s method of resolving his domestic problem seemed to be a quicker and cheaper method than hiring a divorce lawyer and engaging in expensive and protracted divorce proceedings.

But this choice might not work for everyone.

"We’re pleased with the decision," defense attorney Kyle Wjitaker said of the four-month sentence.

Yes. But you must be forewarned that if you choose this route to resolve your domestic problem, you may not achieve the same result Jimmy did. In fact, your criminal sanction might be more severe and less satisfying than if you had hired a divorce lawyer and resolved the issue civilly.

Is the criminal route the best choice for you?

Remember that because the case was tried before a jury of Jimmy Watkins’ peers, the jury too must be persuaded about the justice of its decision. Your jury might impose stiffer sanctions for the murder of your spouse than the Texas jury did, and you may end up spending an unexpected five or even six months in jail.

Juror Alex Davis said, "We feel for the family," (presumably meaning the parents and siblings of the massacred wife ) "but Jimmy needs help."

The jury recommended probation. (Ask yourself: Will your jury recommend probation? Ask yourself: Do you need help? Ask yourself: Can you shoot straight? )

"The prison system just won’t give him help," juror Alex Davis said.

Choice of counsel can be a difficult decision. If you choose to be represented by a divorce lawyer, remember not to shoot your spouse. Divorce lawyers aren’t familiar with criminal laws, criminal defenses, the names of local prosecutors, and the customs of local judges and cops. Once you hire a divorce lawyer, you’ll probably have to let your spouse live.

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