Mimesis Law
22 July 2019

Your Daily Dose of Criminal Defendants’ Bad Ideas

May 5, 2016 (Mimesis Law) — Criminal defendants often come up with some pretty bad ideas, upon which they expect their lawyer to follow through. For example, the notion that a “jury trial costs x thousands of dollars” and that if they refuse a reasonable offer, the State is bound to dismiss or reduce the charge because “they won’t want to spend the money.”

No one knows where this urban prison legend got started, but it’s wrong on so many levels. Judges, prosecutors, police officers, and court staff all have to come to work regardless of whether there’s a trial or not. Jurors and venire persons get paid a small per diem, and maybe a few court staff will get paid overtime: all told, maybe a few hundred dollars. Even so, that money isn’t coming out of the prosecutor’s pocket, or even out of the Prosecuting Attorney’s budget, so pushing a dog case to trial on that theory usually leads to a pissed off prosecutor, an annoyed judge, and, more often than not, a defendant becoming intimately acquainted with the trial tax.

Another bad idea defendants get into their heads is marrying a witness to prevent adverse testimony. This is typically based on the belief that a spouse can’t be forced to testify against the other spouse. A case in Alabama demonstrates how a little knowledge can be dangerous:

A young Blount County wife must testify against her husband, a former school teacher who is charged with a crime because of their relationship, a judge ruled today.

Amy Nicole Cox, who was 18 when she married 38-year-old Matthew Shane Wester, isn’t protected by spousal privilege, said Circuit Judge Dennis E. Odell, a Madison County judge appointed to hear the case in Blount County.

Wester was indicted in January 2015 on one count of a school employee having sexual contact with a student under the age of 19. Five months later, Wester married Cox shortly after graduation.

A prince of a guy, this Matthew Wester. Not only was he banging a student, but he divorced his first wife in order to marry his sweet young thing. The prosecutor claimed the marriage was a sham, designed specifically to protect Wester from Cox’s testimony:

On June 13, 2015, just 67 days following the divorce from ‘wife No. 1,’ and less than five months prior to the initial trial setting in this matter, the defendant married the student whom he subjected to sexual contact while he was a teacher and she was student,” Casey wrote. “It is the state’s position that the marriage to the student is a sham by the defendant to prevent the student from testifying against him.

To be fair, the marriage might not be a sham. It might be the most thrilling tale of forbidden love since Romeo and Juliet. Or, to choose a more modern and non-fictional example, Mary Kay Letorneau and Vili Fualauu. It makes no difference. Alabama Rule of Evidence 504(d) lays out the exceptions to the privilege:

(d) Exceptions. There is no privilege under this rule: [..]

(3) CRIMINAL ACTION. In a criminal action or proceeding in which one spouse is charged with a crime against the person or property of (A) the other spouse[.] (Emphasis added.)

The prosecutor also cited a Supreme Court case, Wyatt v. U.S., where the Court reasoned that:

For if a defendant can induce a woman, against her “will,” to enter a life of prostitution for his benefit — and the Act rests on the view that he can — by the same token, it should be considered that he can, at least as easily, persuade one who has already fallen victim to his influence that she must also protect him.

While prostitution was not a factor in this case, the same logic applies. If having sex with a student is illegal in Alabama (and it is), marriage shouldn’t protect him, whether it’s a sham or true love. If it was true love, they could have waited until she graduated. Or better yet, until her 19th birthday just to be safe. Wester would still be a creep and an adulterer, but at least he wouldn’t be a sex offender.

Except, he still isn’t. Faced with the prospect of having to testify against her new husband, the blushing bride went to Plan B:

Matthew Shane Wester, a former Blount County teacher accused of having sexual contact with a 17-year-old whom he married shortly after she graduated high school, was acquitted today after his young wife failed to show up for court and prosecutors said they couldn’t continue without her….

[Judge Dennis Odell] pointed out that all parties, including Amy Cox Wester, were at an April 18 hearing. “It would have been a simple matter to secure service of the subpoena for trial at that time,” Odell wrote. “The District Attorney’s Office should have accomplished that and failed to do so.”

Bentley then moved for an acquittal, or dismissal with prejudice, and Odell granted that request.

A rookie mistake by the prosecutor. Had Cox actually been served on time, the trial could have gone forward after learning about another bad idea: disobeying a subpoena.

10 Comments on this post.

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  • Mike
    5 May 2016 at 12:38 pm - Reply

    or show up and remain silent.

  • Brad
    6 May 2016 at 7:35 am - Reply

    Are you saying that Webster would have been in a better position vis-a-vis the criminal justice system if he had not married the student?

    I am not saying that the marriage helped (although it may have, for instance at punishment phase), but did it really hurt his position?

    Also, just in general, this post seems more judgmental against Webster, in a Scarlet Letter kind of way, than the scant recounting of the facts seems to merit.

    • Noel Erinjeri
      6 May 2016 at 9:59 am - Reply

      The marriage neither helped nor hurt his legal position–the privilege didn’t apply in this case. Probably a wash on the punishment phase, too.

      As for “judgmental,” life is a rich tapestry and there might some circumstances that mitigate the adultery part of it…maybe his marriage was on the rocks, maybe he and his ex-wife had an arrangement. Come to that, adultery is a sin but not a crime, and if this had been some random 18 year old it wouldn’t have been a criminal matter.

      But there’s no excuse for a teacher carrying on with a student, not even true love. He should have kept it zipped till she graduated.

      • Brad
        6 May 2016 at 10:08 pm - Reply

        “another bad idea defendants get into their heads is marrying a witness to prevent adverse testimony.”

        you are now contradicting this statement.

    • Chris
      6 May 2016 at 11:21 am - Reply

      A high school teacher that messes around with one of his students deserves judgment.

      • Brad
        6 May 2016 at 10:13 pm - Reply

        eh, maybe. depends on the circumstances. I think this guy did a bad thing, but I don’t judge him nearly as harshly as Noel does. Not everyone who breaks the law is a “creep.”

        • Greg Prickett
          7 May 2016 at 12:47 pm - Reply

          No, but any teacher who is banging one of their students is, at least in my eyes, a “creep.”

          • Brad
            9 May 2016 at 5:31 am -

            For me, depends on circumstances. It is unethical and a conflict of interest. However, it gets a lot less “creepy” for me if: (i) the student is above the local age of consent (16 in Alabama); and (ii) the parties involved end up getting married to each other. In my mind, I don’t really group that person in with rapists and child molesters (absent aggravating circumstances*). This may be an example of where Alabama has overcriminalized bad conduct — a common modern problem in the US, and especially the Deep South.

            FOOTNOTE:

            * don’t know the circumstances of the adultery here, but that could be an aggravating circumstance depending on the nature of the first marriage at the time of the adultery.

          • losingtrader
            30 August 2016 at 1:44 pm -

            Unless it’s a hot blonde female with large breasts and a voracious sexual appetite.
            Just sayin’

  • losingtrader
    31 August 2016 at 2:41 pm - Reply