Winning by favorably framing the story

Jan 25, 2011 Winning by favorably framing the story

Photo from website of U.S. District Court (W.D. Mi.).

Many times I have blogged about the persuasive power of storytelling. It is not enough to tell a story, but to tell a gripping story, drawing the listener into the story, telling the story from the perspective of a person who is living the story, and finding the most persuasive story not only with the information that is known, but also by injecting ourselves into the story that we are searching.

Recently, I explored how I would win a Maryland drunk driving case where the police officer found my client asleep at the wheel of a car with the ignition running and with my client exhibiting significant hallmarks of being under the influence of alcohol. So, after absorbing the police reports and all other relevant information that I could about the case, I transported myself back to where my client was found, and then everything fell into place, as follows: The officer first saw my client’s car in a shopping center parking lot. An hour later, seeing my client’s car still there, the officer investigated, finding my client asleep at the wheel with the ignition running, and asking him to step out of the car to take field sobriety tests. Eureka! My client was sleeping off alcohol on a cold night, which explained the ignition’s being on to provide heat, and not to drive.  

My client’s car was in the same spot for an hour because he was sleeping off the effects of alcohol. In Maryland, merely being asleep in a parked car with the ignition running does not automatically amount to the driving or attempted driving behavior that can expose a person to a drunk driving conviction, as “long as such individuals do not act to endanger themselves or others.” Atkinson v. Maryland, 331 Md. 199, 627 A.2d 1019 (1993). (Curiously, a day before I tried the above-discussed case, the Virginia Supreme Court went the opposite direction of Atkinson, ruling 6-1 that one is an operator of a motor vehicle for purposes of a drunk driving prosecution, merely by being asleep at the wheel of a parked car with the key simply turned to the position to have the radio playing. Nelson v. Virginia, ___ Va. ___ (Jan. 13, 2011). Of course, such cars as Toyota Priuses do not even have ignition keyholes)

The judge acquitted my client within the first ten to fifteen minutes of trial. He mentioned that the case may have gone differently had there been no testimony about my client’s car being in the same place for so long, an hour. The judge had adopted our persuasive story.

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