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Ask Our Lawyer - October 2001

Question: I was riding my bike, minding my own business, when some guy in a car starts hassling me, crowding my lane and generally driving unsafely. I sped up and changed lanes to get away from him, but he followed me. When we got to a stop light, he pulled up behind me and bumped my bike with his car. I got off my bike to check the damage and to see what his problem was. He got out of his car and ran up to me and stabbed me in the chest with a knife. If a passerby hadn't called the ambulance, I might have died in the road. What can I do to make sure he get prosecuted?

Answer: A story ripped from the headlines, as they say on the TV show "Law and Order." Let me give you my Top Ten List of things to do to ensure that justice is done.

1. Call your ABATE Legal Services office. Let the ABATE lawyers help you understand the legal process and what to expect from the law enforcement agencies who will investigate and prosecute the crime.

2. Contact your local ABATE chapter. Let them know what happened and give them the opportunity to warn the members of the problem. ABATE members can also give you much needed moral support in the days to come.

3. Work with the prosecutor to keep the case on track. Remember that the prosecutor has a power called "prosecutorial discretion." That means that he has the sole authority to decide to prosecute the case or not. He or she alone will take the decision to go forward with the case.

4. Separate your anger from the processes. It's okay to be angry and to want revenge. Use that anger to strengthen your resolve to pursue the case. Do not, however, let your anger overwhelm your abilities to be an objective and credible witness. For the prosecutor to take you and your case seriously, he needs to be convinced that you are going to be strong witnesses. A witness who appears to be bent on revenge is less credible that someone whose prime interest is to see justice done.

5. Let the prosecutor know that you are a "stakeholder" in the community. The fact that you have lived in the community for years, own property, vote and take part in community affairs gives the prosecutor the extra bit of affirmation that you are going to help the case and that you will maintain interest in the case.

6. See the process through. Unlike most trials on TV, the legal process can take a long time and be a grueling process for people who are not familiar with it. You will need to be ready to have your deposition taken by the defendant's lawyer. You will have to make time in your schedule to meet with the police and prosecutor. You will have to be available to testify at the trial. You must be committed to the process to see that justice is done.

7. Cooperate with the investigating officer. The police are often used by the prosecutor to help decide which cases to prosecute. Cooperating with the police and being polite and civil will mean that the police will have no qualms about recommending the case for prosecution.

8. Follow up with prosecutor often. Prosecutors are universally overworked and underpaid. There are institutional pressures on them to close cases as early as possible. This is often done with plea bargains. Make sure the prosecutor knows that you are interested in the case and are following it's progress. Knowing that you have a continuing interest in the case will make it more likely that the defendant will be charged and convicted of the proper crimes. Keep in touch with prosecutor by telephone and follow the progress of the case.

9. Keep good notes of the process and your dealing with the police and the prosecutor incase you need to exert pressure on the prosecutor. If you feel that the prosecutor is not taking your case seriously or not devoting any attention to it, you will need to take appropriate steps to correct that. First, write a letter to prosecutor laying out your concerns with the conduct of the case. Use to notes and diary to document your concerns. If that approach fails, send a similar letter to prosecutor's boss. If that does not work, take your case to the media. In most cases, the prosecutor either is or reports to an elected official. Use the media to put political pressure on the prosecutor. Your notes and diary will be effective here, as well..

10. Assume the prosecutor and the cops are doing their jobs. Many people have had unfortunate contact with police and prosecutors and may not have kind feelings toward them. Do not let your past experiences color your observations of the process. Let the prosecutors and police do their jobs, and they will.

If you have any questions you would like to ask the lawyer, please submit them to: ASK OUR LAWYER, P.O. Box 2850, Indianapolis, Indiana 46206-2850.