Defense attorney says fame is additional burden in high-profile court cases

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by Mike Gooding, 13News Now

WVEC.com

Posted on July 29, 2014 at 5:48 PM

NORFOLK--High profile defendants, especially those who were once public officials, face a specific set of challenges when they go on trial in the federal system, one lawyer explained to  13News Now Monday.

Norfolk criminal defense attorney Andrew Sacks represented former Newport News State Delegate Phil Hamilton during his bribery and extortion trial in 2011.

Hamilton was convicted of soliciting a paid position for himself at Old Dominion University for which he helped secure $500,000 in state funds through his legislative position as chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

Hamilton is currently serving a nearly ten-year sentence at the federal penitentiary at Fort Dix, New Jersey.

"There is an imbalance there that is inherent to the system," said Sacks.  "The federal government has a vast array of resources, and the record of winning in federal court on the side of federal prosecutors is very, very high. And they have a very strong track record and I think that reflects the fact that they're able to marshal so many different resources and so many different agencies. It's really almost limitless. And the individual defendant has a limit."

Sacks says defendants like Hamilton or former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell -- who is currently on trial for corruption -- face an additional burden - their own fame.

"First, the sheer volume of publicity that juries are exposed to, especially in a case like a former governor, is going to have an impact on the jury pool and their thinking," he said. "The other challenge with a high-profile defendant is that I think juries, particularly with elected officials, do have a greater expectation of their behavior, and perhaps hold them to a higher standard."

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