Blago is back. Dragged to trial by federal prosecutors (again) for allegedly attempting to sell President Obama’s old Senate seat, Rod Blagojevich’s defense began presenting its case (again) on Wednesday.
Perhaps humbled by the fact that the jury returned a verdict on only one of the twenty-three different counts of corruption charges brought against the former Illinois governor, prosecutors have been much less cocky this go round.
The governor, like the second trial, has been surprisingly quiet. That will all change Thursday, when Blago is expected to take the stand on his own behalf. Blago’s testimony will likely make or break his defense.
Abbe Lowell, one of the nation’s most accomplished defense attorneys (he served as President Clinton’s attorney during impeachment hearings) told FrumForum that it isn’t surprising that Blagojevich plans to take the stand on his own behalf:
It is not surprising that a defendant, especially a high profile defendant, would testify in his or her trial. This is especially true in a re-trial if the first attempt ended with any convictions. The defendant may believe he has to testify to get a better result. However, when a defendant testifies in a criminal case, he or she makes it a one witness case — the lawyers matter less, the evidence matters less — because juries will decide based on whether they like and believe the defendant.
However Lowell added that the cards seem stacked against Blago this go round. “Second trials are usually more beneficial for the prosecutors because, with their having the burden of proof, they often overdo it in their first attempt.”
Also, so called “high-profile cases” are different. Lowell pointed out that:
Any profile case is different from the 98% of other cases that get tried. There is a fear that lawyers, witnesses, juries and even the judge will play to the public. The O.J. Simpson trial proved that true. High profile trials also put more pressure on defendants to testify because they have to then face the critics who would ask why they did not if the trial ends badly. Public figures are given less leeway — before and during trial because prosecutors and judges are concerned they would be accused of favoritism otherwise.
One thing, though, is certainly true. If prosecutors can’t nail Blagojevich this second go round, then the governor’s claims that he was the target of a political witch hunt will begin to look right.