Spotlight On: Timothy Quinnell

Please tell us about your practice, including where you practice and how long you have practiced criminal law.

I started practicing in 1988.  My case mix changes from year to year, but roughly 50% of my practice is criminal related.  My criminal cases are spread over juvenile, district, circuit, and federal courts.  I have tried jury trials to verdict in all of those courts.  I accept appointments from those courts and am also on the appointment list from the Federal Public Defender under the CJA for the Western District of Michigan, Northern Division.  The remainder of my case load consists of bankruptcy, divorces, personal injury, general civil litigation, and real estate.  Being from a limited population center, it is difficult to concentrate or limit your practice to certain practice areas.  I am based in Marquette, but I have appeared in every county courthouse in the Upper Peninsula and in federal courthouses in Marquette, Lansing, Grand Rapids and Cincinnati.

Please tell us about an interesting or unusual case.

My very first criminal trial was a bench trial in which my client was accused of furnishing alcohol to a minor.  My client was an on-call bartender at a local strip club which featured, on special nights, females wrestling in a boxing-type ring with different substances – a take-off from mud wrestling.  The night in question was St. Patrick’s Day, so the featured bouts utilized lime-green Jello.  The owner of the bar served canned beer to patrons and delivered them unopened.

What were the prosecution and defense theories?

The prosecutor’s theory was that an underage patron was served alcohol by my client.  My client insisted everyone who entered was carded by the doorman, but apparently this young man snuck in to enjoy the lime-green Jello fights.  We theorized he simply “grabbed some Buds” from the table and started drinking.  He left the bar after a few and was pulled over by the township police after he was clocked speeding.  He was asked where he got the beer.   He told the police he was served beer from a bartender, but could not remember which one.  He described the bartender and the description matched my client.

Were experts needed?

No experts were needed, but at the beginning of the trial I asked my client to sit in the back of the courtroom with three of her friends who also match-ed her description.  The prosecutor objected, but I ex-plained to the judge that the Defendant was in the room and was sitting in the back to prove the minor could not identify her.  The judge overruled the ob-jection.  During cross examination, the minor could not identify my client.  After all the proofs were in, the judge found my client not guilty, reasoning the proofs failed, the minor could not identify the bar-tender, and he likely simply stole the beer from a table and should have been arrested for larceny and MIP.  It was very satisfying to win my first criminal trial.

What significant trends – good or bad -- have you noticed in Michigan criminal law over the years?

Lack of jury trials, or maybe it is a lack of indivi-duals willing to throw the dice.  Plea offers are tak-ing collateral consequences away, so individuals seem eager to accept plea offers on close cases in-stead of going to trial.  A good example of this is dropping a high BAC charge to operating while in-toxicated.  Another good example is receiving an offer for HYTA or 7411 recommendations.  Clients, when explained the benefits of such a plea, have a hard time turning down such offers when the cones-quences of going to trial and losing include a 20-year max.  When I first started as an attorney, the District Court averaged 5 to 7 jury trials a month.  Now the 96th District Court has that many in a year.

Do you have any advice for other criminal lawyers?

Networking with other attorneys is vital to keeping up on trends within your practice areas.  Keep in contact with counsel on multi-defendant cases as plea offers to co-defendants will often be offered to all defendants.  Sometimes, you get the best offer because you have the fastest shoes.  When going to trial, always have your direct and cross examination questions for each witness written out in advance, and start a list of questions to ask based on what is stated by the witness during the prosecutor’s direct.  Stay within your theme of the case with your questions.  I always refer to my client by name.  The other side is usually “the government” or “the prosecutor”.  Trial skills are honed and ad-justed with each trial regardless of your experience.

by Neil Leithauser
Associate Editor