Spotlight On: James R. Samuels

Please tell us about your background, where you practice, and how long you have been a criminal defense lawyer.

When I was in undergrad at Ferris State, I worked as an investigator for a local law firm. One of the partners was a well-known criminal defense attorney.  I became enamored with criminal law.  I started doing defense work right out of law school in 1981.  In 1984, I ran for prosecutor and won by a landslide of 26 votes.  During my twelve years as prosecutor, I served on the board of directors for PAAM and trained other prosecutors.  In 1996, I ran for District Judge and thankfully lost.  I’ve been primarily criminal defense since 1997.  While I’ve handled cases throughout the state, my primary stomping grounds are Mecosta and surrounding counties.

You recently obtained multiple dismissals in felony cases; please tell us something about the cases.

Four of the five cases dismissed were the result of up-front investigations.  An OWI 3rd where there was a serious injury was dismissed once we were able to show the client wasn’t operating the vehicle.  A SORA failure to verify case was dismissed when we demonstrated that the client tried to register at the Sheriff Department on Saturday, but was turned away because they didn’t do registrations on the weekend.  The client was facing prison time.  An R & C felony was dismissed when we were able to show the defendant had no way of knowing that the property was stolen.  A Home Invasion case was dismissed by the grace of the chief assistant prosecutor who wanted to see how the defendant did on an unrelated YTA probation.

Please tell us about one of your interesting or unusual cases.  Were experts needed?

My client was charged with multiple counts of CSC 1st involving his stepdaughter.  There was a nine year delay in reporting.  Lisa Kirsch Satawa wrote a kickass Stanaway [People v. Stanaway, 444 Mich. 643; 521 N.W. 2d 557 (1994)] motion and brief.  The judge granted the motion (a first for me), and records from the doctor and school provided great impeachment evidence.  Frank Eamon sent me impeachment evidence on the prosecutor's expert, which caused the prosecutor to call a different expert!  Dr. Catherine Okla testified about a study that said children will disclose sexual abuse when asked directly about it.  That was an issue in the case.  The client turned down an offer of CSC4th with local jail time.  The jury acquitted on all counts.

Have you seen any trends in the criminal law in recent years?

Sadly, yes.  The expansion of “other acts evidence” in domestic violence and sexual assault cases undermines the presumption of innocence and leads to many injustices.

What advice do you have for other defense attorneys?

Attorneys practicing this specialized area of the law have to stay current on the law and on best practices.  Attend Trial College.  Go to trainings, especially CDAM seminars where you get cutting-edge training, as well as great networking opportunities with other defense attorneys.  Collaborate on cases; I haven’t tried a major felony case in the past five years without the help and advice of four or five of my CDAM friends. 

Any special advice for new lawyers?

Find a mentor right away.  Attend A is for Attorney.  Go to trainings, especially CDAM and CAPS programs.  Ask a lot of questions of experienced lawyers and judges.  They want you to develop your craft in the right way.  Finally, don’t be afraid to rock the boat a little. 

Mr. Samuels' website: http://www.samuelslaw

by Neil Leithauser
Associate Editor