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Murder Mistrial Declared: NY Defense Lawyer Had Never Tried a Case

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By Adam Ramirez on April 05, 2011 6:47 AM

Trying your first jury trial can be nerve-wracking. What's more, as you almost surely know, there are normally procedural requirements barring attorney should be making their trial debut in a homicide case.

So telling the jury in a murder trial that this is the first case you've ever tried is never recommended.

After a New York attorney did just that last week, the judge declared a mistrial and allowed the defendant to fire his clearly in-over-his-head attorney.

Judge William Jackson said lawyer Joseph Rakofsky lacked a grasp of legal procedures, including the attorney's rambling opening statement in which he told of his inexperience, the Washington Post reports. Rakofsky graduated from Touro law school in 2009 and obtained a law license in New Jersey less than a year ago, the story says.

Rakofsky had repeated disagreements with his local D.C. counsel, causing his client, Dontrell Deaner, to become "visibly frustrated," the Post says. On Friday, Deaner told the judge he wanted a new lawyer. Considering the stakes, it's hard to blame him.

The judge declared a mistrial after viewing a court filing in which an investigator had claimed Rakofsky fired him for refusing to carry out the lawyer's emailed suggestion to "trick" a witness, the story says. Rakofsky's suggestion allegedly read: "Thank you for your help. Please trick the old lady to say that she did not see the shooting or provide information to the lawyers about the shooting."

After being tossed from the case, Rakofsky understandably refused to comment to the Post and made a rushed exit out of the courthouse, according to the paper.

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