Patrick S. Fragel
STATE APPELLATE DEFENDER OFFICE and CRIMINAL DEFENSE RESOURCE CENTER
October – November, VOLUME 41 ISSUES 1 & 2
Please tell us something about your background, how long you been active in criminal defense, where you practice, and something about what brought you to practice criminal law.
After earning my B.A. from Michigan State University, I enlisted in the United States Army, Infantry. This seemed like a good option since I enjoy the rigors hiking and physical training. I graduated from Officer Candidate School and spent three years in Frankfort, Germany. I eventually earned the rank of Captain and then moved on to law school.
During my studies at Thomas Cooley Law School, I was selected by the Prosecuting Attorney’s Association of Michigan [PAAM] to be an intern in Delta County [Escanaba] as a second-year law student. Interning in the Upper Peninsula gave me a chance to hone my trial skills, being lead counsel in several misdemeanor jury trials such as drunk driving, assault, and juvenile matters while practicing under the Michigan Court Rule allowing limited practice for law students.
After passing the bar, I assumed a full-time position as an assistant prosecutor, gleaning a great deal of experience in motion writing and trial work. Once in private practice, I found this training prepared me to specialize in criminal defense, having handled both misdemeanor and felony trials. This is what inspired me to then begin my criminal defense practice in Traverse City, where I have handled hundreds of criminal cases over the past 20 years, obtaining several “not-guilty” verdicts in criminal trials throughout Western Michigan.
Please tell us about one of your interesting cases.
I recently obtained an acquittal in a CSC 1st jury trial in Benzie County, Case No. 17-002487-FH. During a pre-trial Walker Hearing, the defendant’s confession was suppressed because he was not afforded his Miranda rights, despite being subjected to custodial interrogation. The detective refused to let the defendant leave the interrogation room while he [the detective] was consulting in another room with his supervisor. At trial, the defense theorized that the eyewitness testimony was not credible be-cause the physical evidence indicated another person committed the assault.
The jury deliberated for just over an hour. The trial was scheduled for three days, but was finished in less than two. If convicted, the defendant was facing up to life in prison.
Have you noticed any significant trends in criminal jurisprudence in recent years?
There are more impediments to having meaningful interviews with incarcerated clients. Some counties refuse to provide conference areas where an attorney can talk, review police reports, and get documents signed. Instead, the attorney is expected to talk through a Plexiglas window, holding an in-house telephone, and trying to share documents. This situation raises interesting 6th Amendment issues.
What advice do you have for other criminal defense practitioners?
Challenge the prosecutors with evidentiary motions. Oftentimes, the mere filing of a motion gives you added leverage in plea negotiations. Once the hearing begins, you learn the evidence is not as clear-cut as the police report suggests. Or witnesses surprise you with unexpected testimony. Don’t be afraid to follow the evidence. Inspect the evidence, look at it, photograph it, and don’t rely on the police report as your only source of information.
A jury will always trust physical evidence over a witness’s testimony. Sometimes you have to spend extra time inspecting and interviewing, but it makes a difference in the case. If the physical evidence doesn’t corroborate the statements, it will not stand the scrutiny of a jury.
Any particular advice for practitioners new to criminal defense?
Stay physically fit. It is the best means of burning the stress associated with criminal defense work. I run as a hobby. I enjoyed the Marquette Half-Marathon and the Cherry Festival 5K.
Weightlifting is another great way to maintain physical stamina and stay sharp in the Courtroom. Join SADO and CDAM, as there are few other resources as helpful. Most importantly, keep a sense of humor!