Kane County prosecutors portrayed Daniel Rak as a cold-blooded murderer from the opening moments of his trial, while the defense painted a very different picture of the events that culminated in the death of 58-year-old Jeffrey Rak.
Both sides agree that father and son argued after the elder Mr. Rak walked in on the younger Mr. Rak’s girlfriend as she prepared to bathe, and that argument ended violently. Several hours after he struck his father and told his girlfriend that he may have broken his nose, the younger Mr. Rak frantically called 911, telling the dispatcher that his father was “on the ground and he won’t wake up.” Suspicious paramedics summoned sheriff’s deputies to the scene, who almost immediately arrested Daniel Rak.
Prosecutors focused on the fight, telling jurors that the younger Mr. Rak viciously assaulted his father in a fit of rage and neglected to summon help for several hours. The defense attorney tried to shift the focus away from the fight and onto prior events. Largely due to alcohol-induced dementia, the elder Mr. Rak suffered frequent and severe seizures that sometimes resulted in brain bleeds, and the defense suggested that these issues, more so than the blow to the head, resulted in his death. Furthermore, the two men were very close in the aftermath of the elder Mr. Rak’s divorce. “His dad was his everything,” Daniel’s attorney remarked.
Both the initial autopsy and a second examination were inconclusive as to the cause of death.
Burden of Proof in Criminal Cases
The high standard of proof in American criminal law is arguably one of the most important safeguards not only for the rights of criminal defendants, but also for the integrity of our legal system.
In a civil law wrongful death suit, the above facts would almost constitute an open-and-shut case. First of all, the burden of proof (a preponderance of the evidence, or more likely than not) is low in civil matters. Second, the eggshell skull rule would probably apply. This doctrine states that, in most cases, the tortfeasor (negligent actor) is liable for the full extent of damages regardless of any preexisting medical or other conditions.
But there is a big difference between a tortfeasor in a civil case and a defendant in a criminal case.
The state’s attorney must prove every element of the offense beyond any reasonable doubt, which essentially means that the evidence must be so overwhelming, it rules out any other reasonable interpretation other than guilt. In murder cases, the prosecutor must convince all 12 jurors that only the defendant’s action, and nothing else, killed the victim.
Shifting the focus is usually an effective strategy in violent crime cases such as murders, robberies, and assaults. Jurors are human, and if they focus on the violent act, their natural tendency is to blame and punish someone, and that someone is nearly always the defendant.
So, while being careful not to minimize the act or blame the victim, a defense attorney must give jurors something else to think about, and that includes any mitigating circumstances. If nothing else, jurors may take these circumstances into account when deciding guilt.
Reach Out to Aggressive Attorneys
Since the state has a posse of lawyers and investigators who are only interested in convictions, criminal defendants need fierce fighters in their corners. For a confidential consultation with an experienced criminal law attorney in Schaumburg, contact Glasgow & Olsson.
(image courtesy of Antonina Bukowska)