Tuesday, January 30, 2007

A Question

Why, in the world's largest economy, is there so much crime?

Friday, January 19, 2007

Budget shortfall update

The director of the statewide public defender network was quoted in the paper as saying that the budget shortfall is actually a product of timing. The new defender network is largely financed on an additional fee for filing civil cases and an application fee for public defender services. The director took the position that the system for collecting the monies has only been in place for nine months, leaving a 3-month shortfall. That amounts to $9.5 million.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Budget shortfall

Well, it turns out that a certain, high-profile death penalty case has cost the state-wide public defender council way too much money. The fellow has four, full-time lawyers, all appointed at state expense. Granted, the case is complex, as it involved multiple deaths, one of which involved an elected official. And, the incident was covered fairly extensively by the national medai. As a result, there will be a budget shortfall.

Apparently, the state-wide public defender council was told that they can expect to start laying people off, starting in February.

Luckily, almost everyone in my office is a county employee. But it is a shame to see all the forward momentum that the state has experienced in indigent defense over the passt two years potentially stall over monetary matters.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The Conditions of Incarceration

One of my colleagues was working a case where the client had some mental health issues. So, he hired a psychologist to review the case and interview the client. The psychologist ultimately determined that the client was incompetent to stand trial. The State's psychologist agreed, and the next step was for the client to be transferred to the State psychiatric hospital for treatment and to determine whether he could be restored to competency and ultimately stand trial.

That was in October. Apparently, it took some time for a bed to open up, and my colleague was checking on the client from time to time, to see if we could get him in the hospital.

Apparently, there were some issues, and he was discovered in his cell, yesterday, deceased. The papers aren't saying much about the circumstances surrounding his death.

However, we have heard from the jail that the issues involved rectal bleeding. In fact, he had gone to the regional trauma hospital three weeks ago to treat the condition.

Curiously, his cellmate apparently is a fellow that has returned to the jail from prison because he has a motion for new trial pending. He's currently serving multiple life-sentences. Infer what you will.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007


A couple nights back, I caught a rerun of an old Frontline investigation on plea bargaining. The journalists picked three examples of the criminal justice system reaching imperfect results. In two cases, men chose to take a deal when they were most likely factually innocent. In the third, a woman refused to take a deal, to her own detriment.

One of the men was charged with homicide of some sort and ended up being pressured into a deal, so he claimed. One of the key factors in his decision was the presiding judge's representations that the defendant would be released on parole after a certain date. Of course, that date has long since passed and the man remains in prison. The story told by the lay people, including the father of the victim, was that the plea was essentially coerced. Subsequently, the father of the victim investigated on his own and came to the conclusion that the defendant may have assaulted his son, but the defendant did not kill his son.

In another, a man on death row took a deal when he was demonstrably innocent. He had twice been tried for murder and rape, twice the death penalty was imposed, twice the verdicts were set aside. At the third (or fourth?) trial, he was offered a time-served deal, which he took because he was essentially worn down. Subsequently, DNA evidence basically exonerated him, although the prosecutors continue to maintain that the defendant was guilty.

In the third, a woman was convicted of murder and robbery, all based on a very questionable identification. In fact, the warden at her prison asked some NYU law professors to look into her case. Years after her conviction, a Federal court granted habeas relief, and the prosecutors put a deal on the table. Her attorneys understood that the climate at the Federal Court of Appeals in that circuit was not favorable, and strongly urged her to take the deal. They understood that the window was rapidly closing and that this opportunity would not present itself again. Nevertheless, she felt that she could not tell a lie. Sure enough, the Federal Court of Appeals reinstated the conviction.

What I thought was most interesting, was this sense that these cases are examples of the system breaking down. There is this sense, which I believe is naive, that if you just tell the truth, everything will be fine. Often, this is the case. But, you don't have to look very far, perhaps as far as Illinois and their situation on death row. Often, the truth will set you free, but not always. And the thing was, this sense of outrage was coming from law professors and criminal defense lawyers.

I tell my clients that a trial is a risky thing. I tell them that the decision to enter a plea is theirs alone. I tell them that every trial comes down to the particular defendant. If the principle is important, then we should try the case. However, if managing risk is what important to them, then we should take the deal.

So I found this Frontline investigation somewhat amusing. True, our system is flawed. True, I hope that none of my friends or loved ones ever gets caught up in the criminal justice system. True, sometimes, my clients get screwed. But, I don't know of any better system and I have to conserve my outrage for the most obvious situations. Otherwise, I wouldn't be able to continue doing this.