Saturday, December 22, 2007

And the Judges always think we're nuts

An officer in a neighboring jursdiction started a blog and it apparently lies now in neglect, as it seems most blogs do.

What's interesting about this blog is that it is written from the perspective of the cop out on the street. It traces his journey through the academy and his application for a job through his first three months on the street. Along the way, he drops little nuggets like this:

We do a lot of mexican raids. You know the spots where all the illegals hang out in the morning looking for day labor. Well we have a lot of fun harrassing them. The other day we played the cops theme song "Bad Boys" across the PA system as we rolled up in there. It was hilarious.
Just as I always suspected. The emphasis is mine.

On Friday, I represented a man from Mexico, who happened to have a social security card and a permanent resident I.D. in a false name. This fellow is an itinerant agricultural worker. He has come to the U.S. to work the fields and send money back home to his three kids. He is a religious man and was extremely polite. He is not: (1) a terrorist; (2) a gang member; or, (3) a drug addict. He's just a hard-working guy.

I am sure that the stop was exactly as Officer Beck describes in his blog -- my report said that the arresting officer saw some men drinking along a woodline and arrested my guy for public intox (although there was no indication that he was disorderly), criminal trespass, and a county ordinance violation of having an open container. Now that's reaching deep. Upon searching my guy, he found the fake ID cards. My guy entered pleas to two counts of Forgery and is now awaiting deportation. I begged the ADA to come down to misdemeanors, but he would not budge. There was some poetic justice, however: after the plea, the Judge asked why the illegal immigrants were being arrested solely for false identification, when there were no other charges. The ADA got to squirm a little, which was nice.

My guy is still in jail.

Monday, December 17, 2007


My Residential Mortgage Fraud client is scheduled for sentencing tomorrow. Apparently, the Attorney General's office is going to recommend two years to serve, followed by eight years of probation. (10 do 2, in local parlance.) That seems a bit excessive to me. But then it probably should, given which table I sit at in the courtroom.

I talked to my client today on the jail phone, and after we discussed many things, the last words she said to me, just before hanging up, were, "and thanks for everything you've done." Those aren't words you hear very often as a public defender and it is very rare for them to be heartfelt. But these were and I got just a little bit choked-up.

I also have six probation revocation hearings scheduled for tomorrow morning. There's nothing quite like easing into the holidays.

UPDATE: The Judge and I were on the same page -- 10 do 2, suspended on completing the Detention Center (which is a 90-120 day program), no restitution, first offender status. So, as long as she gets through the Detention Center, which is basically a boot-camp program, then she won't have to do any prison time. That's extremely fair, although I would have preferred straight probation. On the same page, but not in the same paragraph.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Progress and disappointment

The past six weeks have brought a whole new layer of sophistication to my practice. I have

  • made widespread use of our investigators, and thank god for them
  • hired a private psychologist to perform a competency evaluation on a client, concerned not about mental illness but about mental status
  • hired a polygrapher to examine a client

Having someone else to actually get stuff for you, whether its witness interviews, documents, or whatever, is a such a luxury. I've been a public defender for over five years now, I guess. But, in the past, I've never had access to investigators. I was the one that hunted down witnesses, obatined documents, etc. There really is now way that you can effectively investigate a case when you have 30 cases on a trial calendar each month. Sure, you can get your client to help you, but that is less than effective. Their friends may or may not call you back, and there is no way that I can serve subpoenas in 30 cases. As a result, a lot of one's work becomes processing cases -- getting a dismissal, because the victim doesn't show up, or the best deal that you can. There are always regrets when you try a case, because there is more that could have been done. Having someone on the team, though, who does that work full-time is an immense help. It makes me feel like a lawyer again.

Speaking of, I tried my first felony case here. Before I came Down South from the Rust Belt, I was in a felony defender's office back home. I tried several there, but that was over seven years ago, now. (For those astute readers, I took some time off from defending and worked in the courts -- I moved unexpectedly to the South, and got a job where I didn't need a license right away.) I've second-chaired a couple of felonies since I joined this office, but this was my first without being under someone's wing.

The charge was Residential Mortgage Fraud, and I had a lady that was just trying to buy her first home. The mortgage broker and home owner were charged as well, and were represented by retained counsel. I suspect, though, that I've had the most experience actually in the courtroom. The mortgage broker paid a lot of money, I suspect, on a retainer on a fairly new attorney. We are all inexperienced at some point, so I am not faulting the lawyer. But, the situation spoke volumes about the "real lawyer"/"public pretender" myth. Of course, I'm not claiming to be Barry Scheck or F. Lee Bailey or Johnny Cochran.

I didn't believe that the jury could find my client guilty of what the State charged her with. We picked a jury on Monday, and slogged through all week and closed on Thursday morning. Of the two dozen trials I've had, this was one of my better closing arguments, so I was feeling pretty good about the whole thing. I began to get worried, though, when the jury went home Thursday night without a verdict. On Friday afternooon, after 10 hours of deliberations, they jury let us know that they disagreed with my take on the facts. My lady was taken into custody immediately, of course. She's facing a mandatory 1 to 10, although the 1 can be probated or suspended. Sentencing is Tuesday.

Losing really sucks.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

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The truth is much, much stranger than fiction.