A Blues Like Down Home

"Lawyer: An individual whose principal role is to protect his clients from others of his profession."-Anonymous

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Drunk for Sentencing!

So now...What kind of mental thought process must one go through to think...

"Hmm, the sun is shining outside you know and since I just got out of custody last week, after serving 49 plus days in
By Golly, Today is my lucky day!!...I think it might be a good idea to show up to court drunk for my sentencing!"
"Oh, but wait...I certainly can't be late for my sentencing...I think I'll show up a good 20 minutes EARLY so that the deputies and every one else gets a good whiff of the alcohol permeating out of every skin cell of my being!"

Yes folks, that's how my afternoon kicked off, my client (I actually really like the guy)... in spite of the temporary lapse in judgment and added aroma that one could not possibly ignore within a good yard of him.

Mr. John Doe was actually in my opinion, quite lucid. He didn't display any of the "typical signs of intoxication" whatsoever...just the odor.

Although I knew and advised him that it was extremely likely that he'd be going to jail, especially after the PO (Probation Officer) insisted that he take a breathalyzer right on the spot. He was actually nonchalant, smiling and seemingly care free throughout the whole ordeal.

I, the brilliant PD that I am, made a valiant attempt to persuade the Judge not to order a Breathalyzer test as he was perfectly lucid, understood the recommendations and was quite agreeable to following them. I mean, my client is here...he served his time, complied with the interim court orders and even showed up early!

Besides, the terms of his release and plea agreement pending sentencing didnt particulary say he couldn't show up to court drunk... Disclaimer: Now, I didn't actually SAY the preceding line...but I sure as heck thought it!

Needless to say...as it turns out...I'm not that brilliant after all (Damn)... No dice.

So not only does my client blow a .18 the first try...(mind you the legal limit in my jurisdiction is a .08)...the PO turns to me and states..."should we do another one?"

I mean what the heck...it can't get any worse right??

"Might as well"...I mutter.

'Oh but yes Virginia, it can!....

second time?


Good thing my client is indigent and doesn't drive

...And off he goes...back to jail

Monday, October 15, 2007

"But...He's a Good Father"

"Girl You Ought to Bash Mister's Head Open and Think About Heaven Later!" - Quote from The Color Purple

Those are the words that immediately popped into my mind after seeing her again. I was making my way out of the courtroom when she stopped me... The first thing, I noticed was the dark purple hue which encompassed her eye. "I want to help him,...how can I help him?"...says my former client.

Now everything inside me wants to scream those words to her...(words of wisdom, as I see it from my favorite flick) but I know I can't (besides the fact that I've actually grown fond of my license, I also know violence solves nothing), instead I say ..."You need to leave him."

She tells me he's a good father to their children, and its just her he has a problem with...I retort back..."but he beats you in front of your kids." She repeats herself.."It's just me, he just doesn't get along with me, what can I do to help him?" "Please, I want the charges dropped."

Now a few weeks earlier, I had picked her up on the Domestic calendar...she had just spent the weekend in jail. The two of them had ventured here from another state contemplating a relocation.

Well, unfortunately the weekend ended rather shortly with a bad mix of alcohol, an alleged scuffle and other various..."bad facts." Anyway, the police report alleges a passerby calls in the argument..."He" points to a scratch on his nose. "She" goes to jail.

"That's how things work up here"...I tell her, "you can't drop the charges like you can where you're from." The state is pressing the charges...not him." I get her background info. she has no record, the offer is to plead to misdemeanor, no contact, and the other typical conditions. I listen to her story...she has a good self defense claim. She's all of 5 foot 1, 115 lbs and He's 6'5 and a solid 250 lbs. He also has felony level domestic charges in the other state against her and an ex-girlfriend.

She tells me she's tired of the abusive relationship and she realizes he's not good for her...she's going to leave him and go back home to her father, besides she has a second job interview pending the next day.

She wants to get out...and get it over with. God, I hate that! I hate to see someone take a plea with a clean record...because they want to just get it over with. I managed to convince her to let me set it for a pretrial...and make a bail argument.

Incidentally the Judge on that day, was one of the more reasonable ones...I tell her she has a good shot, but I can't make any promises. I take my new found information and actually manage to convince the prosecutor to divert this charge AND not to seek a no contact order because they had young kids together and she needed to make arrangements for them.

I find myself actually agreeing with the prosecutor that a no contact order would probably be a good idea...but that's not what my client wants, so I argue against it.

She is released, her charges are diverted and she walks away with what I hoped was a new lease on life....flash forward three weeks and I'm staring at fresh black eye and learn that "He" has picked up a new strangulation charge against her of course (felony here) He's looking at real time in addition to the possible revocation on his out of state probation.

I'm looking at my pleading client, and for a few minutes I'm genuinely conflicted... I mean I've dealt with recanting spouses/significant others before and generally have no problem directing them to an investigator to take a statement and/ or referring them to the "victim advocate" and/or Prosecutor to give a recanting statement...but this time is different...she' s my client.

In the end I advise my colleague of her contact info. and her wish to recant. Its out of my hands.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

It only took two and half years...

But I finally got it! My very first jury trial. Now previously I've been in Juvenile Court, and the only time Juveniles in my jurisdiction get a jury is when they are either certified or facing some type of adult prison sentence. I'd always get close to a jury trial...but what would always seem like the last minute, the prosecution decided to be more reasonable.

Anyhow, not this time! In my opinion, (which of course carries great weight with all of me, myself and I) the case (alleged domestic assault) never should've been charged and I wasted no time telling the prosecutor that and of course she listened to reason and summarily dismissed the case right? Of course not.

Here's the skinny, my client mid-twenties, engaged to be married, mildly mentally retarded , worked at a popular fast-food restaurant chain, lived at home with his mother, mind you in a small 2 bedroom home. The complaining witness (I don't like to use the term "alleged victim") was a teen aged run-away with an extensive history of running away, (usually for 2 to 3 days at a time). Who on the morning of the alleged event text her mother...summarily stating she was tired of being "assaulted" ...he's choking me I want to come home. " She had been gone for about a month. Now mind you, I did say text right?

Mother calls the police to pick up her daughter at a bus stop, which unfortunately happens to be within a few blocks of the clients home...and the story is set in motion. She tells tales of being threatened with machete's, choked, forced into prostitution...the whole nine for the duration of the month she absconded. "Officer Friendly" writes her a citation for being a run-away at the scene. She gives officer information of my client' s address where she claims this alleged activity and assault just took place (mind you several felony-type behaviors-including kidnapping) "Officer Friendly" takes her home.

SIX MONTHS Later (after a thorough investigation -oh wait, that didn't happen!), my client gets a complaint in the mail alleging domestic assault and disorderly conduct...you got to be kidding me? The prosecutor generous offer was for him to admit to an enhanced charge due to a prior and go through some programming. How about charging the complaining witness with filing a false police report?...needless to say that didn't go over too well.

Now being the cynic that I am, I'd love to imagine that race had nothing to do with this charge coming to fruition...but I knew better. I had to brace my client and his mother for the reality..."It's very likely that You, your mother and I will be the only persons that look like us, in that courtroom on the day of your trial." Unfortunately no truer words were spoken.

On the day of trial, I was a nervous wreck, didn't even know how to fill out the jury selection forms, I kept marking the wrong boxes, which I was sure didn't play well in front of the jury, I even made a failed Batson challenge on one juror who unfortunately couldn't keep his eyes open for voire dire.

In my mind, I felt like bumbling idiot the whole time...but what really grounded me was my client, I had a few bench trials before and generally I tell my clients don't talk to me just write down what you have to say or what you want me to ask the witness. Well my client kept on loudly whispering in my ear, during the trial...and I chided him saying just write it down because I have to hear what's going on. It was at that point, he looked up at me, paused and said..."I can't read and write that good." I could almost taste the look of shame on his face. I so wanted to die ...I could not believe that I had done that. I was so involved in this case that I didn't even realize he had no clue what I was writing to him all that time. This was about him, not me.

Right before the jury was excused, my client, bent over and whispered to me..."Is it over, am I going to jail now?"No, I whispered back, they're going to decide now, then they'll come back and tell us and if they do decide against us we'll have to come back again and argue about sentencing."

In the end, I centered my theme about the fact that she needed a story, just like the run-away bride from Atlanta, just like Susan Smith, and Tawanna Brawley. The jury agreed...and he was acquitted.

Not bad, for the first one...believe me I know, it could go all down hill from here... but I'll savor the 1-0 for the extremely short time while it lasts. But most importantly, I'm glad that my client went home. There are times that I absolutely love my job, can't hoop and holler about the pay...but it keeps me grounded nonetheless.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

One Month In...

Well, it has certainly been a while since I've last posted...I will certainly try and do better. I've officially been a Public Defender for a whole month now. I can say it is certainly different than what I expected. But I guess a great deal of it is getting used to the Adult side of the things. I'm so used to doing bench trials, so it will really be different to get in front of a jury. Now, I've come close on the juvenile side to getting a jury trial ...but they always settled prior to voire dire.

So next week will be my first official jury trial and it will be a felony trial...so I've been gearing up for it.

Everyone is really friendly, helpful and cordial, I think I'm going to like it. I've already picked up cases from the Domestic, Serious Traffic and Community Court calendars. So far the most interesting of clients are from the Community Court calendar which consists of mostly homeless persons, who are picked up for such low level offenses trespassing, loitering, consumption, public urination, etc....

Well I picked up this one client (who looks like a dingy yet lovable Kris Kringle), and can cuss like none other( mostly in reference to the police men who pick him up from his corner), I mean he takes cursing to an elevated art form....Ya gotta love it...and I don't cuss (well, not generally speaking that is...)

Any how, the city attorney's office has labeled him a habitual offender and the judge sets bail at $150.00, which of course my client can't afford... I discuss the City Attorney's offer to settle the case, and he's not interested at all, I explain to him his trial rights and assure him that I'd demand a speedy trial for him, because he shouldn't have to sit in jail just because he couldn't afford the bail...but in fact he's been through this before, countless times. He looked at me dead in my eyes and told me something that blew me away... he said..."Look, this is a whole lot better than being on the streets." I hadn't even considered such a thing...My whole focus was getting him out and he didn't even want it. It was the first time, in a unfortunate long time that I realized that I couldn't even relate. It really hit home for me, the magnitude of it all...seeing someone voluntarily, readily and willingly give up their freedom in exchange for three meals, a bed/shower, and continuous shelter. I went home that night and every night thereafter, thankful for all that I take for granted. It has been yet another lesson one of my clients have taught me. "Thanks Kris."

Saturday, June 16, 2007

So I'm a Rookie ...

Yes, its now officially been 2 weeks as a Public Defender...and I can honestly say I feel like a Rookie all over again. I know nothing it seems...a bail argument?? What's that? I never had to do that in juvenile...heck I could do a detention argument no problem. Its definitely taking some getting used to. One constant note of comfort is that none of my new co-workers treat me like a complete and utter idiot that I feel like most of the time. I've been blessed in that sense. They are for the most part extremely helpful albeit extremely busy as well.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

End of an Era...

Well okay, maybe its not that dramatic...but at least it sure feels like it. I just found out that when I do transition over to the PD's that I will start out in Adult Division. "Bummer"...I've grown so accustomed to Juvenile...I in fact, love Juvenile...it has meaning and purpose, it's within my comfort zone for God sake! Geesh.

Oh well, still happy about the move...but just not diggin Adults. But its not the end of the world...just a new era. So, I guess no more school presentations? That's the part I'm really not liking. I hope to make it work out! We'll just have to wait and see.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

So I have had a lot of Drama....

You know the personal kind...that's what's kept me away for so long...but needless to say, I'm hopefully through the worst of it.

Anyways, I do have great news to report...after two years in the non-profit world...it's finally official....I'm going to be PD! whoo hoo! Moving on up!! I know that is all relative-speaking...But hey the bump in salary/benefits will be noticeable. It is bitter-sweet nonetheless as I will be leaving an awesome group of attorneys...I've learned so much from them and they've totally supported this move from the very beginning. Thanks guys!

The only other issue remains is my actual start date with the PD's....

So yes, I'm excited about working with the PD's ...and better yet, from what I've been told is that I'll be assigned to work in the Juvenile division which is great for me...because I have a pretty good relationship with all of the ones down there...especially since I'm one of the main conflict attorneys for their office.

One other thing that I will miss is the community outreach that I do currently...I actually do enjoy going out to the local schools and alternatives and giving them that "chick named Miranda" speech....if I can at least keep one kid from winding up being a future client than that makes me happy.

I hope to find a way to continue to do this while I'm at the PD's office....will post more later