Tuesday, August 02, 2005

When you assume . . .

Once prosecutors charge a person with a felony, that person is entitled to a preliminary hearing (or a grand jury hearing, though those are much less common). The purpose of this hearing is to determine whether there is “sufficient or probable cause” to believe that the person who is charged could be guilty of what s/he is accused of.

The idea is that a felony is sufficiently serious that somebody must check to be sure that there is some basis for filing the charges before the system goes full-steam ahead with a prosecution. Theoretically, the judge (at a preliminary hearing) or the grand jury (at a grand jury hearing) acts as a neutral third party, evaluating the evidence provided by the prosecution and determining if there’s enough to go on.

But judges aren’t immune from the same prejudices that afflict the rest of us. If police and prosecutors have bothered to drag somebody into court, they must have a good reason, right? If this person didn’t do anything wrong, why would prosecutors be wasting their time on him/her?

A few weeks ago, an attorney in the office asked the judge to postpone a client’s preliminary hearing. The client, who had been charged with shoplifting something expensive (can’t remember what), was in a live-in rehab center 75 miles away, and it would be harmful to disrupt her treatment by forcing her to come all the way out here to the courthouse. (Some rehab programs make you start all over from the beginning if you miss a day.)

The judge responded: “Why should I have any sympathy for your client? She stole from a store.”

Of course the statement about sympathy is cold-hearted, not to mention short-sighted (doesn’t society have an interest in keeping people in rehab if that’s where they need to be?).

But here’s the more serious problem: the judge—the judge, whose job it is to take a reasoned, unbiased look at evidence and make sure that the charges are legitimate—had already decided that not only were the charges legitimate, but that the client was guilty. The fact that the client had been charged was enough for the judge to believe she deserved to be charged (and, for that matter, that she deserved to be incarcerated).

Monday, August 01, 2005

Juvenile incarceration

A lot of people don’t realize that minors, unlike adults, do not have the right to a jury trial when they are accused of committing a crime. (The right to a jury trial is in the Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The Constitution is usually considered kind of a big deal by lawyers.)

Here’s the reasoning: The goal with minors who commit crimes is rehabilitation, not punishment by incarceration. As such, minors don’t have to worry about “defending” themselves in a court of law from those who would seek to deprive them of their liberty as a penalty for their criminal acts. So minors don’t get jury trials because they don’t need them.

So what do they do with all the minors that, were they adults, would be put in prison? Roughly speaking, those whose crimes would land an adult in jail go to Juvenile Hall; those whose crimes would land an adult in prison go to “youth correctional facilities.”

In practice, almost no rehabilitation goes on at these institutions. At best the kids are just left to their own devices, but too often the kids are actively mistreated by the guards (called “counselors”). Every few months or so there’s another story in the paper about some innovative form of abuse: the latest was about how the youth facility guards made certain kids fight each other so the guards could wager on the outcomes of the matches. Parents complain, but who listens to parents who have raised juvenile delinquents?

For all practical purposes, these kids are in prisons--and badly-run prisons, at that. And they never even got a jury trial.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Big scary murderers

Client is a 17-year-old boy walking in a park with his 17-year-old friend and his mother. All three of them come upon client's 15-year-old sister, and it appears that she was having sex with some guy in the park bathroom. The mother is furious and tells the client to go after the guy.

Client and his buddy go into the bathroom to confront the guy. Client demands that the guy empty his pockets because, client says, he wanted to see if there were any condoms in the guy's pockets. All the guy had in his pockets was a couple of dollars, which he dropped to the floor.
After emptying his pockets the guy takes off running. Client chases after him. Client's friend stays behind and pockets the money that had been left on the bathroom floor.

As client is chasing after the guy, the guy trips and falls into a body of water at the park. It turns out that this guy doesn't know how to swim, so he starts struggling in the water. Client actually jumps in to try to get the guy out of the water, but the guy ends up drowning.

Both client and his friend are charged with felony-murder. Felony-murder is a death that occurs as part of committing a felony. (For example, when somebody robs a liquor store and ends up killing the store clerk, the shooting death is a felony-murder. Murder generally requires "malice aforethought," but in the case of felony-murder, the intent to commit just the felony makes you culpable for the death that results from it.)

The underlying felony? Client told the guy to empty his pockets, and the friend took the two dollars that had been in the guy's pocket. For this, both boys are charged with felony strong-arm robbery of the guy in the bathroom. When the guy falls into the water and drowns, the death is the "result" of the felony, because it occurred as the guy was running away from the "robbers."

The friend has already been tried (as an adult) and convicted of murder. Our client is awaiting trial. Client's mother and sister do not visit him in jail.

Update on August 2, 2005:

I usually don't respond online to comments, because I think it's better to let people say what they want without interfering. But in the interest of accuracy, I'm pasting in part of an anonymous comment made about this post that corrects my flawed example of felony-murder:

"Your felony murder example was a bit off, what you described would most likely be murder in the first degree with special circumstances (shooting the clerk during an armed robbery). Had the clerk been pushed away from the register, tripped, fallen and broken his neck resulting in death, THAT would be a felony murder."

Thank you, anonymous commenter!

While I'm at it, I'll add, in response to the same commenter, that I believe the reason that the client's family does not visit him is because his family sucks. To be fair, a lot of members of inmates' families don't have the flexibility to leave their jobs in the middle of the day, during the idiosyncratic hours the guards allow visits, to see their loved ones. In this case, though, the family seems to see the client as dispensable. Given that he was acting at their behest when he got into trouble in the first place, their betrayal seems extra sucky.

I don't want anybody to think that I see this client as an angel--he was, after all, going to kick the crap out of some guy in a park for having consensual sex with his sister. But he's not a murderer, and neither is the friend who took the money. At the risk of stating what I think is the obvious, these two people are being punished far out of proportion to their actions.


I just got a comment encouraging me to not stop posting. You love me, you really, really do!

Here's what happened. First, the summer law clerks started. These are the law students who come in and work for 10 weeks during the summer. The law students get good hands-on experience; the office gets some decent slave labor. And guess who ends up training and helping the summer law clerks? Just know that the time I would have spent posting here was instead spent expanding the minds and horizons of eager law students, teaching such valuable lessons as the location of the restroom, how to use the photocopier, and the meaning of the Fourth Amendment.

Second, they are transitioning me to working on a death penalty case. In practice this means I focus half my time on a single client, leaving me less access to the cheerful tales of all the other clients that come into the office. Soon I will be working exclusively on the one death penalty case and will have to rely solely on the second-hand accounts of the outraged, tired attorneys who actually have contact with the rest of our happy customers.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Well thank god HE'S no longer walking free among us

Client wanted to get a hold of some marijuana for personal use. He knew his cousin had some connections, so he asked his cousin to hook him up. The cousin told the client to accompany him as he was going to meet somebody who had pot for sale.

Turns out that the cousin was a courier, and that the person who had pot for sale was being watched by the DEA because, in addition to selling pot, he was a major ecstasy dealer.

The client was in his cousin's car as his cousin met up with the dealer in a parking lot. The cousin opened his trunk, which had something like 12,000 ecstasy pills in it. The client backed away in stunned disbelief. At this moment the DEA swarmed in and arrested the dealer, the cousin, and the client.

All three were charged with conspiracy for possession, possession for sale, furnishing, transporting, selling, attempting to furnish, and attempting to sell the massive amount of ecstasy. When you're guilty of conspiracy, you're guilty of all the acts that the other people in the conspiracy did, even if you don't know about them.

While in deliberation, the jury asked the judge if the conspiracy charges had to be for the same drug. From this I should have known: the jury didn't think the client had anything to do with the ecstasy, and they wanted to know if they had to convict him of conspiracy because of the pot.

I shouldn't have been surprised that the client was found guilty of conspiracy.

The client was born in Vietnam but left that country at age 3. Now, after serving his time in prison for felony conspiracy regarding a large amount of drugs that he had nothing to do with, he is going to be deported back to a country he knows nothing about. He worked two minimum wage jobs and has a wife and two kids here.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

From the best of craigslist

Original post at http://www.craigslist.org/about/best/sfo/70300494.html. I didn't write this, but I wish I had.

Some Advice From Your Public Defender
Reply to: anon-70300494@craigslist.org
Date: Tue Apr 26 10:49:28 2005

First, let me say I love my job and it is a privilege to work for my clients. I wish I could do more for them. That being said, there are a few things that need to be discussed.

You have the right to remain silent. So SHUT THE FUCK UP. Those cops are completely serious when they say your statements can and will be used against you. There’s just no need to babble on like it’s a drink and dial session. They are just pretending to like you and be interested in you.
When you come to court, consider your dress. If you’re charged with a DUI, don’t wear a Budweiser shirt. If you have some miscellaneous drug charge, think twice about clothing with a marijuana leaf on it or a t-shirt with the “UniBonger” on it. Long sleeves are very nice for covering tattoos and track marks. Try not to be visibly drunk when you show up.

Consider bathing and brushing your teeth. This is just as a courtesy to me who has to stand by you in court. Smoking 5 generic cigarettes to cover up your bad breath is not the same as brushing. Try not to cough and spit on my while you speak and further transmit your strep, flu, and hepatitis A through Z.

I’m a lawyer, not your fairy godmother. I probably won’t find a loophole or technicality for you, so don’t be pissed off. I didn’t beat up your girlfriend, steal that car, rob that liquor store, sell that crystal meth, or rape that 13 year old. By the time we meet, much of your fate has been sealed, so don’t be too surprised by your limited options and that I’m the one telling you about them.

Don’t think you’ll improve my interest in your case by yelling at me, telling me I’m not doing anything for you, calling me a public pretender or complaining to my supervisor. This does not inspire me, it makes me hate you and want to work with you even less.

It does not help if you leave me nine messages in 17 minutes. Especially if you leave them all on Saturday night and early Sunday morning. This just makes me want to stab you in the eye when we finally meet.

For the guys: Don’t think I’m amused when you flirt or offer to “do me.” You can’t successfully rob a convenience store, forge a signature, pawn stolen merchandise, get through a day without drinking, control your temper, or talk your way out of a routine traffic stop. I figure your performance in other areas is just as spectacular, and the thought of your shriveled unwashed body near me makes me want to kill you and then myself.

For the girls: I know your life is rougher than mine and you have no resources. I’m not going to insult you by suggesting you leave your abusive pimp/boyfriend, that you stop taking meth, or that your stop stealing shit. I do wish you’d stop beating the crap out of your kids and leaving your needles out for them to play with because you aren’t allowing them to have a life that is any better than yours.

For the morons: Your second grade teacher was right – neatness counts. Just clean up! When you rob the store, don’t leave your wallet. When you drive into the front of the bank, don’t leave the front license plate. When you rape/assault/rob a woman on the street, don’t leave behind your cell phone. After you abuse your girlfriend, don’t leave a note saying that you’re sorry.

If you are being chased by the cops and you have dope in your pocket – dump it. These cops are not geniuses. They are out of shape and want to go to Krispy Kreme and most of all go home. They will not scour the woods or the streets for your 2 grams of meth. But they will check your pockets, idiot. 2 grams is not worth six months of jail.

Don’t be offended and say you were harassed because the security was following you all over the store. Girl, you were wearing an electronic ankle bracelet with your mini skirt. And you were stealing. That’s not harassment, that’s good store security.

And those kids you churn out: how is it possible? You’re out there breeding like feral cats. What exactly is the attraction of having sex with other meth addicts? You are lacking in the most basic aspects of hygiene, deathly pale, greasy, grey-toothed, twitchy and covered with open sores. How can you be having sex? You make my baby-whoring crackhead clients look positively radiant by comparison.

"I didn't put it all the way in." Not a defense.

"All the money is gone now." Not a defense

"The bitch deserved it." Not a defense.

"But that dope was so stepped on, I barely got high." Not a defense.

"She didn't look thirteen." Possibly a defense; it depends.

"She didn't look six." Never a defense, you just need to die.

For those rare clients that say thank-you, leave a voice mail, send a card or flowers, you are very welcome. I keep them all, and they keep me going more than my pitiful COLA increase.

For the idiots who ask me how I sleep at night: I sleep just fine, thank you. There's nothing wrong with any of my clients that could not have been fixed with money or the presence of at least one caring adult in their lives. But that window has closed, and that loss diminishes us all.

this is in or around your local jail
no -- it's NOT ok to contact this poster with services or othercommercial interests
yes -- ok to transmit this posting into outer space
Copyright © 2005 craigslist, inc.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Padding for fun and profit

Prosecutors here have quotas. The number of convictions they achieve is a key factor not just for promotion, but for actually holding onto their jobs.

Given these circumstances, it's hardly surprising that prosecutors over-charge and turn innocent people into defendants. They do this to give themselves more shots at the target, so to speak. It's all about numbers.

It's as if the D.A.s work for the Gap.

Saturday, April 30, 2005

Protect and serve

If the cops want to put the screws to a suspect but don't have enough information to ensure a conviction, they often arrest the suspect's girlfriend and have Child Protective Services take their kids away (since both parents are now in jail). This occurs even when they know the girlfriend hasn't done anything wrong. The idea is to scare the suspect into confessing "in exchange" for having the girlfriend let go and the kids returned home.

The police can detain anybody they want for 72 hours as long as they can claim there might possibly be something going on. If it turns out after three days that no charges are filed against that person - because, of course, there's nothing to file charges about - the person is released. In the meantime, lives have been disrupted, jobs have been lost (minimum-wage employers are not known for being patient when an employee fails to show up on account of being in jail), and kids have been taken away by CPS. All the police have to do is say there might be drugs in the home, or that the person they're arresting looks like somebody who is suspected of a crime, or something along those lines.

The thing is, the 72 hours in jail don't include nights or weekends or holidays. So if they pick somebody up on a Thursday night, then Friday is a holiday, and then there's the weekend, the person could be sitting in jail, uncharged, from Thursday night until the following Wednesday. This is a person who police know has done nothing wrong, and the goal is to pressure some other person, who may or may not have done anything, to confess.

Even though confessions made under these circumstances are, obviously, less than totally reliable, they go a long way towards getting the confessor convicted. If you were on a jury and heard that the defendant had confessed to the crime, wouldn't you figure that he must be guilty, since innocent people don't confess? Defendants in that situation often won't even go to trial, since the confession is so damning, and instead they'll take a plea bargain.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Either they're stupid, or they're stupid

In this state, if you register your car but don't yet have plates for the car, the DMV sometimes gives you temporary proof of registraion in the form of a big sticker with a number corresponding to the month through which the car is registered. (So if a car without plates is driving around with a big "5" in the back window, you know it's been registered through May.)

We've lately had a rash of clients who have been pulled over by police for not having registration tags, even though the big number sticker is clearly displayed in the back window.

In theory, cops have to have some kind of reasonable suspicion or probable cause or something to pull people over. If they have reason to believe that you're speeding or driving a getaway car, fine, but they can't just pull a person over for no reason whatsoever.

But in practice, cops pull people over all the time for being "suspicious looking" (read: dark-skinned or poor white trash-y), then come up with something after the fact to justify the stop. For example, cops often say that a defendant's tail light was out (even when it wasn't) if questioned about why they pulled that person over.

Another favorite is claiming that the defendant's car didn't have a registration sticker. But these cars have proof of registration right there in the back window. So either the cops don't know what a temporary registration looks like, or else the cops just aren't able to come up with a better after-the-fact excuse.

(By the way, this matters because if the cop doesn't have a good reason for having stopped the defendant, any evidence found as a result of that stop must be suppressed. A simple way to think of it is that allowing in evidence that cops got by doing something bogus would only serve to encourage cops to do more bogus things.)

Monday, April 25, 2005


A prosecutor turned to one of the public defenders I work with during a brief court recess and said to him, "I'm glad I don't have your job. Your clients sometimes go to jail even when they haven't done anything wrong."

11-year-old felon

This morning I did intake for an 11-year-old boy. The boy had gone with his 13-year-old brother to drop off a bike at the brother's friend's house.

Two of the brother's other friends were with them, and one of those friends decided to break into the house to steal guns. He knew the guns were there because the kid who lived there had shown them to him before. The brother's friend wanted the guns in order to kill eight specific people who he believed were giving his girlfriend a hard time.

The brother's friend couldn't find the "real" guns, so he took a bunch of BB guns. This older kid made the 11-year-old take a bag of plastic BBs from the house. The 11-year-old's older brother didn't take anything and was urging the others to get out of the house.

Both the 11-year-old and his 13-year-old brother are charged with felony second degree burglary.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Mom's a thief

Mom goes with her two kids to a discount grocery store. She shoplifts a bottle of Children's Dimetapp cold medicine. When stopped by the security guard, she gave the medicine back, cried, and explained that she took it because her kids needed it and she couldn't afford to buy it.

The store calls the cops. Mom is charged with petty theft and second degree commercial burglary. She does community service, but through some genuine misunderstanding and bureaucratic glitches, she's short by one hour when the deadline for completing the community service rolls around.

Public Defender pleads with District Attorney to have a little understanding. D.A. replies, "She committed a crime, she had her chance to make up for it, and she failed. It's that simple." Mom is now going to jail.


This fellow lost his job, which led to him losing his house, his marriage, and even his pets. He moved back in with his parents and was completely despondent.

One night he drank too much and lost it. He went into his parents' bedroom and demanded to know why his father, who'd been sleeping quietly all night, had just woken him up. He found a gun that his father kept hidden in the house and shot a kitchen cabinet.

When police arrived, he ran out to the front porch and waved the gun around in the air, begging the cops over and over to shoot him because he wanted to die. Several minutes later, after this guy no longer had the gun, four cops tackled him, broke his arm, and took him to the psych ward.

He was charged with the felony of threatening an officer, with a charge enhancement based on having a gun.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Rolling back rights, every day.

Client gets into an argument with his girlfriend inside a Wal-Mart. The argument continues out into the parking lot. A store manager follows the couple outside and asks the girlfriend if he should call the cops; she says no. The manager calls the cops anyway. Client did nothing violent; he was just in a yelling match with his girlfriend.

Client started talking on his cell phone and walking away to be by himself. He eventually comes back to the parking lot and gets in the passenger seat of the car, still on the phone. The cops (two 22-year-old rookies) arrive. They reach around the soft-top of the Client's car, unlock the door from the inside, drag the client out of the car, then throw him to the ground and start beating him.

The cops pepper-sprayed Client twice (once when he was already in handcuffs), struck him in the ribcage with their batons, kneed him in the back, stood on him, and - the coup de grace - applied the carotid restraint, which involves cutting off the blood flow to the brain, depriving the brain of oxygen and causing unconsciousness.

So here it is: the cops choked an innocent man to the point of unconsciousness in the Wal-Mart parking lot. Client, who struggled against the cops as they beat him, is charged with "resisting an officer in the lawful performance of his duties."

Friday, April 08, 2005

From the transcript of a preliminary hearing

"She" is a 50-year-old grandmother named Loretta who was upset because the cops were tackling her son, who hadn't done anything wrong.
"Q" is the prosecutor.
"A" is a very young rookie cop.

Scene: Parking lot, Christmas time, just after taking the grandkids to get their photos taken at the Wal-Mart portrait studio.

Q. Did you yourself observe [Loretta] pick up a knife?
A. No.
Q. When she ran, you indicated you went after her, is that correct?
A. Yes.
Q. Can you describe what happened at that point?
A. She ran in and around some cars and I followed.
Q. Was she carrying anything at that time by way of a purse?
A. She was carrying a purse and a cane.
Q. And a cane?
A. Yes.
Q. Was she using the cane?
A. When she was running away, no. It was under one of her arms.
Q. And did she respond to your statements as you testified?
A. When I got close enough to her to grab her, she told me she was going to kick me in my nuts.
Q. And did she in fact attempt to do that at that point?
A. No.
Q. What did she do?
A. I backed away and gave her a burst of pepper spray.
Q. Did you believe her when she said she was going to do that to you?
A. Yes.
Q. And when you used the pepper spray, what happened?
A. It had a minimal effect. I was able to grab her and gain minimal control and force her to the ground.
Q. Were any other officers involved in this effort to take her into custody?
A. A citizen was, no officers.
Q. A citizen helped you?
A. Yes, get the cane away from her once we hit the ground.
Q. And what happened? What did you have to do to actually take her into custody?
A. I ended up pepper spraying one more time in order to get her hand.
Q. Was she struggling with you?
A. Yes, she was.
Q. What was she going with her arms and hand?
A. She was keeping them at her body and failing around with her feet and legs.
Q. About how long did it take you before you were able to actually get her under control?
A. I'd say approximately one minute, maybe two.
Q. Did you at some point get her under control and place her in cuffs?
A. Yes, I did.
Q. Did you receive the assistance of other officers?
A. Not right then.
Q. Now, at some point did Loretta in fact carry out her threat to you to do injury to your person?
A. Yes. While I was carrying – Well, I was escorting her to my car. She grabbed me, my testicles, in both of her hands and squeezed them.
Q. Did you feel pain?
A. Yes.
Q. For what period of time was she able to actually do that? If you can give me an estimate --
A. A few seconds.
Q. What did you do to get away from the grasp?
A. Threw her forward, and I bent over in pain.
Q. So you had to push her forward?
A. Yes.
Q. And then you bent over?
A. Uh-huh.
Q. Was – Did she say anything else to you about her efforts to injure your person?
Q. As she hit the ground, without me saying anything she said she didn't grab anything because I didn't have anything to grab.
A. I have no other questions at this time, Your Honor.

Thursday, March 31, 2005

So you don't want him to go to school, then?

Client is a 15-year-old black kid. On Tuesday they told him he was suspended from school; on Thursday he went back to school anyway and attended classes as normal, with no incidents. The entire school administration -- all the principals and vice principals -- meet Client out in front of the school at the end of the day and tell him that if he comes back they're going to have him arrested. Client tells them he doesn't care and that he's leaving anyway.

Cop follows Client as Client is walking off school grounds. Client asks cop to stop, because he's leaving anyway and the cop is making him nervous. Cop responds by saying"I can do whatever the fuck I want" and grabbing Client and shoving him into the ground. Client is face down with his hands underneath his body. Cop tells Client to give him his wrists so he can cuff Client. Client responds that he can't, because the cop is standing on Client's back. Cop yanks out Client's arms and jerks them behind Client's back. Cop is about 300 pounds; client is 5'5 and 130. Client has no weapons.

Cop calls for backup. Three more cops arrive, for a total of four. The four cops literally lift Client (who is already in cuffs) off his feet and drag him to a cop car across the street. They slam Client into the side of the car, then throw him face-down to the ground, put him in a leg-lock, and grind his pelvis into the pavement. Client tells cops they're hurting him. One cop responds, "oh, so you're not in enough pain then? well now you're in pain" and shoves Client's locked legs into his own back. Client actually starts to cry from the pain, which really says something, considering how often you see teenage boys in tears out in public.

Client has bruising and spraining to his face, arms, wrists, knees, and pelvis. He was unable to walk immediately afterward and continued to have trouble walking for another month. As Client is sitting in a holding cell at the police department, one of the cops says to his buddies, "damn, I wanted to put that kid in the hospital." Client points out that he can hear him, and the cop responds that he doesn't give a fuck. The cops took photos of the Client's injuries and charged him with resisting arrest.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Fashion crime

Client is a 15-year-old kid who worked at a mid-grade department and clothing chain store (rhymes with "Swervyn's"). He let some friends use his employee store discount to buy things.

Even though the kid was fired and has since paid the store back the amount of the discounts his friends received, he now faces criminal theft charges. Presumably the D.A. has nothing better to do than go after teenagers who hook their friends up with 15% off on a $15 t-shirt.

He doesn't understand

There's a law here that allows prosecutors to send people who have done certain kinds of misdemeanors (mainly drug use and family abuse) into therapy and treatment programs, rather than having them serve time in jail.

Client is developmentally disabled. Despite the urgent plea of his attorney, the prosecutors will not allow him to spend time in a therapy and treatment program instead of jail, even though he is eligible under the law for the program. The decision whether to send this client to a program is entirely the prosecutor's; if they don't want to do it, there's nothing that even the judge can do.

So they're going to send a retarded guy to jail. Nice.

Friday, March 25, 2005


Client is charged with causing great bodily injury to police officers because the cops suffered bruises to their knuckles as they were beating up the client.

Spitting mad

Client is arrested on a DUI. The client is not violent, but he is genuinely annoying. The cops beat him up so badly that the client's nose and orbital bone (the one around the eye socket) are shattered. The client spit his own blood on the cops after they broke his nose, so he is charged with felony assault on a police officer.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Flee collar

Two cops are on the beat near a downtown park, wearing jerseys with “police” written on the front and back. Client approached them, became belligerent, cussed at the cops, and yelled that he did not have anything illegal on him.

The officers told the client to stay back, but the client ignored them. When cops asked to see the client's ID he told them to “fuck off” and took off running. The client elects to run down the street that has the police station on one side and the courthouse on the other. A cop at the station looks out his second-story office window and sees the client right outside with a baggie in his hand and some pieces of crack cocaine on the ground nearby. The client gets arrested and tells cops where they can find some more drugs in some bushes.

Note to clients: if fleeing police officers, run away from the direction of the police station. Also - do not go out of your way to meet up with some cops and then tell them to fuck off.

Feeling punchy

Client is a freshman in high school. He's on probation for having brought marijuana and a bong to school when he was in the 8th grade. Apparently he got mad and punched a wall in the house, and his mom called the cops. The cops said they were going to arrest him but couldn't because their computers were down.

If he really deserved to be arrested, is it a good idea for the cops to avoid arresting him because they don't want to fill out paperwork?

Is it a good idea to arrest a 15-year-old who punches a wall at home?

Not feeling well

Client comes in with her 2 1/2 year old daughter. This kid has big beautiful eyes and the sweetest smile you've ever seen.

Mom is on her own, gets no financial help from her two kids' dads. She was on welfare but finally got a job interview. She had to take her kids with her to the interview, because there's nobody else to look after them. On the way to the interview they fall asleep in the car. She decides she doesn't want to wake them up, so she leaves them in the car sleeping while she goes in for her 30 minute interview. She is charged with child abuse.

Mom starts crying hysterically during intake. Her little girl stands up on the chair next to her, so their heads are at the same height. She puts her head on her mom's shoulder, hugs her mom to comfort her, and turns to me and says, "Mommy doesn't feel good today."

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Riding in cars with boys

Client is a passenger in a car. Despite the fact that the car has license plates with current registration stickers on them, the cops decide to run the license plate. They seem to do this a lot when they see dark people driving old cars in bad neighborhoods who don't otherwise appear to be doing anything wrong.

Turns out the registration on this car is actually expired, so the cops pull over the car. Again, for reasons that they never explained, the cops drag the driver and passenger out of the car and ask to search the car. I can't figure out why: the occupants were not high, they were not driving erratically, there was nothing obviously wrong. Anyway, the driver of the car tells the cops that they're going to find some drugs hidden in there and gives details of the quantity, where he bought them, etc. My client, the passenger, didn't know there were drugs in the car, much less own the drugs that were found. Nonetheless, client gets charged with possessing with intent to sell.

Wrong place, long time

Client was in an apartment 15 years ago that got raided by cops who were looking for somebody (not the client) who was manufacturing meth and LSD. (LSD! That's new; it's always meth aroud here.) The cops arrested somebody else in the apartment but did not cite or arrest this client.

Six months later, the client moved someplace else in the state. Eight months later (after she'd already moved away), the D.A. filed drug charges against the client. (The client, of course, had nothing to do with owning, taking, or selling drugs; she was just in the apartment that had been raided.) Nobody ever bothered to tell this woman that there were these charges against her. She never received paperwork or even a phone call from the Court or District Attorney's office. Then, because she failed to appear in court on the charges she knew nothing about, the court issued a warrant for her arrest. (This is standard procedure when defendants don't appear when the court expects them to.)

Two years later, the client moved back to the county we're in, and she's lived here ever since. During the past 15 years, nobody did anything to contact this client and tell her there were not just charges against her, but a warrant for her arrest.

She's been pulled over for traffic tickets, had background checks for jobs - nothing ever came up suggesting that there were these lingering charges from back in 1990. She was charged with a misdemeanor in 2000 (the charges were dismissed), so she was even back in the system and nobody bothered to haul her in on this outstanding arrest warrant.

This past January, a cop pulled her over in a grocery store parking lot because she didn't use her turn signal. This time, he ran her license and it showed an arrest warrant was out for this woman. She had no idea what it was for. They arrested her on the spot, and she stayed in jail for a day until she could scare up enough money from the bail bondsman to be released pending trial. Can you imagine being pulled over for not using your turn signal and ending up in jail?

The U.S. Constitution guarantees the right to a speedy trial in the 6th Amendment. The District Attorney's office is preparing to prosecute this woman after fifteen years. Fifteen years = not speedy.

So I wrote a motion to dismiss the charges against the client based on the violation of her right to a speedy trial. If ever a person's right to a speedy trial were violated, it was here. Fifteen years, people! Still, instead of just going along with the motion, the D.A. insists on wasting everybody's time arguing that there is nothing wrong with this.

So I have to spend all this time preparing to make oral argument at court. I have to wear a suit. And then, after the prosecutors hem and haw for *two hours!*, the judge finally grants the motion.

The good news: the client is now free and clear of the charges. The bad news: she still has to pay back the $5000 she borrowed from Sleazy Bail Bonds, Inc. at some outrageous interest rate. (She makes minimum wage as an in-home health care assistant.)

Also, for those of you concerned with how much money is wasted defending criminals, the county is out several hundred dollars at least, if you add up my time, the other attorney's time, the court's time, and so on. If prosecutors had just done the right thing, they'd have saved everybody stress, hassle, time, and money.

Public Defender Law Clerk basics

Public Defenders are attorneys paid by the county to represent clients who do not have the means to hire their own attorneys to represent them in criminal cases.

A post-bar law clerk at a Public Defender office is a position you can hold after you become an attorney but before they let you have your very own caseload. Kind of like how med students are residents after they become doctors. You're a real lawyer and everything, but you're still a newbie, so they ease you into the hard stuff.

At a Public Defender office, making oral arguments in court is where the fun is at. This is why as Law Clerks, we rarely get to do this. When we do make oral arguments, it's usually when the arguments are either really hard to win or really hard to lose. In between is the complicated stuff that we work our way up to.

In the meantime, we write a lot of motions (documents that explain to the court why, based on the law and the facts in your case, the court should do something for your client, such as drop the charges or suppress evidence that was obtained illegally). We also do all the intake, where we receive the clients who have just been referred here by the court and get their stories for their files.