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Thursday, March 21, 2013

Punching bag...

Today in court the judge was calling out the names of people on the docket who were currently in jail.  They call out these names for the attorney's before court gets started so the attorney can let the judge know whether their client needs to be brought over from the jail.  If you have reached a settlement agreement, spoken with your client about it and the agreement is ready to be placed on the record, they need to be brought over.  If you have received an offer, your client declined it, you made a counter-offer and the prosecution declined it and you are just telling the court your client's case is for trial, they need not be brought over.

I did not fall into either of these camps, my kid had already been granted youthful offender status.  He had already entered his plea and had been released.  Three months ago he tested positive for marijuana and then came to court in February and tested positive again.  The judge had him taken into custody and set a $500 cash bond.

Forty-one days later no one in my kids family had bothered to pay the cash bond that would have gotten him released in time for him not to lose his job.  Forty-one days later, no one in my kids family has called to find out if there is any other way to get him out of jail.  Forty-one days later no one in my kids family had even bothered to show up for his court date.

The judge calls my kids name and I announce that he does not need to be brought over from the jail but I would like to address the court about his release.  I advise the court that while my kid did test positive for marijuana he has been reporting to his probation officer regularly, he is not behind on his supervision fees, he is paying the court, not much but on a regular basis, he is working a full-time job and has not picked up any new charges.  The judge chooses this time to crack jokes about how expensive keeping up a marijuana habit is and he has a $500 cash bond that would get him released.  There is more banter back and forth between the judge and the assistant district attorney but I just stand there...


                    Not laughing...

                              Not smiling...


Finally my judge says "is there anyone in his family out there?"

Me: No sir, no one from his family has ever been outside waiting to speak on his behalf.

Judge: You're just going to stand up there and take all his blows for him, huh?  I'm proud of you.

Me: Judge, since this case started he hasn't had anyone to stand by him but me. No one has ever been outside waiting to speak on his behalf. I am all he's got.

There was some more back and forth but eventually the judge decided to release my kid without posting a bond. 

There is a quote that is attributed to Clarence Darrow:
"To be an effective criminal defense counsel, an attorney must be prepared to be demanding, outrageous, irreverent, blasphemous, a rouge, a renegade, and a hated, isolated, and lonely person...few love a spokesman for the despised and the damned." 
If I can be so bold as to add to his words, I would venture to say that to be an effective criminal defense counsel, an attorney must be prepared to be a punching bag.  Our clients have been broken down so much, so often and by so many different people that allowing the system to do it is like standing by watching a man that is already beat down get kicked in the face.  I will not let you treat me like a punching bag too often, and I am not going to let you punch too hard, but for my clients I will stand in and let you get your few digs in.  The beauty of me standing in and getting beat in lieu of my clients....
....I possess the tools necessary to punch you back :-)

Until next time,

Be blessed, be careful, don't confess and don't consent.


Monday, March 18, 2013

I hate mama's & 'colored'

Nine o'clock docket, I come into the courtroom and look around.

Mr. S is there, great. 

Mr. C is there, great. 

Mr. F...
                                            Mr. F...
                                                                                Mr. F...

Well pluck a duck, Mr.F is not here.  The judge has not taken the bench yet so let's go give Mr. F a call.


Me: Hello Mrs. F, this is Ms. PD, I am calling because your son, Mr. F has court this morning and he is not present.

Mrs. F: Ooooo, he's not going to be able to make it, he is down here in Florida, I do not think he knew about it.

Me: Ok, well, Mrs. F, the last time the three of us had a discussion about the fact that the only thing he has left to do in his case is pay his court costs and then he does not have to worry about coming to court anymore I confirmed his/your address and that is where I sent his letter.

Mrs. F: Ooooo, yeah.  I was going to call you later this week to let you know we are going to start making payments on that next week.


Mrs. F: Hello? Ms. PD.

Me: Mrs. F please have Mr. F call me as soon as he gets in, have a great day.

I do not really hate mama's.  I LOVE my mama.  Both of my grandmothers were mama's.  I myself, am a 'mama'.  But mama's make my oh so easy job a lot less easy.  Mr. F's case is eight years old.  You read that correctly.  8, eight, EIGHT.  His case was disposed of eight years ago and all he has left is court costs to pay and he will not have to come back to court.  He has been picked up on outstanding warrants three times.  For money.  He has been held in a local Florida jail until he was brought back to our county two times. For money.  He has spent weeks at a time separated from his kids. For money.  Money which amounts to approximately $500.

That is $62.50 a year.

That is $5.21 a month.

That is $0.17 a day.

I understand that my client's (most of them anyway) are indigent.  I get that a good majority of them would not choose me simply because I am in the public defender's office, yet they are stuck with me because their finances prevent them from hiring private counsel.  I also know that Mr. F has a full-time job and two kids that he is raising.  Those two kids have a mother who shares a household with Mr. F and she is also working.  Even if they were NOT working the entire 8 years it is taking him to pay on this case, a pretty observant person can find SEVENTEEN CENTS A DAY!

So why am I on here sounding like a bad 'Feed the Children' commercial?  What, pray tell, does this have to do with mama'?  Mr. F has not paid his court costs because his mama has been holding his had the whole time trying to come up with a plan for him.  His mama planned on using her income tax refund check to pay it off.  His mama promised that when he received HIS income tax refund check she would ensure it was paid.  His mama called me 3 times a day, EVERY day the last time he was a guest in the local county jail ensuring me that if the judge just let him out, this case would be paid and taken off of every one's list of active cases, four months ago.  His mama has to be privy to every conversation Mr. F and I have.

I get mothers being there for their children.  Sadly, quite a few of my clients show up over and over again for meetings with me or court dockets and their mothers could give two ships about where they are or what they are going through.  But when mama's "help" is making matters worse...well, as I said, just making my oh so easy job a lot less easy.


I met with a client today.  I asked him to come in for one of our very brief initial meetings so I could explain to him what an arraignment is, where he can expect his case to go from here and to remind him that should any of his contact information change, I need to be notified. 

Of course, as I am pulling up his electronic file our case management system decides to go on break and takes its sweet time loading.  In an attempt to kill some of the silence between us, I confirm with my client that he has done his initial interview ('yes', but I already knew that).  I ask him who did his initial interview (it doesn't matter and I already know that too) and his response causes me to pause:

Client: I didn't catch his name but he was a really nice, young looking colored fella...



Me: Oh, you mean he was black?

Client: yes ma'am.

Did I mention my client is 42?  Not that him being older would excuse his improper description of one of our investigation interns, but at least I could chalk it up to him being raised during a time when that was how black people were described.  We finished the paperwork, he shook my hand, we exchanged pleasantries about it being nice to meet one another and he went on his way.

There really was not a point to that last one.  Well, maybe except that I hate the term 'colored'. 

If I had not given up drinking, these last two weeks would make Seagram's stock go up drastically...sigh....until next time my precious people.

Until next time,

Be blessed, be careful, don't confess and don't consent.


Friday, March 15, 2013

....And on the seventh day...he rested

Ok, I will give it to you, it has not been seven days.  But seriously, after the week I had-I need a break.  Until next time,

Be blessed.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The hardest part...part 3/4

Asleep in her bed with her little ones, she hears their dog begin to bark.  Though his barking is not unusual, the time of day is very unlike him.  It is 2 in the morning.  Before she can register why he is barking, the lights from her bedroom ceiling burn her eyes and she shields them while simultaneously pulling her little ones into her embrace.  She hears yelling, she feels scared and she sees the large barrel of a narcotics task force deputy's gun as it is shoved in her face.  She is asked repeatedly "where is he, where is he, where the fuck is he" as she tries to explain to the agents that her boyfriend does not and has not ever lived with her.  As she tries to calm the trembles she feels coming from the small frame of her 4-year-old daughter, she can hear other agents throughout her home, tearing it apart.  Although the agents don't seem to be hearing her, she continues to try to get them to listen:

"He doesn't live here, there aren't any drugs here, I don't know what you are talking about!"

The agent who appears to be in charge of this operation turns to two other agents and declares "if she keeps getting smart with me I'm going to have to take her in the other room."  They all laugh, and though she does not get the 'joke' she understands that he is not joking, so she stops trying to plea.

Finally, the agent in charge reaches into his pocket, walks over to a wall-mounted book shelf and "finds" a small bag of marijuana "IN PLAIN SIGHT" (magic words are important).  He tells her that she has 3 days to turn her boyfriend in, or they will come looking for her.

Hours after the house has fallen silent, she cannot get her 2-year old twin boys to go back to sleep.  Months after they have left to visit her mother, she cannot get her 4-year old daughter to go back to the house, or to stop wetting herself.  Her little girl now has to see a child psychologist so that she can try to "work out" why the big man with the shiny badge held the black gun in her face while the other big man with the shiny badge yelled at her mommy.

The hardest part is hearing stories like this one, BELIEVING stories like this one and knowing there is no way I can prove it.  Unless the 4-year old and the twins are coming to court to testify, it is the word of 5-6 agents against my lady.  Unless she has a surveillance camera set up in her bedroom, the judge has the option of believing her, or believing a "man of the badge" with 10+ years under his belt.  But she is sitting across from me, crying, shaking, hurting and asking for me to just believe her.  Just believe in her.  Just fight for her. 

Picture Rocky IV, Apollo is dead, Drago is psychotic and you just know this isn't going to end well.  Rocky gives up the home field advantage, everyone in the audience is rooting for Drago, Adrian is there but she is scared for Rocky's life and he has had to pretty much train on his own.  But he is resolved to fight.  Though the odds are against him, he is resolved to see this through to the end.  The hardest part is suiting up when I feel like I am going into a battle already lost, but I know that I have to fight anyway.  So I assure my lady that I believe her, I believe in her and I will fight for her.

Those punches are going to hurt, and I can't help but feel like my inevitable loss will add fuel to the consuming fire these agents are intent on spreading throughout the poor community; but I have to do it.  Days like this, I hate to admit it but, I do not want to be a public defender.  I don't even want to be a criminal defense attorney.  The anger I felt after hearing my lady's story was matched only by my overwhelming sense of helplessness.  How do you fight a system that is set up to essentially always believe the police?  Even when the judge and jury KNOW it could not have happened the way the officer, agent or deputy have testified, something inside of them refuses to believe that it could have happened any other way.  I believe the reality is they do not want to believe the horror these law enforcement officers force people to experience.  To accept that your life can be turned upside down just because someone with power decided that is how is going to be, with no other's enough to make you beyond scared of what our world has come to.  Trust me, I know.  I now carry a toxic mixture of fear and hate in my heart for law enforcement.  I have been seriously considering getting cameras installed in my home as well as my vehicle. 

I never want to be in a situation where it is their word against mine.  That is a gamble not worth the ante.  I do not believe in our system well enough to make that bet.  That is the hardest part.

Until next time,

Be blessed, be careful, don't confess and don't consent.


Not guilty! Now put THAT in your pipe and smoke it!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The hardest part...part 2/4

Today I had a bench trial, and I would have bet you my first born that I was going to be successful for my client. (OK, maybe not my FIRST born but definitely any future children).

I was prepared to rip the officer a new one on the stand, I was prepared for my oral motion for judgment of acquittal, I was prepared to every objection the state could send my way. I was prepared.  The trial begins and I realize that I do not have to try as hard as I initially thought.  The officer is being pretty cooperative on the stand, giving me everything that I need for my upcoming JOA and giving me a little bit more to work with.  His direct was helpful; his cross, my cross was beautiful.  So I get to the JOA, encompass a motion to supress in there (it's a misdemeanor bench trial and that's how they do them in my jurisdiction.  Yup, right in the middle of the trial), deliver it flawlessly and the judge denies them both.

On the outside I stay cool. But on the inside.......

The officer in this case admitted that they had an arrest warrant for my client.  They went to the place they believed to be his home in order to execute the warrant.  When they get there, no one answers the door.

They listen.

No movement inside. No television on.  No stereo system playing.  No furniture being moved.  No sound of whispering or tip-toing.  The apartment is on the 2nd level but they still have officers stationed in the back; no one reports any windows being opened, any blinds being 'peered through' and no one trying to escape. 

So what do the officers do? Why they let themselves in of course!

According to the judge I was in front of today, as long as the officers had a felony arrest warrant, they could have kicked this kids door in as far as he was concerned. 

The hardest part of my job is when you have to swallow the very large pill that brings you back to reality.  The reality is that lady justice does have on a blindfold but it is see-through.  The material has worn so thin and not only can she see you, you could make out her eyes as well if you wanted to do so.  The hardest part of my job is when you realize there are some members of the 'courthouse workgroup' that need a refreasher course on what the 4th amendment means.  Fortunately, we appealed the case and I will get another crack at it.  Unfortunately, I'm not sure the outcome will be that much better.  We seem to be losing the fight ladies and gents.  But we keep on fighting the good fight.  That has to be the hardest part...

Until next time,

Be blessed, be careful, don't confess and don't consent.


Monday, March 11, 2013

The hardest part...part 1/4

I did something today that I know was wrong.  I do not know how long it is going to bother me or how long it is going to be hard to live with myself but right now I cannot stand to look in the mirror.

Today I stood next to my client as she pled to an offense that I so desperately wished she would take to trial.

As I prepared for this trial I could feel the blood rushing to the surface of my skin, I'm tingling all over and just outright excited.  The police officers did not do everything anything they were supposed to do when investigating the alleged crime, the prosecutor was stuck and he knew it.  So he offered to dismiss the case upon completion of a court diversion program.

In our office we sit two attorney's to a jury trial. Always. Even if you plan on doing everything from voir dire to closing, you have to have a second set of eyes and ears there with you, just in case.  Since I may be leaving soon (and my supervisor knows this despite the fact that we have not discussed it) it was suggested that I ask him to be my 2nd chair.  He has seen me do a cross-examination in one of his cases when I first started and has not been in court to 'supervise' me doing a thing since then.  So I ask him.  Mistake #1.

Let me digress for a moment.  I love trying cases, I love winning; I love trying cases and winning.  The only way to win is if you try cases.  There is no better place to try, try and try again when it comes to the legal field, than in the public defenders office (or a prosecutor).  So when I say I was ready to try this case, I WAS READY!  My supervisor had a different opinion.  I listened to his opinion. Mistake #2.

          "The only way you can guarantee her a win is with this plea."

          "Your enthusiasm, misplaced as it may be, is refreshing."

          "I am not questioning your ability to win based on your ability,
            I am questioning your ability to win based on the facts."

          "I don't think you have a winner that has the potential to be lost,
            I think you have a loser that can maybe be won."

Sigh, so I sat down and talked to my client about her fears, her concerns and her position on things.  Truth of the matter is, her only concern was money.  A conviction could not only mean jail time but also upwards of $3,000 in fines, costs and program fees.  The diversion program is approximately $755 and $500 of that can be knocked out by the judge waiving some of the costs.

Although I cannot guarantee my client a win, I can guarantee her that I will do my damnedest to get her acquitted.  I can guarantee her that I will do EVERYTHING in my power to show the jury that there is more than enough reasonable doubt to come back with a not guilty verdict.  I can guarantee her that if she is found not guilty that she won't have to pay a dime.  But I cannot guarantee her a not guilty...

I did something today that I know was wrong.  I do not know how long it is going to bother me or how long it is going to be hard to live with myself but right now I cannot stand to look in the mirror.

The hardest part of my job is standing next to a client entering a plea, while knowing in my heart they should be fighting.


Until next time,

Be blessed, be careful, don't confess and don't consent.