24 June 2003
Life as a Criminal Lawyer:
The highpoint of the day was when I drive off to a rural county where the prosecutor and lead Detective - all too happily - show me tape after tape after tape of my hapless client dealing drugs to an undercover informant. This is followed by a hour long trip out to an even more rural regional jail in a city a third of the way across the Commonwealth, [ . . . privileged conversation with client . . . ], and a looooong trip back.
My client had been accepted into three drug treatment programs; two were lock-in and one was an intensive on-the-street program. The recommended sentence range was 9 months to 2 years for felony petit larceny (actual max sentence was 5 years) Today was sentencing. I go up and am pointing out that a large portion of my client's record consists of only minor traffic violations.
Judge: "He has 5 theft type violations Mr. Lammers." (this is a very bad sign)
"Yes sir, and we all know that this is a fairly typical record for someone with a drug problem and he is currently serving 10 months for a previous felony conviction which is why we are asking you order him to be placed in a treatment program in lieu of a prison. He wants to clean himself up and return to live a life in which he can contribute to society. I know there's nothing spectacularly good in this report (pre-sentence report) but there is also nothing which is all that bad; this is a man who would be a perfect candidate for the Day Reporting Center which would allow him to return to his responsibilities, his job and contribute to society."
As I make the last statement the Judge looks up from his bench and shoots me a sly grin. He knows I'm playing to what I think are his leanings; I'm not hitting him with the terrible breaks etc. in my client's life which I don't think will have any impact on him or having the common-law wife up on the stand crying for him; I'm trying to sell the cost benefit analysis of paying to keep him in jail as opposed to curing him so he can go forth and sin no more (sinning being anything which costs the taxpayers money thru the judicial system).
When I finish, Client gets to make a statement before sentencing. Being fairly bright he makes a good short, heart-felt statement which meshes with what I have said in my argument.
Then the judge sentences him to 5 years with 4 years suspended to be followed by one six month lock in drug treatment program to be followed by another six month lock in drug program. I walk back into lockup with my client to talk to him. [ . . . . section deleted because of privilege . . . . ] Then I go out into the hall to talk with his girlfriend/fiance/common-law wife. She had not heard the entire sentence and goes into shock when she realizes he got two years.
Then I go back into court and ask to have the case called again. I point out to the Judge that he did not say whether the time was to run concurrent or consecutive and ask him to run the sentence concurrent with the one he is already serving since they are similar in nature and derived from the same root cause which will be better served thru the programs rather than the prison.
Judge (showing me his yellow pad): "Mr. Lammers, last night when I was looking at the report I noted that I thought a proper disposition was 2 years and then a six month drug treatment program. I changed it to the current sentence after your argument. I am not inclined to lessen the sentence any further. Sentence to run consecutive."
[ . . . short privileged conversation with client . . . ]
Back out in the hall fiance confronts me and is not happy. The gist of the conversation can be summed up in the sentences she starts the conversation with: "I told him he should have hired someone else. That sentence is worse than any sentence any of his other lawyers got him. Why did he get that sentence and the white guy (apparently someone sentenced when I was not in the courtroom) got probation? After a little give and take (dealing with irate family members is a survival skill one must develop as a defense lawyer) she walks away. I go into a conference room to fill out some paperwork for the court and she reappears. Now she has transferred her unhappiness from me to the judge and spends 15 minutes talking to me about how she can register her displeasure without being held in contempt.
Late today she calls me and leaves a voicemail asking if she can retain me. Not sure what that's about yet - I'll have to return her call wednesday.
Author: Ken Lammers on 6/24/2003