12 April 2004

A Week in the Life of a Criminal Defense Attorney

: In the morning I drive out to a regional jail where the federal marshals have stored one of my clients. While there seems to be a policy in place which keeps the feds from storing Defendants within a hour of the courthouse this guys not too far outside that radius so it only takes me 1 1/2 hours to get there. Then I spend a hour in what is quite possibly the worst designed prisoner visitation area I've ever seen while other prisoners stood outside and watched. Then I drive the 1 1/2 hours back. In the afternoon I go to the local court and represent a client with a DUI and driving without a license. The client gets no jail time and walks away happy.

Tuesday: In the morning I represent a girl charged with passing a stopped school bus. Yes, in what was apparently the latest blow in an ongoing family vs. family feud 4 members of a family swore out a warrant and all came to court in order to testify against my client (who was guilty). The prosecutor and I take one look at it and come to an agreement that my client should get suspended time and some community service (a fair deal considering my client's driving record). The judge hemmed and hawed and for a second there I was concerned that he might not take the deal but then he started to lecture everyone about how terrible this sort of thing is and how he understood it was dangerous because he had children to and finally accepted the deal (he even gave my client some extra time for the community service because she was in the middle of college finals). It's weird how I now look forward to the lectures because they usually mean the judge is going to give the client a break. The worst thing I think I've ever heard is when a judge looks down from the bench and says, "Mr. Smith, I'm not going to say anything because I don't think anything I'm going to say will affect you." This is always followed by a stiff sentence.

In the afternoon I have a client who is charged with driving on a suspended license, not having insurance, and not having her car registered. She has paid off all her fines and comes back in with her license, proof of insurance, and proof of proper registration. The prosecutor is happy to drop the two citations but he refuses to reduce the driving suspended charge even though he knows that it will mean her license will once again be suspended (I don't know about ya'll's States but here in the Commonwealth if you even look at the judge sideways we suspend your license). So we go up in front of the judge and I plead my client guilty and soft pitch him by admitting guilt and pointing out what a shame it is that my client has paid over $1,400 to get herself squared away and we are going to take her license right away from her again. The judge floats the idea of reducing the charge to driving without a license so that my client will keep her license and not get 10 days mandatory jail. The prosecutor throws a mini-fit pointing out that my client did nothing more than pay the debts she owed Virginia and shouldn't get rewarded for that. The judge allows as to how that's true then sua sponte reduces my client's charge to driving without a license and gives her a fine.

Wednesday: In the morning I go to court at 8 a.m. - whatever judge first thought an 8 a.m. docket was a good idea should be [congratulated on such a wonderful idea] (yeah, I know I changed what was there originally but I have to go back to those courts). It's a status check on a case which has been going on for as long as I can remember. Virginia claims my client owes it back sales taxes. Client's business folded while she was in the hospital and she has no way to pay this off. There is no real defense except to plead for mercy and the court has finally had it. She is sent to jail for 30 days as incentive. Between these taxes and back child support this lady is probably going to keep going back to jail over and over again in the next few years until the Commonwealth realizes that it can't squeeze blood from a turnip.

Next I drive to Richmond to go to the federal courthouse and pick up some papers and then drop by the prosecutors' office in the high-rise 4 blocks down to pick up some paperwork there. Then I jump in my car and drive over two hours west to Orange County to visit a federal client there. I get to the jail at 11:10 and they will not let me in until 1:00 pm. So I go over to the local Country Cookin' (there's one in every small town in Virginia) and eat the buffet. Then I go visit the local antique shops (every small town in Virginia has those too). Finally I go back to the jail and they let me in. Once I'm let into the visiting room I sit there for 20 minutes and finally I hit the button on the wall speaker. I tell the guard I've been waiting for a while and ask if there is any difficulty. "No sir, Mr. Jones is on his way." Five minutes later my client walks in the door. I ask him when they came to get him and he says, "2 minutes ago."

After meeting with that client for 1 1/2 hours I jump back into my car and travel another 2+ hours to another jail where one of my federal clients is being held. This meeting goes fairly well and only takes 1/2 hour. Then I get back in my car and drive back through Richmond to get to my office 1 1/2 hours later and then call it a day.

Thursday: In the morning I get up and drive 45 minutes out to Beaumont Juvenile Center. This is the place where Virginia throws kids away when it has decided that it doesn't want to deal with them anymore. For the entire time I am meeting with my client he has to sit where a guard can see him through a window and wear shackles on both ankles and one wrist. At first the kid thinks I am a prosecutor but after that is settled we have a fairly productive meeting.

In the afternoon I travel to the federal court in Richmond. I get there a hour early and go meet with my client in the marshal's office. Then I go down to the court and wait around for about 30 minutes until the detective involved shows up. I talk to him for a while and then my client's family shows up and I talk to them until just before the judge comes in. When I get into the courtroom the detention report is sitting on the desk and I start reading through it just as the judge comes in. Then I have to ask the judge for a couple of minutes to read it. The judge asks for positions on detention and (of course) the prosecutor opposes. Then the judge asks me if I have anything to say in light of the fact that there is a presumption against bond. When I say yes his comment is "Hope springs eternal!" Furthermore, when I walk up to the podium he tells me that he has the perfect argument for my client's release. I ask him what and he proceeds to tell me I should argue that my client's prior failures to appear in court were the product of him working too hard and over sleeping. I actually point to a couple of factors in my client's favor but he just isn't going to let my client out.

After the hearing I walk four blocks to the prosecutors' office and get some CD recordings of one of my clients as he is being solicited for a drug deal. You know, I used to wonder why all the City attorneys are skinny. Now I know why. In the suburbs and rural counties I can almost always park with in a minute's walk of the courthouse door. In the City I always have to park at least a couple blocks away from court (further if the Legislature is in session) and I end up walking all over the place from building to building to building. Maybe I should move my office to the City in order to get a daily cardio workout and lose a little weight.

Friday: I go to court in the morning but both of my cases are continued. The first is continued because the trooper was transferred and they subpoenaed him at the wrong address. The second was continued because the certificate of analysis was not returned from the Commonwealth's lab in time. Then I mess around in the courthouse for a while which is pretty lucky because a bond hearing for one of my clients is scheduled for 11:00 am but somehow did not make it into my PDA Calender (the dangers of setting a date over your cell phone as you are driving to Orange county). Still, I am able to get my client a bond which he can make.

In the afternoon I sit in my office doing paperwork. One former client shows up during open office hours and hires me to represent him on a show cause. A 3L who has done some research for me comes by and drops off some papers. Finally, the day ends.

Saturday: I spend 12+ hours in the office. About 1 hour of that is spent watching the video confession of one of my clients. Three-plus hours are spent listening to CD's of another one of my clients as he is being solicited for a drug deal. The remaining time is spent figuring out taxes. The bad news is that I made less money than the year before and for some reason I still cannot figure out a way to convince the government that I should be exempt from its taxes.

Sunday: I go into the office in the afternoon about 2 pm. I leave about 9 pm. In betwixt I prep next week's files, do work on the federal case (including leaving messages which I hope will catch the prosecutors bright and early as they get to their office on Monday), file a ton of papers and files, listen to another hour of my client being solicited for a drug deal, and when I leave the office there is still a big pile of "must do" sitting on my desk. AAAaarrrrgggg!!!!!


JB5 said...

Not about the article, but about the comment.

This had to be pretty much the most unexpected spam you ever got, right?

Ken Lammers said...

Good catch. b4 I put moderation on for older posts spammers would stick all sorts of things in older posts. I'm afraid I haven't gotten them all weeded out yet.