29 April 2004

A Week in the Life of a Criminal Defense Attorney

Sunday: About 11:00 I roll into the office to get a jump on a brief in opposition to a prosecution's request for appeal. It is the 12th day after the prosecution filed so I have 9 days to get it done. I spend the day researching and writing at a leisurely pace with the TV on. Then about 5 pm I am reading through the requirements a prosecutor must fulfill to file an appeal and I find buried in them a requirement that I file in 14 days. Gulp! The TV goes off and I order in pizza cuz I'm gonna be there a while. Sometime after 12:30 I finish the draft. Then I spend the next hour or so getting the index of cases and table of contents together. After I finish it off I read it over and it is adequate; of course, by that time of night I would have probably thought that The Jabberwocky was a brilliant bit of analytical work. I e-mail it off to a service which will check my format, dot the i's and cross the t's. Then I go home to bed.

Monday: In the morning, I go watch my federal client being interviewed by the federal probation officer. The best image I can think of to characterize it is that of two scorpions circling each other while going out of their way to remain friendly. The high point of the interview was when the probation officer asked my client why he hadn't stopped dealing after a first conviction and he looked around at me and then probation officer and said, "Then we'd all be out of a job."

In the afternoon I go to the courthouse so that the "paid lawyer " can substitute into the case he'd been hired into on Friday. I meet the guy outside the courtroom and almost immediately have to pull him away from one of the other lawyers who is trying to subtly pump him for information. When court begins the paid attorney and I approach and the motion for substitution is made. The judge looks skeptical and calls the Defendant forward to ask him who his attorney is. The judge has to ask the Defendant twice before he points to the other attorney. Meanwhile, the prosecutor, surveying all the witnesses and the lawyers, says in my right ear, "So, you got out of this mess, did you?" I sit back and watch the prelim and the paid lawyer does a good job. All the charges except two are dropped. Of course, that's exactly what I told the family would happen but I'm sure they felt better spending a few thousand to get the same result.

Tuesday: The morning is pretty standard. A client's possession of marijuana is changed to possession of paraphernalia and he walks out of court with some suspended time. In the afternoon I have a preliminary hearing. My kid is one of three who went to a house tied a lady up and stole stuff out of the house. My client stayed in the car the whole time. Later on all three confessed to the whole thing. One of the others has a possible Miranda issue so that prelim comes to a halt. The prosecutor actually screws up and doesn't introduce the statement of the third Defendant leaving no evidence in his case so his case is dismissed (the prosecutor is going to direct indict). However, the prosecutor does introduce my client's confession made immediately after the detective reads Client his Miranda rights and has him sign a paper stating he understands his rights, all on the video tape. So my client's case got certified to the grand jury. Then I spent the better part of a hour trying to explain to his immigrant parents what happened through my client's sister who is the only person there who actually speaks English and the mother-tongue. Try explaining to people who don't understand English or the court system how one Defendant is getting out of jail today while their son is staying in jail and try doing it through your client's 15 year old sister. Fun.

Wednesday: I come to court in the afternoon for a client who is charged with felony unauthorized use of his girlfriend's car, misdemeanor reckless driving, and felony hit and run. The unauthorized use is getting dropped. I try to get the prosecutor to drop the reckless driving because the client is probably going to get slammed in the Circuit Court on the hit and run (the facts are really, really bad). But the prosecutor just isn't buying it. I finally ask the clerk to call the case and when she does the prosecutor's witness has disappeared. Knowing that the prosecutor can get a continuance, I once again run the idea of him dropping the reckless and my client waiving on the hit and run so that it will go to the grand jury. This time he bites. We explain the deal to the judge and he starts filling out the paperwork reflecting it. Just then the witness comes hustling in. He had been in the restroom. The judge asks the prosecutor if this changes how he wants to deal with the reckless driving and the prosecutor tells him that he wants to withdraw his motion to dismiss. The judge tells me, "Well, Mr. Lammers, I think I have to do it." So my client pleads no contest to the reckless and the judge hears the evidence and it is bad. The judge finds Client guilty and I tell him before sentencing that we are going to appeal so that there is one sentencing event. "Well, you can if you want Mr. Lammers." Then all he does is give my client a fine. Needless to say, we did not appeal.

Thursday: In the morning I go off to a rural court. When I get up to argue my client's case I start out by saying "Your Honor, as you know from reading the memorandum in support of the motion to dismiss . . ." At this point, the judge tells me he hasn't read it. So I basically have to make the entire, rather convoluted, jurisdictional argument orally. At the end the judge looks up and says, "Mr. Lammers you're going to make me have to do some work." Then he tells me after he researches the matter he will issue a written opinion. As soon as the hearing is over I sprint to my car and zoom down the road to get to another courthouse. I get there 55 minutes after the docket began, which is usually plenty of time - but not on this day. The judge had some sort of meeting he had to get to so he had continued my case 5 minutes before I got to court. The judge and prosecutor were still there so we could have done the 10 minute guilty plea but my client had bolted from the courthouse the second after the case was continued.

Friday: I go to court in the morning for a client's show cause as to why he shouldn't get 30 days in jail for not having gone to VASAP after being convicted of a DUI. I explain to the judge that he thought that as long as he didn't get a restricted license he didn't have to go to VASAP but she sends Client to jail for 10 days anyway. A lot of clients make this mistake because the law used to let people not go to VASAP as long as they were willing not to drive while their licenses were revoked (you have to go to VASAP to get a restricted license). Now you must go but there's always a couple buddies out there who got DUI's 5 or 6 years ago who tell the client, "Naw, you don't have to go. All you have to do is wait a year and get your license back." And the client believes them.

As a side note, while I am sitting in court waiting for my client's case to be called the judge starts to sentence someone with a DUI conviction to 12 months jail time suspended for 12 months. The prosecutor stops her and points to me and asks the judge to make the suspended sentence 3 years so that the jurisdictional argument which I made on Thursday cannot be made again. He tells her he's going to call this Lammers' Rule. I've finally made my mark on the world; I can now die a happy man. :-)

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