05 April 2004

A Week in the Life of a Criminal Lawyer

: No court scheduled for today. Those of you who read this blog regularly will realize that this was because I was supposed to be on vacation the week before & planned to get back on Sunday. In the afternoon I go hunt down a lawyer I trust, David Clements, and ask him to cover a Tuesday morning case in Chesterfield general district court which conflicts with a hearing in federal magistrate court. Dave's a good guy even if he is the guy who asked me to take a case wherein I had to peruse a "blowjob coupon book" during a jury trial.

Tuesday: I go off to Federal Court for my client's detention and preliminary hearing. I go a hour early because I need to talk with my client. Then I go down outside the courtroom to wait and see if any family or friends show up. A girlfriend shows up shortly and I explain to her what he is charged with and the possible penalties. A short while later my client's mother shows up and I explain everything that is going on to her. Then the prosecutor shows up and he's a guy with whom I went to law school. We chat for a while and he makes the obligatory vague threats that I pretty much ignore.

Then we are allowed into the courtroom and my client's pretrial report is sitting on the table in front of my chair. I pick it up and start reading and a minute or so into that the marshal asks me if I am ready but I'm only half way through so everybody has to wait on me (oh joy - no pressure there). I finish reading and the Magistrate Judge comes in. We have the hearing and I tilt at the windmill of trying to get my client released to his mother but the judge doesn't buy it. I get out of court, jump in my car, and burn rubber for the courthouse in Chesterfield County.

When I get to Chesterfield, I go into the courthouse and a buddy of mine laughs at me, telling me that Dave ''lost your client" (but won't elucidate further). A little concerned I start hunting Dave but he's not in the courthouse.

In the afternoon I first go to Circuit Court and the sentencing hearing there is continued because the case had been transferred to a different judge and the prosecutor wants the original judge to sentence. When I get back down to the General District Court I walk in just in time to find my client's co-defendant and his attorney in front of the bench. The judge calls me forward and tells me that the case is being continued because the co-defendant wants to get a witness to court. My client's going to be in jail until after the new date (and I want that witness too) so I agree with the continuance. I follow my client back into lockup and talk to him for a few minutes then I go out to the hall outside the courtroom to explain what is going on to my client's parents. As soon as I start talking with the parents a deputy sticks his head out of the courtroom and tells me my last case is being called. I hustle back into court, have a preliminary hearing for a grand larceny shoplifting (a forlorn hope; she confessed and had lots of stuff on her person). Then I go back out and talk to my prior client's parents who have waited patiently and are gracious; they know nothing about the criminal system which is actually somewhat refreshing. I spend about 15 minutes talking to them about the case and explaining how they can arrange a bond.

Finally, I go hunt Dave down and he explains what happened in the morning. My client came to court and spoke with Dave. They got everything squared away and Dave (who had several cases that morning) went off to handle a couple other short cases while Client was to wait for him in court. Meanwhile, my client's case got moved to another courtroom in front of another judge. Dave comes back and Client is gone. Being adept at figuring out what's going on in Chesterfield courts Dave figures it out pretty quickly but when he goes over to the other courtroom Client is not there either. Dave hunts around a little further and finally a clerk tells him that Client's case got called before Dave had figured out where Client was. Client went up and was kind enough to explain to the judge that I was in federal court this morning and could not be in Chesterfield. Apparently he left out the part about me arranging for another attorney to represent him. Consequently, the judge granted him a continuance and he left the courthouse.

: One case in the afternoon: a DUI. The poor guy is a long time member of AA from Boston who was stuck, alone in a motel while traveling and went to the local eatery which turned out to be a big time bar as well. He falls off the wagon and gets caught driving back to his hotel room. He had a BAC of .26 which requires a mandatory 10 days jail time. This much I know from the complaint as I walk into the courtroom. Then I go over to talk to the officer involved. The officer tells me that Client had been spotted by an off duty trooper who followed him as he was driving down the road and plowed into a mailbox and watched him until the officer arrived. The trooper is in court and confirms all this. That's a bit of a shock when you walk in thinking you have just got a normal run-of-the-mill DUI. We go in front of the judge and I do my best tap dance pointing out how my client has come back to Virginia from Boston 3 times in order to get this taken care of, how he's back in AA, etc. The judge looks skeptical but in the end only sentences the guy to the mandatory jail time.

Thursday: I go to court in the afternoon for a petit larceny. I walk up to the clerk and she asks me what I'm going to do in the Smith case. When I look at her with a blank face and say, "What Smith case? I'm here for Jones," she pulls out court papers from her file and hands them to me. Sure enough, the Smith case is set for today. I pull out my trusty PDA, search the calender, and find out that I have the case scheduled for two weeks from today. So I check the papers a little more closely and find that the old date had been scratched out and the current date put in its place. Apparently, I was never notified (or at least I did not note it; I am more often the source of error than the clerks) and the papers which were sent to my client's address came back unserved. So that case got continued. I talk to the officer in the case and he tells me that Client was having an argument with his father in front of the officers and Client grabbed father, at which point the officers "laid hands on him." This is a term of art used by police officers which means tackled, cap-stunned, wrestled into handcuffs, and dragged out of the residence.

Having finished talking to officer Greenlowe about the case that's being continued I ask him about the petit larceny case. He tells me it's not his case. Confused, I open the folder and look at the papers. Yep, they say Greenlowe. I'm just about to tell the officer that I'm pretty sure it's his when he smiles and tells me it's his wife's case and points me to a female officer sitting behind us. Okay, whoever thought that putting two officers with the same, fairly distinctive name in court on the same day should get 50 lashes with a wet noodle. It turns out that Client, who has no record, put a few things in a basket at Wal-Mart walked right past the cashiers and out the door. When she was caught she offered to pay and had the money in her pocket. In the end, I'm able to get her community service, shoplifting classes, and her charges will be dropped if she doesn't get in trouble for six months.

: In the morning I sit around at the Powhatan Court and make myself available for court appointed cases; none are assigned to me but that's just because there are too many honest people in Powhatan. Then in the afternoon I am at my office for my open office hours but nobody shows up. I get a fair amount of paperwork done and try to set up jail visits for Saturday but one jail won't let me, neither will a detention center, and the Central Virginia Regional Jail didn't seem to have anyone answering the phones after 3 p.m. So all the visits get shoved into the next week.

Thus ends the week.

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