05 May 2004

A Week in the Life of a Criminal Defense Attorney

Weekend: Technically, I'm camping. In reality, I ain't exactly roughing it. Each campsite has potable water, electricity, and there is even a central building with a shower. On Saturday I go over to W&L's law library for about a hour or so. On Sunday I go over for about five hours before I leave for the two hour drive back home. You know, it's amazing, I couldn't study worth a darn in that building when I was a student but now I get more work done when I'm out there than I do in my own office.

Monday: In the morning I print out all the paperwork I typed into my computer and mail it out. I go to the local courthouse and file some more papers. In the afternoon I start to drive the 2+ hours it takes to get to a jail to see a federal client. Then the sky opens and the doggone wiper blade sticks again (see Monday here). When the rain dies down I drive over to a local Firestorm shop at a nearby mall and try to get it fixed permanently. But the only way they will fix it is if I'll leave it overnight and pay for a diagnostic test. So I drive over to the mall's Sears buy some tools and fix it myself. Needless to say by the time I was finished it was too late to get to the jail and I was sopping wet. So I turned back.

Tuesday: I go out to the most rural court from which I take court appointed cases. Client is charged with Intimidating a Witness. He went over to the house of a woman who is the primary witness in a sexual assault case wherein his cousin is charged. Her testimony was that Client asked her what was going on but when she tried to tell him he kept interrupting to ask if they could do drugs together. Finally, he goes to leave and, as he's getting into the car he makes a "smart-aleck" comment, "Don't you throw my boys in jail now." The witness kept saying, over my objections and a motion to strike, that "he got his message across." I object on the grounds that she is guesstifying about my client's intent. The judge overrules me on the grounds that it is an illumination of the victim's state of mind. Client then testifies and his testimony is not helpful at all. The prosecutor argues that the controlling factor is the victim's subjective state of mind. I point out that, even in the "victim's" version of the events, there is no physical threat and not even a contingent verbal threat - there is not enough objective evidence for guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. There's just a smart-aleck comment made as he's getting in his car (at one point I almost called my client a smart-@ss but I caught it just in time to switch to smart-aleck). The judge starts to rule and she's adopting the prosecutor's argument. I point out that if the subjective state of mind of the victim is the standard my client could have said, "The sky is blue" and get convicted. The judge gives me a strange look and then proceeds to tell my client that the only person in the court who believes he's not guilty is his defense attorney. Then she finds him guilty but only gives him a small fine and some community service. As much as I'd like to appeal just to argue the legal point, I really can't argue with my client when he decides not to.

As soon as I get out of court I take off through the back roads of Virginia going off to see the federal client whom I had wasted a trip to see a couple weeks previously because his family had hired another attorney (see Wednesday here). A family member had called a couple days previously and told me they had not hired a lawyer and Client wants to know what's going on. So I trundle on out to the 2 hours distant jail again. And - you guessed it - I am again met by the assertion that his family has hired someone else. Client is polite but confused as to why I'm there. We talk for a little while and then I leave to drive back across the 2 hours of pavement. I try calling his family but nobody calls me back.

Wednesday: In the morning one of my clients is released from jail so she can go into a pre-trial program which will help her deal with her mental and drug abuse issues. In the afternoon my client pleads guilty to trespassing (he got caught with his teenage girlfriend, mid-act, in her house after the parents banished him). He gets all suspended time. Of course he spent two months in jail before hand because he couldn't make bond.

Thursday: In the afternoon I go to court and my client pleads guilty to eluding an officer. He drove off after the drug taskforce officer pulled his car over. The taskforce officer must not have been standing too close to the car because the usual bogus attempted capital murder charge wasn't even filed. After this hearing concludes I go over to Juvenile and Domestic Court for a hearing on the termination of parental custody of a 15 year old girl; I represent the father. When I was appointed to this case it was because they did not know where the father was and I was supposed to sit in court and make the pro forma objections while the Court did what Social Services reccomended. Well, I found out where father was living so the court subpoenaed him to come to the last two hearings (I think I was in court for 5 hearings in this matter). Father has not come by my office to talk to me about what's going on and on this date he just lets the Commonwealth take his child without a fight. I might as well have not bothered to locate him. After it's all done I just leave the court without bothering to put in for the $112 the Court is supposed to pay me for representing him.

Friday: I go to court for a preliminary hearing on a "barely adult" who is accused of getting into a fight with a teacher at a juvenile detention center. It's a felony and the prosecutor isn't willing to cut any deals so we put on the hearing. At the end I move to dismiss on some technical grounds and the only thing the judge says is "Certified." After my case another attorney gets up with the same sort of case and plagiarizes my motion almost word for word but he doesn't have any luck with it either.

Thus ends the week.

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