06 July 2004

A Week in the Life of a Criminal Defense Attorney

Monday: In the morning I go to court for a guy charged with driving with a suspended license and falsely identifying himself to the officer. When pulled over he gave his father's name and date of birth in an attempt to avoid getting the driving suspended charge. As the officer told me, "He was about 25 years too young." Client stuck with the story until the officer found his real name through fingerprinting. Anyway, my client has been stuck in jail for a little over two months waiting for trial (the equivalent of four months because for misdemeanors convicts serve 50%). With an abundance of caution, I work out a deal with the prosecutor which will sentence my client to one month on each charge. When we go up to present the deal, the judge takes one look at Client's driving record (several prior driving suspended convictions) and refuses the plea agreement because it is too low. After a couple seconds of confusion both I and the prosecutor submit the case to the judge. He sentences Client to one month on the false identification and three months on the driving suspended. Client has already served time sufficient for that so everything ended well.

Tuesday: In the morning I have two cases at the local general district courthouse. The first is strictly damage control. Client has been caught, on two separate occasions, driving with a suspended license. The first time he didn't come to court so they issued a warrant for failing to appear. The second time he was also charged with driving reckless (20 mph over posted limit is reckless). The best I've been able to do is get all of this guy's charges moved to the same day so it will be one hit and hopefully a little less time. In the end Client gets 30 days on one driving suspended, 60 days on another driving suspended, and fines for the other charges. He also gets work release and delayed reporting so he can get that set up.

Finishing that, I turn my attention to the other matter. Client is charged with driving on a suspended license but has paperwork showing he had a restricted license at the time. So I go to talk with the trooper involved. He is sitting right next to the door which the judge will come out of and a deputy has just announced that the judge will be right out. I ask the trooper to come out in the hall to discuss the case and he looks at me kinda weird. Then I say, "I really don't want to be standing in front of the door when the judge comes out but if you don't want to come out we can wait until after the judge is on the bench." Trooper (looking at me like I'm stoned): "We'll wait."1 Okay, fine. I stand around for 5 minutes - no judge, 10 minutes - no judge. Finally, I go over to the Trooper and start talking to him about the case. You guessed it - the judge walks in; he even pats me on the shoulder and says "good morning" as he walks past. Uurrgggg. So I talk to the trooper a little more but there's not much helpful there; I think he must have been coming off shift because he seemed half asleep (they make these poor guys work all night and then spend half the next day in court). Finally, I ask for my client's record which is not much help because it shows multiple court dates and dispositions which are ambiguous. The next step is a trip to the clerk's office where a helpful clerk helps me get copies of my client's prior convictions. Of course these have cryptic notes on them as well. When I finally sort through everything it seems a 50/50 proposition as to whether my client had the right to drive. I take it to the prosecutor and try to explain it as best I can and eventually the prosecutor interjects: "You're confused. I'm confused. I'm not going to confuse the judge. I'll just drop that charge." And that's what happened. Of course, Client still had to pay fines on a bad registration and not having three kids in their seatbelts but he was happy with that.


1 Strangely, later when the hot Latina lawyer walked up and asked him if he'd go outside to talk with her he got immediately up and followed her right out.

Then I scoot over to Juvenile Domestic Relations court. A client is supposed to return with proof he did his community service so that his fighting charge will go away. I'm running late but when I get to the lobby I see that the court's state of the art video docket (picture the big monitors you see in airports) shows the case as not being called. I hurry over to the courtroom and see the prosecutor outside the door. He informs me that they called the case, my client wasn't there, and they dismissed it because the record indicated that the community service had been done. As I leave I look up at the docket again and realize that it isn't showing any cases as having been called (this is at 11:15 - 2 1/2 hours after court started). Will the wonders of technology never cease?

In the afternoon I have clients with more serious charges. The first is a B&E and assault. This is the second time this case has been called and the witness had not come to court the first time. This time she doesn't show either so the prosecutor moves to drop the charges and informs the judge she will issue a show cause on the witness. The second case is a malicious wounding case. My client got in a fight with some kids he worked with at Wal-Mart, walked home, got a knife, came back, and struck one of the kids in the back with the knife. It's a bad fact pattern. We go up to do the preliminary hearing and the prosecutor asks her witness the all important question: "Did the knife break your skin?" Witness: "I don't know. It was on my back so I couldn't see; if it did it was just a prick." This is important because the skin must be broken for a malicious wounding. When the witness is passed I try to make sure this fact is firm.
"There was no blood?" W: "No."
"Was your shirt cut or punctured?" W: "No."
"You saw the knife afterward? W: "Yes."
"Any blood on it?" W: "No."
At this point the prosecutor jumps in: "Your honor, at this time we'd like to drop all charges." Both I and the judge are a little startled by this because there is clearly enough for a battery conviction and the facts would probably get my client a stiff sentence. Still, the judge grants it and the prosecutor tells me as I leave that she is going to direct indict my client for attempted malicious wounding.

I leave court at about 3:15 and head back to my office. At around 4:40 my answering service forwards a message to my e-mail that a clerk tried to contact me at 3:30 to get me back to court for another case. At about 4:10 the clerk had called to say the case had been rescheduled for Wednesday. My answering service has standing orders to immediately call me if a clerk calls them but I guess that's too complicated.

Wednesday: Because I am scheduled to be at a jail 2+ hours away at 1 p.m. to meet with my client and the federal probation officer I run to court on the prayer that "rescheduled for Wednesday" meant in the morning. Nope. So then I go talk to a deputy in the holding area to see if my client got brought over this morning (on the hope I could bump it up). Nope. Well, I call the probation officer and, as is almost always the case with probation officers, get her voicemail. I explain what has happened and tell her I must reschedule; I pray she gets the message in time. She does and later in the morning I call and actually get ahold of her. I apologize but she laughs it off: "Oh, I understand. A little court comes into everyone's life." We reschedule for Friday morning.

In the afternoon I represent a client who has a driving suspended charge and two contempt charges for not coming to court. I point out to the judge that Client was in jail one of the times he did not come to court and in rehab the second time. I also point out that there is a possible argument to keep him from getting him punished on the driving suspended charge but that Client has decided to take responsibility for his actions. The judge gives Client 20 days on the driving charge, dismisses the first contempt, and gives ten days on the second contempt.

Thursday: In the morning I am in court for the final dismissal of the unconstitutional search case. Prior to the case being called my client informs me that the street drugs unit stopped her again and searched her vehicle for drugs. They found nothing and when I started to get a little peeved she said, "Oh, it's all right. I told 'em they got a free pass this time and let 'em search." The prosecutor then calls the case and moves to drop the charges. Motion granted.

In the afternoon my client is charged with not returning a rental car. All anybody really cares about is the rental fee because the car was recovered. I try to get the prosecutor to drop it to a misdemeanor and give my client 90 days to pay restitution. Despite the fact that my client has no record the prosecutor will not agree to that unless my client is willing to spend a month in jail. So we end up certifying the case to the grand jury so that my client can try to get all the restitution paid off before her court date and perhaps get a better resolution.

Friday: In the morning I get up and drive to the jail 2+ hours away. I take country roads to avoid having to go through Richmond's early morning traffic. Twice, even though I kept driving straight, I ended up on the wrong road. Still, I got there at 15 minutes before the probation officer. The interview was pretty standard except that my client is a terrible mumbler. This probably lengthened it by at least 15-20 minutes as the officer kept reasking questions. But finally we finish and I drive the two hours back.

And thus ends another week.

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