06 September 2004

Weeks in the Life of a Criminal Defense Attorney

Selected days of the last two weeks:

Monday: When I get to court Client is already sitting there. After I touch base with the prosecutor, I go out in the hall with my client. When Client starts to talk to me an odor reaches out and slaps me in the face. As his attorney, I'm sure it was only mouthwash. Anyway, within a minute Client is yelling at me. I calm him down and send him outside to get his witness.

Meanwhile, I talk to the prosecutor and she agrees to drop the charges because of an evidentiary issue we had talked about previously. Client comes back, still unhappy. I walk him into court and the prosecutor called the case and moved "nolle prosequi." After the charge had been dropped he became the happiest guy in the world. Back out in the hall he is so happy he's bouncing and he rushes over and hugs me. Then he leaves with a spring in his step.

: In the afternoon I drive out to Beaumont Juvenile Correctional Facility to visit a client. When I get there they take one look in my wallet and tell me that I have too much money and it's got to go back out to my car. I jokingly comment that I don't intend to give it to my client and the guard looks at me stone-cold and intones, "You've still got to take it out to your car." He also has me take a bag of change I have in my pocket out. Then when I come back I have to check keys in before I can go in. However, they let me take the 4 pens in my pocket and the stylus in my PDA, all of which are devastating puncture weapons (and the stylus would hide easily). The meeting takes all of 15 minutes and despite the worries of the guards no money or weapons pass hands. In fact, the most interesting occurrence was getting interrupted a couple of times as the kids in the infirmary waiting room next door shouted because of the video game they were playing.

Friday: I arrive at court for a girl charged with embezzling, grand larceny, and possession of marijuana. She has brought her father along to talk to me about her charges. I tell her father that she has confessed (twice) and he turns to her and says, "What? Do you want to go to prison?" We go into court and the marijuana gets taken under advisement and the larceny gets dropped but the embezzlement gets certified to the grand jury.

Then I represent the kid I went to see in Beaumont the night before. He's charged with exposing his privates to a female employee. She agrees to talk to me before the trial and tells me that the kid has flashed on numerous occasions and she just wants him into "sex offender" counseling and to stop doing it. Well, the prosecutor ain't going there (not sure it can be ordered) and offers my client a couple months jail time. Client literally jumps up off his bench when I tell him the offer and accepts

Monday: I go to court to represent a woman charged with felony failure to appear in court. She had been charged with possession of cocaine but not come to court. Eventually, the drug charge was dropped because the analysis never came back from the lab. But she's still going to get her first felony because she didn't come to court until they arrested her and held her for court. I move for immediate sentencing and that she be sentenced to the two months she spent in jail waiting for court. The judge agrees, lectures her, and limits her active time to that which she has already served.

Then I have a sentencing hearing for another client who was locked up because he didn't come to court on his last court date. His charge is felony eluding. He got pulled over and while the officer was standing next to his car (asking for a driver's license) Client shifted car into drive and, ignoring the officer's yell "Don't do it!" drove off. The police follow and, after Client has hit another car, catch him after he bailed and hid in an apartment. I point out to the judge that the reason my client fled was because he had a suspended license (a misdemeanor) and give the "mountain out of a molehill" speech. The judge sentences him to a year in jail.

Thursday: In the morning I go to court for a client who is accused of grand larceny. He took a lawnmower and was even kind enough to admit to the officer that he sold it for $20 in order to buy drugs. I'm dubious as to value of a push lawnmower being more than $200 but it never becomes an issue because the prosecutor agrees to drop the charge to petit larceny and recommend time served

In the afternoon I have two cases in circuit court and one in general district court. I go to circuit court first. Luckily, both clients are in the same courtroom; one is a plea agreement and the other is show cause.

The first client is charged with possession of cocaine and conspiracy to possess; the plea agreement will require him to serve 3 months on each charge. When I walk in the prosecutor shows me that my client had already filed a motion for a reduced sentence. It takes me a few moments but I figure out that this is actually motion for the six months he had been sentenced to on a felony petit larceny three months prior wherein he was represented by Attorney Smith. When the judge hits the bench the prosecutor explains this to the judge who then tells us all that my client has written the court once in each of the last two months asking that I be replaced by Attorney Smith. She asks the client if he still wants Mr. Smith to replace me and, without the least look of chagrin, he tells her that he's happy with the work I've done for him. So the judge accepts the plea.

Then my second client is called out. He is there for a show cause why he shouldn't be imprisoned because he violated probation. A year prior was convicted of B&E and grand larceny and got all suspended time; in February of this year he was brought back before the court on a show cause and all his time was suspended again on condition that he go to a drug treatment program. He's now back in front of the judge for having absconded from the drug program and having picked up new felony and misdemeanor charges in three other jurisdictions. Doing a show cause in a case like this is a lot like watching a train wreck. There's usually not much you can do but watch it happen. I talk about my client's addiction and try to get the judge to order him into a lock in treatment program in lieu of some of the prison time. In the end the judge sentences him to a year in prison.

Then I go down to the general district court. It turns out that they had a very light docket and they're all waiting for me. My client comes forward and pleads not guilty to trespass on 15 February and not guilty to petit larceny on 17 February but guilty of trespass on that date. I'd previously talked to the store manager and knew that on the the 15th they'd ordered him out of the store. On the 17th they'd chased him out of the store with "lumps" under his clothes and then called the police to file a complaint. The officer filed the complaint 3 days later and my client was picked up June. The officer confirmed all of this. Today the officer's not here because he isn't a witness to the facts. The store manager gets up and starts testifying about how they caught my client with meat packets spilling out of his coat and held him until the police arrived and arrested him. I figure out pretty quickly that he's testifying about a previous event in December when my client was arrested but the charge got dropped because the store manager did not show up for court. I confront him with paperwork from that event and he, I and the judge go around in circles for a few minutes looking at all the paperwork and comparing how his story doesn't match the current event. Then I call my client who testifies as to one fact only: when the prior charge was dismissed he thought that he was no longer banned from the store (at least until they told him on the 15th that he was not to come back again). The judge looks down and tells him, “It's an excuse – not a good excuse – but it's an excuse.” In the end the judge finds him not guilty of the things of which he pled not guilty and then sentences him to 30 days (15 days to serve) on the trespass of which he pled guilty. I go in the back with Client and he is pissed about the fact he's going to jail.

Friday: I go off to the county next door for three cases. In an unusual occurrence, I arrive early enough that I can go across the street and get breakfast at the local restaurant. The fact that I am early is, of course, a harbinger of bad things. I get to the courtroom 15 minutes early and try to persuade the prosecutor that my client's .08 DUI (2d) should be reduced but he's not having any of it. As we are up at the bench talking the courtroom fills up. By the time court starts there are so many people in the courtroom that the walls are lined and there are people out in the hallway. Pre-trial hearings are from 9-9:30 and then the traffic docket is supposed to go from 9:30-11:00; there's no way the court is getting through all those people by 11:00 and we all know it. As I'm sitting there waiting the deputy in my DUI case waves to me and we go outside of the courtroom to talk. He makes sure that I know that the DUI is a second within 10 years and then pitches me the idea that this could be reduced to a reckless driving. I tell him that I'm right there with him but that I've already been shot down by the prosecutor. He tells me that he will talk to the prosecutor himself. Sadly, he must not have been any more persuasive than I was because the prosecutor sticks to his guns. So, when my client's case is called somewhen around noon he pleads guilty and gets 20 days in jail (10 to serve).

I'm not exactly sure when the judge got to the 11:00 a.m. criminal docket but I think it was actually sometime after 1:00 p.m. My client's case is called and he waives his preliminary hearing. Then I sit around waiting for my show cause to get called. It's called sometime after 2:00 p.m. and I go up and ask for a continuance. My client is unemployed and owes money on old fines. She is slowing finding ways to pay it all off in dribs and drabs so the judge gives her a continuance until the next month.

I'm not sure when I finally left the courthouse. I stopped and ate a gyro at a restaurant across the street and finally left there a little after 3:00 so I must have left the courthouse around 2:30. Gotta admit the judge impressed me when she fought all the way through the criminal and traffic dockets before she took her break. In her shoes I'd at least have taken a break for lunch. I finally get back to my office and sit through what little remains of my office hours and meet with one client.

Thus end a couple more weeks.

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