15 November 2005

Moments in the Life of a Criminal Defense Attorney

1) I've been assigned to represent Client on his appeal of a domestic violence case. Client pleads guilty and prosecutor gives a minimal description: "They had a fight, your Honor." I start to proffer my client's position: "Your Honor, Client would state that the fight started when Wife swung the hair dryer at him and then charged him, slamming her fists into his chest. Rather than striking a defensive blow - which he would have been allowed - he grabbed her arm and then spanked her. It's a violation Sir, but we'd ask that this case be taken under advisement for a year. It's a strange situation where he could have punched her and been not guilty but in taking a lesser action he is guilty. Furthermore, they've separated and I can tell you Client has no intention of seeing her ever again."

At this point Wife stiffens in shock she looks over my head at Client. Client, in the world's worst stage whisper, says "Yes, I do."

I freeze and spend about half a second thinking what my ethical obligations are here. The judge catches it and before I can do anything (like move to withdraw) he steps in and asks my client a few questions about whether he will get back with his wife and then takes the case under advisement.

2) Arguing whether three dismissed charges and one prior conviction can be used as evidence in a check cashing case, the prosecutor first argues that it should be allowed in to identify. I point out that there is no doubt my client cashed the checks - no identity issue, only permission - and that Virginia law has only identity as the major theme in allowing this kind of evidence. The prosecutor then gets up and reads from Friend the statement that prior acts can be introduced to prove any element. After he finishes, I start to ask for sur-rebuttal because he raised new issues but the judge tells me to "sit down, you've proven your point." He then rules in my client's favor, excluding all the prior acts: "All that horn-book stuff is nice theory but it's too prejudicial for anything outside of proof of identity."

3) I get to sit and watch a prosecutor and a judge bump heads. First, despite dubious looks from the judge, the prosecutor drops a DUI charge because he has determined that the checkpoint didn't adhere to the requirements under the law. Later that same prosecutor, in a case I'm not in court to hear, so angers the judge when he refuses to prosecute another case that Judge stops court and takes a 30 minute recess. You know you're in a rough courtroom when the prosecutor is defending people.

4) Two comments which have stuck with me from the last week:
~~ At jail one inmate points me out to another: "There's that lawyer who got me off on that thing."
~~ After winning a motion in limine Client is put back in lockup with other defendants. As the bars close, he points me out to the other guys and yells in joy: "That attorney out there is slicker than sh!t!"

Not exactly the way I've ever wanted to be described but I appreciate the sentiment.


Anonymous said...

Take your compliments where you find them! Congrats. Word of mouth advertising is always best...

Kurt Hunt said...

Just have to say: I really enjoy these posts. It's nice to have such an unedited look at the profession.