17 August 2006

A Week in the Life: Wednesday

This morning is all about Midland Juvenile Court. It's a multi-party, multi-charge case which has racial overtones - or maybe it was just a fight between a bunch of yahoos at the local high school. There are 5 black kids and 3 white kids and depending upon whom you listen to it was either racial or just two kids who don't like each other dragging their friends into a fight.

Here are the facts as people other than my client seem to have pieced them together. My client is a 17 year old young black man who is on the Midland High baseball team. He's well spoken, intelligent, looking toward college, and has a Dad who is going to kick his rear if anything like this ever happens again. The problem is, he and a 16 year old white kid have disliked each other for years. My client is walking down the hall and he and the white kid pass each other. The white kids says the unsayable word and Client kicks him in the shin. White kid's BIG white kid friend steps in and tosses Client into the wall. Client gets up and tackles Big white kid and the melee commences. When it's all over the only person hurt is Big white kid who has a hairline fracture in his arm.

Everybody gets charged with disorderly conduct and assault and battery. Client and a couple other of the black kids get a malicious wounding charge. Or at least that's what they would be as adult charges. Since they're minors the charges are actually civil in nature. Anyway, the prosecutor is offering the same deal to everyone: all charges dismissed except for the disorderly conduct and everybody does 50 hours community service and goes to life training classes. He'll drop the other charges. All the attorneys try to talk him into just asking the judge to take it under advisement (hold the final finding in abeyance) and have it go away after the community service but he won't go that far. All-in-all, it's not a bad deal and everybody agrees to it.

Then we go into court and the deal is explained to the judge and everyone pleads guilty. Then the judge asks for commentary. The juvenile probation officer opines that perhaps this would be better taken under advisement. That's enough to set the first lawyer off, asking for the same thing. The judge interrupts and says he is inclined to go with the plea agreement and not give something that the prosecutor has already refused to agree to. The lawyer replies that he never spoke to the prosecutor about advisement, which might technically be true since I can't specifically remember him saying anything when all the lawyers were standing in a group out in the hall talking to the prosecutor about it. One by one the lawyers have their say and a couple others try to talk the judge into taking it under advisement. In the end it was a lot wasted hot air because the judge does exactly what the plea agreement called for.

Then a someone points out that after a period of time they can come back and petition for the removal of an adjudication of a misdemeanor event anyway. The judge agrees and offers to set a hearing date two years in the future to see if he can be persuaded to do that. However, he points out, he will hold every lawyer to that date - no not coming to court because no one has paid further fees. I raise my hand and the judge smiles, "Of course, Mr. Lammers won't be around to come to our little get together." I huddle with Client and parents and they aren't really interested in coming back anyway because (hopefully) Client will be off in college by then. Three of the other lawyers actually set hearing dates for two years in the future (one of them over the parent's objections that by that time their kid will be 18 and it won't matter).

Next I drive to Shire county courthouse, eating a fast food meal on the way so that I can get to my 1 p.m. case - an event which happens far too often.

In Shire I have a case where a lady is charged with having her house as a common nuisance (allowing drug deals), conspiracy to distribute marijuana, distribution of marijuana, and distribution of cocaine. The prosecution has given me the statement the police officers are going to say she gave: "John (boyfriend) sells marijuana and gives me money to help pay the rent."

Client pleads not guilty across the board. The first officer comes to the stand and testifies that they came to the house with a search warrant based upon a buy a confidential informant made from John. The officer testifies that Client said, "John sells drugs and gives me money to help pay the rent." Aw, crud.

I try to cross the officer on this and the other officer who was there but whenever I try to ask the officers if my client said she knew John was dealing cocaine the prosecutor objects on hearsay grounds. I point out to the judge that this falls within the "opened the door" exception wherein evidence which would be normally not allowed into evidence becomes admissible because of one party introducing certain evidence. This exception is most relevant when a party introduces excerpts of a statement and most judges will allow you to cross about other statements made, or not, at the same time to establish the parameters of the inculpatory statement. However, this judge is having none of it.

The judge tries to explain why she wasn't allowing me to ask the question, but I'm not getting what she's saying. This is a very smart judge so I'm fairly sure the disconnect was on my side. She was either telling me that the "opened the door" exception would only allow me to ask inculpatory questions or she was rejecting my question because it was inculpatory. I still don't know which. However, sometime in the second go around the judge and I are having on this she states that my client has only admitted knowing John dealt marijuana and she's not sure what I'm even trying to accomplish. I realize that at least part of our disconnect is that the judge "heard" what the officer was supposed to say, not what he actually said. I immediately sit down and shut up.

Client is convicted of the charges of maintaining a common nuisance and conspiracy and distribution of marijuana. However, the judge finds her not guilty of the nastiest charge - distribution of cocaine. Our trial was the last of the day and the judge leaves the bench after giving me a look which can only be described quizzical annoyance. And, in all fairness, she probably had an understandable reason for that. For a good portion of the case I fought with her about a point of the evidentiary common law and we were obviously on different wave lengths. Then, all of the sudden, I dropped it all and sat down. It had to look a little strange from her side of the bench.

And thus ended Wednesday.

No comments: