21 June 2007

And then there's Citizen Complaint Day

In Virginia anyone can walk into a magistrate's office and, if he can convince the magistrate, file a criminal complaint against another person. So, once a month we have citizen complaint day. Much of the time the citizens have resolved the situation themselves by then and most other situations can be resolved after a little give and take and an agreement that the defendant and complaining witness will stay away from each other for 6 months. Nevertheless, there are some cases you just can't get resolved and you have to put the case in front of the judge and let him decide the issue. And then some of the strangest things happen.

It's a he said - she said case and neither side is willing to budge a bit. I put on the complaining witness to tell the judge his version and the defense attorney has done his cross. At the end the defense attorney asks a throw away impeachment question and the conversation goes like this:
Attorney: Have you ever been convicted of a felony?

Witness: Of course.

Attorney: How many felonies have you been convicted of?

Witness: I don't know.

Attorney: Well, have you been convicted of 10? 15?

Witness: No, it was about 20 or 23.
The whole conversation took place quite matter of factly, like the complaining witness was talking about the weather or the color of the paint on the wall.

Gotta love citizen complaint day.


Anonymous said...

Did this witness even understand the words "convicted" and "felony"?

Ken Lammers said...

Yes, the witness understood the questions. It was just part of his every day life to which he didn't seem to attach much importance.

Anonymous said...

I was wondering how someone can be convicted of 20 or more felonies - each carrying a potential penalty of at least 1 year in prison - and not wind up in prison until he dies of old age?

One thing I can think of is that he might be earning leniency by acting as a drug informant. I once knew a man whose typical Saturday night ended in assault and battery charges, but was so useful an informant that the drug cops soon got him back on the street every time. However, around here that's handled by dropping or reducing charges, not by convicting the guy of a felony and talking the judge into a ridiculously light sentence. After all, if his whole record was laid out in a string of convictions, it would be too easy for some judge to conclude that this guy was more dangerous than the drug dealers he put away.