It's a Dangerous Job...

Who knew being a court appointed attorney was so dangerous?

Here's yet another story of a criminal defendant punching his lawyer.

The result? A mistrial and he gets a new attorney appointed. Even as a defense attorney, this doesn't quite seem fair to me. (Maybe because I wouldn't want to be the next lawyer to sit next to him.)

And as we all know from reading CrimLaw, in some states punching your defense attorney means you lose your right to appointed counsel.

It'd be classic if the attorney got to punch him back. The bailiff could hold him down and the judge could look the other way. Or, maybe the judge would be busy under his robe...

Weekend Plans

Friday Night, bedtime:
  • Make sure the A/C is set to keep the bedroom nice and cool all night.
  • Turn off the alarm clock so that it won't go off at the crazy hour it was set at for the past 5 days.
  • Close all of the curtains tight.
  • Turn the cell phone to silent, take the home phone off the hook. (Mom likes to call early).

    Saturday morning, 4 a.m.:
  • Come home.
  • Put on really heavy-soled shoes on.
  • Jump up and down in bedroom. Loudly.
  • Open up a bag of bricks, dump it on the floor. Loudly.
  • Take really heavy loud things, thrown them on floor. Loudly.
  • Re-arrange furniture, dragging it as you go. Loudly.
  • Continue until person downstairs decides its best to just get up and watch tv.

    Now, here's a game for my readers. One of these is a list of my activities. One of these is a list of activities performed by the man that lives upstairs from me. Guess which one belongs to each.
  • Mail Fraud (part 2)

    So, I just figured I'd update everyone on the whole credit card fraud fiasco.

    The prosecutor has decided not to go after the 2 girls involved - supposedly because the amount wasn't great enough. Interesting, because in the city where I work, I see cases prosecuted for a lot less.

    And, they've decided not to arrest the man involved - because there's not enough evidence to connect him to the whole scheme. The only evidence would be the testimony of the 2 girls. Who, of course, could be "convinced" to testify. Again, interesting. I've seen cases go forward on a lot less.

    So, I guess that's the end of it. And I was looking forward to being a prosecution witness.

    Here Comes The Judge

    This morning I was before a judge that I find to be a little... how to say this... "icky." Yeah, "icky" is a good description.

    Anyway, I realize now that I can't complain. This judge is way worse... Yuck!

    Anas - Hot or Not?

    Ok, this isn't law related in any sense (at least not that I could think of), but I just had to vent...

    As everyone knows by now, Mary-Kate has entered the hospital with a "health issue" (also known as anorexia).

    Now, here's the problem. I feel like you don't have to be a genius to know she had an eating disorder. You just had to look at her. Did you see them host SNL? One of them, who I'm now assuming was Mary-Kate, looked particularly boney.

    And just a few weeks ago, all the talk was about how hot they were and when they would be legal. For example, this article refers to the twins as "jailbait no more" and chorincles websites that counted down to their 18th birthdays. There were literally hundreds of these countdown websites.

    My point is, guys think this is hot? Guys want girls with their ribcages sticking out of their backs? Guys want girls who have issues with everything they eat?

    And if you ask guys, they say they're interested in healthy women without issues. But this is undisputable evidence that a girl that guys thought was so hot was, in fact, anorexic.

    What's up with that?

    Lawyer Becomes Defendant

    Opening arguments have begun in the trial against attorney Lynne Stewart. If I find time, I'll try to follow this and see where it goes.

    Sssh... Hear That?

    Listen carefully. Hear that sound? That's your constitutional rights being chipped away.

    I'm not prepared to write a comment on the Supreme Court's decision in Hiibel v. Sixth Judicial Dist. Ct. of Nevada. Mostly because I don't have the time.

    What you need to know is that if you're stopped by the police, and they ask for your name, you've gotta tell them. Otherwise you can be arrested (depending on your state's statute). Just for not telling them. Scary, right?

    So now I've got to stop telling my clients "Don't talk to cops," and instead tell them, "Consult the local statute, and, if in doubt, give your name." Not quite as catchy, really.

    If you'd like to read more commentary on the decision, I direct you to other law bloggers who posted on the subject, including CrimLaw, The Volokh Conspiracy, The Shout and SCOTUSblog.

    Want a Pickle with that Ham Sandwich?

    Today's NY Times has a good story today about putting your client in the grand jury, and having them beat it:
    New Trend Before Grand Juries: Meet the Accused

    Of course, I think most defense attorneys don't do this too often - you need a good articulate client with a convincing story - and even then, you've given away your defense if he ends up indicted. But, if it works, it sure saves everyone a lot of time.

    Hypocritical Justice?

    So, over at Crime & Federalism, the question has been raised - can (or should) a criminal defense attorney really want to see someone sent to jail?

    And my answer is yes. Well, at least I do. I won't speak for my colleagues.

    I know that jail is a nasty place. I've been there. (For counsel visits, never to stay.) And maybe I'm not such a libertarian. But, yup, I believe there are many people who belong in jail. Just not my clients.

    The other day I was in the audience in court, waiting for my case to be called, when I overheard another case on the record. Basically, a man was being held on bail on charges that he harassed his girlfriend. The defense attorney was arguing there was a change in circumstances and that bail should be reduced because the girlfriend had now admitted, to the D.A. and to the court, that the alleged incident never occurred. In fact, she wrote a full statement to that effect and sent it to the court. Including the assertion that she had him arrested "to teach him a lesson."

    In my mind, lock her up. Make her spend at least as much time in jail as her boyfriend had spent. Plus some community service for wasting the police department's time and the court's time.

    There are other people who deserve some punishment too, but I won't bother with a list right now. My point is, I'm not opposed to jail. I certainly don't believe that it's rehabilitative, but I think it's appropriate in some cases. Just not for my clients.

    Hypocritical? Maybe. An accurate expression of how I feel? Certainly.

    Settling the old debate...

    I found this great map which may finally help settle the old "soda vs. pop" debate. (Or at least help us know where everyone stands on the debate.) (Link courtesy of Rebuttable Presumption.)

    If you must know, I call it soda.

    Campaign High

    The Manhattan District Attorney came out today in support of medicinal marijuana. (Story at Newsday.com here).

    I'd hate to write more before doing my research, but my understanding is that Morgenthau previously opposed lighter punishments for marijuana offenses (as compared to other drug offenses) and opposed drug treatment court models (preferring jail time as punishment for drug offenses).

    So, this is an interesting turn of events. Could it be because Morgenthau, who has been in office since 1975, "might face a serious challenge for re-election this year for the first time in a long time," a former Judge by the name of Leslie Crocker Snyder? (Quote also thanks to Newday.com.)

    Aaah, the world of elected D.A.s. Interesting indeed.

    Mail Fraud, Conspiracy to Commit Mail Fraud, Forgery, Grand Larceny...

    About a week ago, I logged in to check on my credit card account and saw a $3000 transaction pending which didn't look familiar to me.

    It was late at night, so I had to wait until the next day to speak to an actual person who could tell me what the transaction was for. Meanwhile, my boyfriend and I had been planning a vacation, so I thought it was possible that the hotel or the rental car company had put through a $3000 authorization. (Possible, but not likely).

    The next day, I get an actual person on the phone, who tells me that the $3000 transaction is in the form of a cash advance check (one of those checks that come in your credit card statement) made out to a (names changed to protect the presumed innocent, but factually guilty) "Sharon Thompson." The lady from the credit card company asks me if I know a "Sharon Thompson" or if I wrote a check out to her. Nope, not me, close the account.

    Now, at this point, I'm not really out $3000 - the credit card company isn't going to charge me for it. They just advise me to get a police report, just for my records.

    I call the police department and they come out to my house (surprising, because when we've called 911 for an actual emergency no one ever shows up) and take a report.

    Mostly, I'm concerned with how someone could have gotten my mail. But I got a police report, and I thought that was the end of that.

    A few nights later someone rings my doorbell.

    "Who is it?"
    "My name is Fannie Thomspon. I'm Sharon Thompson's mother. Can you come out and speak to me?"


    I was home by myself and I was utterly confused. If I opened the door, was she going to knock me out, come in and steal my mail? What exactly did she want? In the end, curiosity got the better of me and I went outside to speak to her.

    She proceeded to tell me this story: Her 20 year old daughter, "Sharon Thompson" (the innocent little victim in all of this) goes to community college with a boy (let's call him "Alan," the big bad perpetrator in all of this). Alan came to Sharon and told her that he had a check that he needed to cash, but he didn't have a bank account. He asked Sharon if he could use her bank account, and he'd give her some part of the money in exchange. Sharon agreed and handed over her ATM card and her pin. He deposited the check in Sharon's account. A few days later, when the check cleared, the two of them went back to the bank. Sharon withdrew $2500, leaving $500 in her bank account for herself.

    [Now, at this point, this girl can play dumb all she wants, but she must have known something was up. Not even the shadiest of check cashing joints charges a $500 fee. If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.]

    A few days later (after I've reported the check stolen), the bank pulls $3000 back out of the account. Finally, when Fannie goes to the bank, she finds that this joint account that she shares with Sharon is almost $3000 in the negative. She gets a copy of the returned check, which has my name and address on it. She calls her daughter to ask what was going on, her daughter tells her what I've just told you. Fannie takes it upon herself to go to Alan's house and demand the money. He plays dumb and refuses to give the money back. At this point, she comes to my house, and basically asks me not to get her daughter in trouble.

    The two of us go the police department together, but they tell us to come back during the day when there's a detective available.

    In the meantime, I call my credit card company to get a copy of the check. They fax a copy of the check to me - and it's a different check, made out to a different person. It turns out that someone (the mysterious Alan?) has put through not 1 but 2 checks of mine, totaling $6000.

    The funniest part of all of this comes when I call the investigator assigned to my case by the credit card company. We talk about how much information I've managed to get, and she says that this a good thing because, generally, suspects are never caught in these cases. I'm a little excited, and I say (quite loudly) "Yeah, and I'd like to see them all go to jail." Just as I say this, I look up from my desk, and notice a few of my fellow criminal defense colleagues standing outside my door. They were having a conversation in the hallway but all stopped when I said this. Well, there's one thing that I'm sure is not heard in my office too often.

    Around this time I also remembered that there was a month where I never got a statement - that must be where the stolen checks came from. A month or two back I had a late fee on my account, and I realized that this was because I had never gotten a statement the month before. I'm still left wondering how this person (or people) got my mail.

    Yesterday, I spent a beautiful Saturday morning at the police department where a detective wrote up a detailed complaint. Both Thomspon mother and daughter were there (voluntarily).

    The detective took a statement from the daughter, and of course, I found myself wondering how this case is going to look to her criminal defense attorney. Was that a custodial interrogation? She came to the station willingly, and from where I sat it looked like she could leave at any time. But she wasn't Mirandized, so you know her attorney will argue the opposite. If this "Alan" never confesses, what evidence do they have against him? Also, would she get a lighter sentence for being the more cooperative party? Time will tell...

    Either way, it's certainly interesting for me to be on the other side of this, and to see how a case looks before it lands on the desk of a criminal defense attorney. I'll give you an update when I hear more about this.

    War Stories (continued)

    Ken from crimlaw.com left this comment yesterday, which reminded me of a whole 'nuther arraignment story. This one is actually kind of sad, but I'd like to share it.

    I was working (yet another) night arraignment shift. At around 5 p.m. (the beginning of the shift), I picked up a case with a homeless client. I knew that he could get time served and get out immediately.

    I went to the jail cell off of the courtroom to talk to him. We talked about the case for a few minutes, and I told him that if he wanted to plead guilty, he could get time served. He seemed enthusiastic about this. We talked about his plea for a minute, and I told him that I'd sign his case up so he could get out of there. (Most clients are excited to get out as soon as possible).

    Instead, he asked if I could wait an hour or so before signing up the case - so that he could get one of the white bread and bologna sandwiches that they hand out for dinner.

    I don't think I'd ever heard something so heartbreaking in my life.

    Lessons In Negotiating

    The other day, I picked up a new case in arraignments where my client was accused of theft (petit larceny).

    I looked through the client's file. It looked like he was homeless, and he'd been arrested (and pleaded guilty) more than three times in the past year and had done jail time on each of those cases. I knew that the judge would be likely to set bail, and it seemed unlikely that this client could make any bail. Unfortunately, even if he wanted to fight the case, he'd probably spend (much) more time in jail waiting for a trial than he would if he pleaded guilty immediately.

    I went to the D.A. and asked him how much time he was going to recommend. He told me he'd ask for 60 days. I figured I'd ask the judge for 30. 30 seemed about right to me, based on my client's record, the amount he stole, and the fact that he was homeless. I also knew that if this judge didn't agree to 30 days, we'd see another judge later in the week who might be willing to agree to 30 days.

    I go and meet my client. We talk for a while about the facts of the case. He's very adamant about the fact that he did not steal, or try to steal, anything. This happens a lot - and I always feel very torn. If my client had money (and, therefore, could make bail), he'd probably plead not guilty and take the case to trial. But, even assuming I could get a judge to agree to 30 days on this case, he'd spend longer than that in jail waiting for a trial if he pleaded not guilty.

    So, I talk to my client about a plea. No way, he's not interested. He didn't do anything wrong, why should he plead guilty? I try to talk to him a little bit about the plea anyway. I tell him that I could probably get him 30 days and that he'd spend longer than that waiting for a trial. He's absolutely not interested. He will plead not guilty, no matter what.

    We go in front of the judge. My plan (my only plan, unfortunately) is to try to get the judge to ROR my client, even though I know that the possibility is remote. The judge asks the D.A. if there's any recommendation, and the D.A. responds, "sixty days."

    My client bursts out (quite loudly) "Sixty Days? I'll take it!"

    The judge responds, "Ok, Mr. (Defendant), you wish to plead guilty..."

    At which time my client turns to me and says, "See if he'll go any lower. Will he give me anything lower?"

    Needless to say, the judge wouldn't budge from 60 days. Not the best way to start a negotiation.

    Feeling Itchy

    Excerpt From An Actual Conversation Held In My Office This Afternoon

    me: (handing a file to co-worker) So, what's up with this client?
    co-worker: Oh, this guy... he has scabies. And he probably gave them to me.

    Quickly, I look up scabies on webmd.com.

    me (reading aloud): Scabies is a very itchy skin condition caused by tiny mites that burrow into the outer layers of the skin.
    co-worker: Shit, that's what I got.
    co-worker number 2: It's a mite? It's not a parasite?
    me: I don't know, this is what it says.
    co-worker number 2: Go to wikipedia.org and look it up.

    So, I do that. And find this, which I read aloud...

    me: The mite prefers to live on the hands and feet, the buttocks, genitals...
    co-worker possible infected with scabies: Oh, man. Those are my favorite parts.

    Ha!

    And now we're all off to the drinking spot to celebrate a first trial win by yet another co-worker (who, to our knowledge, is not infected by anything).

    Curb Your Accusations

    I saw something about this story on the news this morning.

    This man was identified by a witness and arrested for murder. He was facing capital charges but insisted that he was at an L.A. Dodgers game at the time of the murder.

    Luckily for him, the HBO show "Curb Your Enthusiasm" had been taping at the stadium, and he's caught on tape, proving he could not have committed the murder. This evidence came after he had been in prison for 5 months.

    Listen up, all you potential jurors out there: Witnesses are sometimes wrong. Not every criminal defendant is lucky enough to have an HBO film crew to back-up their alibi. Hundreds of people have served years in prison before being exonerated by DNA evidence. Not every criminal defendant is lucky enough to have DNA or other scientific evidence involved in their case. Keep that in mind next time you get called in for jury duty. Thanks.

    Almost Famous

    My office does something great. Someone (I don't know who, maybe a little elf or something), goes through all of the new case law and decisions that come out and culls the cases most important to our practice, and puts it in a neat little legal-size packet, and puts it in everyone's mailbox. Sometimes it's U.S. Supreme Court cases, sometimes appellate decisions, mostly there are local decisions. They write a headline, which breaks down the holding into one sentence, then a paragraph or two that describes in a little more detail the facts and the holding, and then pastes a copy of the decision. Convenient, right?

    I've had cases dismissed before, but always orally. And I've received written decisions before, but they were always denying my motion to dismiss. Last month, I got my first positive written decision on a motion to dismiss.

    And there it was, in this week's summary. MY case. And underneath the summary paragraph, MY name: [Blonde Justice] represented the defendant.

    WOO HOO! Today, case summaries. Tomorrow, Westlaw. I'm working my way up there.