Stop Sign

One time, when I was in college, I was driving a friend in my car.  When I stopped at a stop sign, she said, "You stopped?   You didn't have to.  The ones with the white borders are optional."

I thought about it for a second. Could she be right? Were there other kinds of stop signs? Wouldn't an optional stop sign be a yield sign?

I quickly figured out that she was kidding.

Here's my problem.  My client actually believes it.  Well, not about the stop sign, but about whatever ridiculousness they're telling him in the jail law library.  And it is ridiculous.

I've tried to tell my client how ridiculous it is.  But, the thing is, he likes what he hears from them better than what he hears from me.  They tell him "Look here, here where the cop wrote 3rd Steret?  That means they have to throw this case out.  You're going home!"  I tell him things like "The fact that they spelled the word 'Street' wrong in one place on your paperwork does not really change the fact that they're going to be able to prove that you committed this robbery, and you're going to do prison time."   No wonder he believes them more than he believes me - he wants to.  Maybe deep down even he knows that this is too good to be true, but if he does, he doesn't let on.

So, now we're at a point where my client is turning down a pretty good plea deal because he's still caught up in the idea that this typo issue is going to somehow break his way.  In fact, he may be so caught up in this idea that he misses his chance at the plea deal completely, and ends up going to a trial that he's going to lose, and get stuck doing more time.

I've tried reasoning with him.  I've explained the trial to him.  I said, "You're right, I can ask the cop about that typo when he's testifying.  But the jury is going to hear from the old man who says you robbed him.  They're going to hear from the witness who says he saw you throw the gun.  And they're going to have the cop who searched you and found the old man's wallet in your pocket.  And they're going to have your videotaped confession where you talk about how you robbed that old man and you saying, nah you don't feel bad about it, 'because it's a dog eat dog world out there.'  And then I'm going to get up there and say 'See here where it says 3rd Steret?  What did Officer O'Brien mean by that?  Where is 3rd Steret? Because my client was arrested on 3rd Street.' I can call the cop sloppy, and say that maybe he put the same care into this investigation as he did into writing the report, and that means that they got the wrong guy.  But at the end of the trial, when the jury is deliberating, Street vs. Steret isn't going to be a big enough to discrepancy to outweigh all of the other evidence.  And the jury is going to find you guilty, and you're going to be facing more time that what you're looking at right now.  Right?" 

My client seemed to be listening intently, maybe I was getting through to him. He paused, like he was processing what I was saying.  Maybe he was going to come around.  But then he said, "Yeah, but the case will get overturned on appeal.  You see, there's no jurisdiction.  Because there's no such place as 3rd Steret anywhere in this state."


  1. I had a client once whose name was spelled wrong in the indictment. I know of another guy who was excited because the police had his street name wrong in a report.

    Didn't do either of them any good. Not even on appeal.

    But maybe there's something to that stop sign thing.

  2. I've run into a couple of similar people in my business, although the circumstances are less dire. Usually, it's a guy with what he thinks is a great idea for a product, and since he's not a programmer -- he's an "idea guy" -- all I have to do is write some huge piece of software for him -- he's absolutely sure it'll be real simple for me -- and he'll cut me in when the money starts rolling in.

    Makes me wonder, though...they have crazy ideas but they are unable to see how crazy they if I had equally crazy ideas, I couldn't tell, could I?

    You know, I'll bet doctors tell stories like this about the rest of us all the time...

  3. That is ridiculously frustrating. Especially when he gets sentenced then brings a habeas action for ineffective assistance of counsel -- she shoulda told me not to go to trial!!

  4. I like the stop sign. The latest lie we have at our jail is that the defendant gets three offers under the law. Each offer is required to be better for the defendant. No one is taking any first offers and they are all getting placed on the trial roster. It's really sad.

  5. Welcome back. And in great form too.

    This same guy seems to be all over the place. When I met him, he was all excited because they had the cross street wrong.

    And damn those jail law libraries. The one I saw in Philly was basically a broom closet with some outdated crimes codes lying around.

  6. It's always funny to see what the jailhouse rumors of the week are. I remember for a few months, everyone wanted one of those "12.44's". Nevermind no one knew what they were, or if they were eligible for it. They just wanted one.

    ..."No, the DA isn't going to give you a 12.44 on your aggravated robbery charge...."

  7. I explained a very similar situation to my client on Monday. He looked at me with total disdain and said, "Why don't you ever look for the good in any situation?" We both laughed - me maybe a little more than I should have...

  8. Jonathan EdelsteinAugust 28, 2010 11:49 AM

    I do appeals, and I get a lot of inquiries from prison. It seems that there's a new inmate legal fad every few months - I can always tell, because I suddenly start to get multiple letters asking me to litigate the same issue. One time it was "my name isn't in the body of the indictment, only the caption," and then it was "the prison doesn't have my certificate of conviction on file, so they've got to let me go, right?"

    There's a lot of magical thinking about the law among nonlawyers - that the law is some kind of spell, and if the opposing party doesn't get the incantation just right, the magic doesn't work. I guess that when I lose an appeal, I should go back to Hogwarts for remedial training.

  9. Funny stuff. Too bad there wasn't just one more typo in the report. If the witness had seen your guy throw the "gnu" on "3rd Steret", now we're talking!

  10. I have a friend from high school who failed her driver's license road exam the first time because someone told her the white border story and *she believed it.* The instructor failed her on the spot when she blew through the first stop sign.

    Presumably she's s productive human being with a decent driving record today, lo, these 30-some years later. :)