Tuesday, March 20, 2007

A miracle worker?

Unfortunately, I'm not.

Unlike what most of my clients think.

They bad-mouth the public defender, calls us public "pretenders." Public "offenders." Mostly because we can't get their case dismissed and have the prosecutor and the judge give them a public apology. "If you were a REAL lawyer, I wouldn't be here."


If you didn't have 50 grams of meth in your house, and give the cops permission to search, your case might be dismissed.

If you didn't give the police a taped statement about the multiple times that you have had sex with your underage girlfriend, your case might get dismissed.

If you didn't blow a .249 after the police found your car up against a building and you passed out behind the wheel, your case might get dismissed.

If you didn't call your wife from the phone at the jail, with the sign below it that says "This line is monitored and recorded," asking her to tell the police that she lied and that you didn't hit her, your case might get dismissed.

But by the time I get involved, it's pretty much too late, with few exceptions. Accept it and get over it. I AM NOT A MIRACLE WORKER.

And don't write the state attorney and the judge and tell them I'm not doing anything for you. Ok, maybe I didn't spend as much time with you as you would have liked. Sorry about that. But I have 100 other people whose cases are just as bad as yours that I have to work for also.

If I could ask two things of my clients it would be this:

Give accepting responsibility for YOUR actions some thought, instead of coming up with more extensive and creative ways to try to insult me. Remember when you were little, and you broke something at home, and blamed it on your little brother or sister? And your mom found out it was actually you? And you got punished, not because of what you did, but because you blamed somebody else? What lesson did you learn from that?

And don't tell me that I don't know the law. Don't tell me I'm wrong when I tell you the prosecutor doesn't have to prove that you were intending to sell that dope to convict you of trafficking. Don't tell me that the prosecutor can't convict you of driving on a suspended license because the suspension period was up, even if you didn't go get your license back. Don't tell me that you can't be convicted of possession because the cops didn't find anything on you, even though the dope was locked in the safe in your bedroom. I didn't spend three additional years in school, LAW school, for you to tell me I don't know what I'm talking about.

Do you think that you are endearing yourself to me by insulting me? Think again.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Just another day at the office...

After struggling for a couple of days coming to terms with the fact that my client, in my opinion wrongfully convicted, will likely be going to prison, I go back to work to try and get another client out of jail. She's had the third death in her family in three years. The funeral of this very close family member is in another state. But she is being held in jail with no bond. Lots of discussions with the prosecutor, begging two different judges to hear her case on an emergency basis, and waiting for the privates, who appear sometimes to believe they are paid by the word, and she is finally seen. Pleading to an offense she says she didn't commit, because it is the only way she can get out of jail to attend the funeral. She is grateful and thanks me for my help, as does her family.

This takes a little of the sting out of the guilty verdict in the trial earlier...but not much.

After court, I return to the office to read through discovery, and letters from my clients in jail. It doesn't take long for the minimal lift from a few minutes earlier to completely deflate. The please come see me letters, the suggestions for defenses and the requests for plea offers are routine. As are the next three letters I open, unfortunately.

"You ain't doing nothing for me." "You are working for the state, not me." "You get paid to send me to prison." "I need a lawyer, not a public defender." "Public Pretender." "I'm going to get my family to hire me a real attorney." "Why can't you get me out? get me probation? get the state to drop the charges?"

Thirteen letters. One "I understand you are busy, but please come see me." Every other one contains some derogatory comment or slur, even if it's not the entire letter.

And then the one that kind of cracks me up. The one that wants to know how the police could arrest them and the court could hold them when they have no evidence of a crime, much less that they committed the crime. Why is it that people who aren't new to the system believe that if they tell the police what they want to hear, the police will let them go? And why do they write letter to the prosecutor saying they know they did wrong but they have a family they have to support and need mercy? And then turn around and lie to the one person that cares if they get out of jail, the one person that is trying to help them?

Client: "I never told the police I did anything!"
Me: "Did you give them a statement? They say you did."
Client: "No way! I know better than that!"
Me: "Then what is on this tape that I got? The tape that says 'defendant statement'?"
Client: "I don't know."
Me: "Well, here's the transcript. This is what they say you said on this tape."
Client: "I never said that. They faked that transcript. I bet the tape is blank and they will say there was a problem with copying it."
Me: "Well, I've got a tape player. Let's give it a try."
Client: "Uh....ok."
tape starts playing
Client: "That's not me."
tape continues with client giving name, birthdate and SSN
Client: "Well, they didn't read me my rights! I didn't know I didn't have to talk to them!"
tape continues, Miranda, and "you understand you don't have to talk to me, right?"
Client: "Shit. I didn't know they were recording that. I was just trying to go home. None of that is true. They can't use it if it's not true, right?"

Unfortunately, this is not a rare occurrence. And the client wonders why the prosecutor feels they have a good case!

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Sometimes I hate this job...

That's not true. Really, it's not. I love my job. It's so frustrating though! Seeing the same clients over and over and over again, same crime, different victim, same crime, different drug, same crime, different location, yada, yada.

But today has to be the most frustrating kind of day. The occassional client that you get that you believe really is innocent, not just not guilty. Because the case has been around a while, you develop a sort a relationship, almost a friendship with the client. A case that hangs around for a while, because of an obstinate state attorney bordering on unethical. The state attorney offers misdemeanors, client thinks it over, and decides to go to trial. And the jury comes back guilty as charged.

I have been told on more than one occassion that the thing that makes me feel the way I do right now is the same thing that makes me good at what I do. I care. Sometimes I feel like just walking away. It is really agonizing to watch a client you have come to know, and actually like, be placed in handcuffs and led off to the jail. To have them thank you as they are being led away, the occassional client that actually appreciates you for what you do. And always will appreciate you.

Is it possible not to feel discouraged with the system? To not feel that you can't compete with a society whose motto appears to be "guilty until proven innocent?" To not want to throw in the towel and go to the high-priced corporate law firms where you deal with dollar signs instead of lives? Numbers instead of families?

And to know that you have no time to mourn this loss, because there are 100 more clients just like the one that you couldn't save from jail, that need to be defended. And know that it will probably be another 100 clients (or more) before you get another thank you?

Sometimes I hate my job...