Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Mischief is a Superpower

I have a client whom I have represented 3-4 times in the last several months.  It is always the same charge: disorderly conduct.  He appears to have several intellectual disabilities, he is old, he is alone, and he is in the habit of taking long walks around his neighborhood*.  His neighbors find him to be strange and are in the habit of calling the police and the police are in the habit of arresting him and charging him with disorderly conduct.  The District Attorneys are in the habit of 'letting' him plead to the charges after a night in jail and go home.  His defense attorneys are in the habit of advising him to take that deal.  I got sick of watching my client be subjected to harassment and to mounting court costs, so after getting his agreement, I decided that some alternative tactics were in order.
First Step:  I told the District Attorney that I needed time to consider the offer.  This surprised the DA as most defendants will take any deal and sign any paperwork in order to go home and in order to avoid further jail time.  This also surprised the arresting police officer.  Every criminal defendant in the United States has a right to confront his or her accusers in court.  The arresting officer is almost always an important witness in a criminal hearing.  So, he was in court that morning, but he fully expected that his presence would not be required for very long that morning.  

Second Step:  I sat down in the comfortable chairs reserved for defense attorneys and the arresting officer sat down in a hard-backed and hard-bottomed bench.

Third Step:  I pulled out a volume of Justice League comics I had bought second-hand several weeks prior and had kept in my briefcase until I was appointed to this client again.  I did not have any other court business that day, so I leisurely leafed through it.  The arresting officer was visibly frustrated.

Fourth Step:  I finished reading and pulled out a second volume of Justice League comics.  The arresting officer went from visible frustration to outright anger.  

Fifth Step:  Lunch break.  Turkey on sourdough bread.  I made the sourdough myself.  It was excellent.

Sixth Step:  Back in the courtroom, I pulled out a collection of Archie comics.  The arresting officer stomped out of the courtroom at this point, but he could not leave the courthouse.

Seventh Step:  Last call.  The judge asked me and the DA what we were going to do on this particular case.  The DA indicated that I was considering a plea offer.  I told the judge we were rejecting the offer and would be proceeding to a hearing.  The judge and DA were dumbfounded.  The arresting officer was jubilant and he was mentally preparing to roast my client alive on the witness stand in revenge for having to wait in the courtroom all day.

Eighth Step:  I pointed out to the judge that the neighbors who called the police and had given the police statements were not present in the courtroom.  I further pointed out that the way the warrant was written, the neighbors were key witnesses in the case and that the DA would need to issue subpoenas to compel their presence in court to give testimony.  I made an oral motion to reset the hearing to one week from that day.  The judge granted my motion.  The arresting officer realized to his horror that he would have to go back to his witnesses and compel them to come to court to testify against their wishes.

Ninth Step:  I came back to court a week later and graciously accepted the DA's offer to dismiss the charges entirely.  I told him and the arresting officer that in the future, all such charges against my client would be result in a hearing and I would demand that the neighbors would be subpoenaed as material witnesses.  They said they understood.


One of the rights U.S. citizens enjoy is a right to due process.  If they are charged with a crime, they are entitled to a trial and to confront their accusers in court.  This has the double benefit of both giving an innocent defendant the opportunity to prove his or her innocence and to discourage frivolous accusations.  We may not have struck a major blow for civil rights, but it is a good example of our system working to protect the innocent...as it was originally designed to do.  Although, we were a bit unconventional in how we went about using the system.

*Outside of court, I spent 45 minutes solving my client's overarching issues regarding loneliness and the lack of a solid support network.  I found a community center that hosted weekly events for senior citizens.  The center partnered with a local church to shuttle these folks to the events.  He is not so lonely anymore.

57 comments:

  1. I love happy endings. That's really making a difference in that mans life!
    Did your client get any bread?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Negative. He was quite happy with the chicken tenders the jail was serving. ;)

      Delete
  2. I find it sad that no one cared enough about this man to treat him decently, especially those who were callously sending him to jail because of their discomfort. I hope the neighbors fully understand the situation....maybe a night in jail would emphasize that point! I'm glad you saw to the real issue and took the extra steps to find him a solution and social outlet. Well done!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you! My parents raised me with a strong work ethic! ;)

      Delete
  3. Keep up the good work.

    Chris A. Payne

    ReplyDelete
  4. Best thing I've read in a looong time! Keep up the good work!

    ReplyDelete
  5. Best thing I've read in a looong time! Keep up the good work!

    ReplyDelete
  6. Wonderful! You showed love to that man, and no doubt earned some grudging respect from the court, the DA, and the arresting officer -- all of whom seem to have forgotten their duties. You didn't. Bravo!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you! That is what a defense attorney is there to do...keep everyone accountable.

      Delete
  7. How is taking a walk at night "disorderly conduct"? Either the police are guilty of serious mischief themselves here or his behavior is goes beyond just taking long walks at night.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well, the affidavit alleged a bit more than that. That said, I'm fairly certain it was highly exaggerated.

      Delete
  8. I find this surprisingly relevant. It precisely describes me, except that I am in a rural environment which is rapidly becoming a bedroom community, and as I have done for 30 years, I take 3-4 mile walks in broad daylight. In all that time, nobody has complained, and the only time a cop approached me, it was to ask if my car had broken down and whether I needed a lift. It probably helps I am usually dressed neatly in slacks and a shirt suitable for an office.

    One comment, or perhaps correction. Being alone does not necessarily mean being lonely, though it can. In any case, thanks for taking care of my fellow senior citizen!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well, he is a bit socially awkward. As such, I think his neighbors are a little creeped out. Instead of being adults about it, they decided to constantly call the cops instead of having to look at him. It is very sad.

      I appreciate the comment! I did not mean to imply that being alone necessarily meant he was lonely. My interactions with him led me to realize that he was very lonely and wanting some human interaction. He actually enjoyed being in court and in the holding areas because he got to be around people.

      Delete
    2. Sadly, these neighbors may not be able to think of any response other than call the police.

      Delete
  9. I am proud to see you doing your part to change the perception of lawyers. And make no mistake, you are doing it the right way. Thank you.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you! I appreciate that. I usually enjoy utilizing the justice system in a more straightforward manner, but I am not above a little creativity!

      Delete
  10. Thanks for sharing this. It is sad that so few lawyers have the patience to require the State to make their case. This is how the adversarial system is supposed to work. I completely understand the relevance of Justice League comics as persuasive authority. Not sure about the Archie comics. . .

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I was pretty disheartened when I realized how few cases actually go to trial. One of my mentors told me to go to trial as often as I had a good set of facts and a willing client. I have had several hearings, but going to trial is still in the future. I am finding that because I am willing to go to a hearing if necessary, the DAs are much more willing to give me better terms in a negotiation. :)

      Delete
  11. You say "His neighbors find him to be strange and are in the habit of calling the police..." When this sort of thing goes on, it's usually one neighbor (or at least one household). They love to make trouble for their target and waste civic resources, but when called upon to stand up for it, they back off.

    You did a good thing for this man and showed that lawyering isn't just knowing your heretofores and thereuntos.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This is very true and it occurred to me after we had these latest charges dismissed. My client has been left alone for a while now, but if this starts up again, my plan is to go to a hearing. If we get enough instances of the neighbors backing out, I am going to start making noises about filing false report charges.

      Delete
  12. Thank you for taking the time to do something decent.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sometimes the decent thing is the fun thing! ;)

      Delete
  13. This is going on your permanent record!
    Good for you

    ReplyDelete
  14. You might want to be a bit careful about making enemies. Many in law enforcement are outstanding people, but some aren't.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This is all too true. As a general rule, I do not burn bridges if I can help it. Fortunately, this particular officer has shown enough character to swallow his pride over this incident and act professionally towards me.

      Delete
  15. Replies
    1. Thank you! I have some high standards to live up to!

      Delete
  16. Well done, sir! I say again, well done!

    ReplyDelete
  17. Nothing wrong with holding public safety officials accountable and protecting due process. I'm not really sure wasting public servants time is a long-term winning strategy.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Definitely not. It was not a bad short-term, opening strategy. I find if you treat officers with respect, they will reciprocate in kind and be willing to work with you.

      Delete
  18. Well and honorably done. Thank you for looking after an old man. It is regrettable that our society has fallen to such a low estate that it needs a lawyer to burn a whole day to see justice done.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you! It was sad, but he is in a better situation right now. Also, I'm not sure it's burning a whole day if it includes reading comics. ;)

      Epic name, by the way!

      Delete
  19. Congratulations on your sourdough.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Man, getting those bacteria cultures right can be a doozy!

      Delete
  20. The three words that prosecutors hate to hear -- "Ready for trial" your Honor.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Few lawyers, prosecution or defense, like to do an actual, honest day's work. It makes for a nice advantage!

      Delete
  21. I needed that laugh. Good show, Sir.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I aim to entertain just as much as I aim to misbehave!

      Delete
  22. WELL DONE! And Peggy, I agree, so sad that others never noticed his real needs. I will be praying that his lonely gaps begin to fill with loving believers!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah, I think he's much better off now than he was when this all started up!

      Delete
  23. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  24. Great blogging. A certain professor of yours is proud of you, I'm sure.

    ReplyDelete
  25. As a criminal defense attorney, I think this story reads like a crock of shit.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete
  26. As a non-law-educated person, I'm confused. Why couldn't the arresting officer leave? What was the purpose of reading comics in front of him? (Was he expecting to be cross-examined, and if not, why did he have to be there?) And why wasn't the defendant with you, if the whole point of you being in the same room was for them to confront each other?

    ReplyDelete
  27. Thank you very much for doing more than the bare minimum. (Lay-person here, IANAL etc) I really wish there could be a national "F!@#$ your plea deal" month where defense attorneys / PDs say "Nope, let's do this." to all the DAs hoping to add some easy wins to their counts with yet another horrible (for the defendant) plea deal. I know it's pie-in-the-sky wishing, especially with how underfunded and understaffed most PD offices are, but it's nice to dream of actual justice in the legal system instead of poor people getting f'd. (But, you know, 'legally.')

    ReplyDelete
  28. So you probably would have gotten a spontaneous offer for a six figure settlement and apology had you been reading a "Marvel" comic instead of the substandard DC Comic you had with you.

    Putting aside your dubious preference for bad comics Great Job on finding a way to fix the issue and get your client help to prevent further issues. Awesome!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. WRONG.

      ;) As an actual queer, Marvel can suck a dc.
      Advocacy, through and through.

      Delete
  29. I am not understanding steps 3,4, nor 6. Were you all just sitting there staring at the walls all day? I mean, I know you had your reading material, but what actually took all day? And given that, what was the "Last call" in step 7?

    ReplyDelete

Our Finest Hour

Lawyers are an opinionated, argumentative bunch.  There are over a million of us in the United States and there are over a million opinions ...