The rantings of a Public Defender constantly fighting against society's pervasive Police Industrial Complex. Enjoy the unique perspective of one whose life's work is to fight the system through the system.

Thursday, November 20, 2003

High profile Defendants

I have only had a few cases that got any press attention. I have been asked for comments by the press before, but I have rarely given them. On two occasions I spoke to a reporter and gave extensive comments, but after doing so, I recognized how easy it is for your statements to be taken out of context. I try to let my comments in the courtroom do the talking. I have actually had those comments appear in the paper as well.

This is a different beast than high profile defendants, and we have 5 of them right now in or around LA (or related to LA) that are getting international attention. In many respects I envy the lawyers who are doing these cases, in that I would love to handle a case that garnered internation attention. I would love to shine on a world stage. On the other hand, I would not like to live my life under that kind of a microscope.

I have met Mark Geragos a few times in court, he is a nice guy, just like me or any number of other lawyers. He is a good lawyer, also. However, his legal life is totally different than mine with the clients that he represents. Having Scott Peterson and Michael Jackson as clients is a tough thing to have to do. For years to come, he will be tarred with the brush of these clients. Every comment he makes will appear in print, and if he says anything that can be twisted, every talk radio show will villify him for hours about it. Already there is one show in LA who has said for years that if Geragos represents you, you must be guilty. That can't be enjoyable for Mark, nor can it be helpful for his future clients.

Also, many of the things you have to do in court don't translate easily into the airwaves. Talk radio is saying that Geragos may try to "trash" the victim in the Michael Jackson case, and trash his family. Well, I have some news for you. When trying to cast reasonable doubt on a case, you are required to look at the motives and biases of the witnesses against you. Everytime you go to the police you put your credibility at issue. I don't know the facts of the Michael Jackson case well, but I have heard rumors that when Michael Jackson cut off funding for the family, they went to a lawyer to see how they could get back on the gravy train. This may be true, it may not be true. However, exploring this possibility is not a matter of "trashing the victim." It is a legitemate investigation into the background of someone who's statements could put you in prison for the rest of your life.

The same thing has happened in the Kobe Bryant case. Bringing out the fact (if true) that the victim has tried to commit suicide on 2 occasions recently before the alleged rape is highly probative about her state of mind and mental state in general. This is not "trashing" her, but looking into her motivations to potentially lie. Again, Kobe is looking at life in prison on this case, and no one would like to see their family or loved ones put in prison for life when there exists potentially exculpatory evidence about the mental state or prior history of the complaining witness that was not explored for fear of "trashing the victim." The same goes with her possibly having 2 sex partners in the day before or after sex with Kobe. This is necessary to understand her state of mind, and determining where any injuries she suffered may have come from.

Who knows how the recently filed Phil Spector case will go, but I'm sure that issues related to the decedant will come up, and that (especially right wing) talk radio will attempt to portray the defense lawyer as a sleezebag for "trashing the victim."

I had a child molestation case one time with a defendant who had a prior child molestation. The victims in the new case probably knew about his prior, and they used to harass him (calling him molester, vandalizing his car, etc....). From one little tidbit of information, I found out that one of them suffered from hallucinations, and had told his psychologist that he never told the truth, that he liked to lie, that he didn't even trust himself, and things of the like. The other had actually sexually assaulted his teacher, had lied about having sex with her, and had done other assorted unruly activities. Also, the two boys knew eachother, and discussed the defendant at length. Was it trashing the victims to bring this out? If I hadn't, what is the point of cross examination, presenting a defense, questioning the credibility of a witness, etc....? The point is, you must be able to bring out this important information related to the credibility of witnesses in trial in order to show whatever biases they have. Without that, our justice system is a joke.

In high profile cases, it is even harder. You will be personally attacked, your client will be presumed guilty in public, exposing you to ridicule in front of your future jurors. This makes cases like this even harder.