Thursday, March 24, 2005

Correspondence from an unhappy customer

I can tell you until I'm blue in the face how our clients hate us and think we're in conspiracies to subvert their rights and try to win points with the DA to get convictions, but perhaps just passing along this little correspondence from reader SM will give you the best insight.

Why do you call yourselves public defenders when all you really do is make a deal with the DA before you even speak to your clients and then coerce your clients by the use of the "fear factor" into taking the offered deal. Is it the "win/win" for both sides that really gives you the best feeling at the end of the day? Or just the brownie points you can rack up at the expense of your clients who believe they are actually get what the constitution affords them.....innocent until proven guilty in a court of law?

And you guys think I must make all this stuff up.

As an aside, the biggest nightmare for the court or a DA is when a client of ours decides to go "pro per," or represent themselves. Why? Because now they get all this stuff unfiltered. So, when I have my bigger pain in the neck clients that go pro per, I'm happy on two fronts. It's one less pain in the neck that I Have to deal with, and the pain has been shifted on the necks of the people who deserve it the most, the ones actually trying to put my client away, rather than those trying to help him.

Now that's justice!

The only thing I hate is when I have a client with a good case who goes pro per, and I can't talk him out of it, knowing that it is going to screw him


Pettifogger said...

What about the magic numbers 1368?

Anonymous said...

As a former PD, I know that most of the people who view PDs as "public pretenders" or "dump trucks" wouldn't know good legal representation if it bit them in the ass. Sure, there are some who are just puching a clock. But there are also many who do absolutely heroic work under ridiculously difficult circumstances.

More than once when I was a PD, I've had a client's family put a second mortgage on their house so they could get a "real" lawyer only to have that lawyer calling me for advice on how to handle the case (and not just info on the local judges & prosecutors, I'm talking strategic legal advice).

For the vast majority of people charged with crimes in states with draconian sentencing schemes like Arizona where I practice, a plea bargain will be the only way to avert disaster no matter who is representing them.

PD Dude said...

Pettifogger - 1368 is fine and well, but what do you do when the family is 1368?

Anonymous said...

anonymous scribbled 'draconian sentencing schemes like Arizona where I practice, a plea bargain will be the only way to avert disaster'.

That's a sad state of affairs if once charged, the evidence doesn't matter; and one has to admit to a lesser crime simply to avoid a wrongful conviction for a greater crime.

DennisWilk said...

All good comments. Good to see you back, PD Dude. I have come to a crossroads on this issue, a realization of sorts.

I am dead tired of being the instrument of despise and destruction for my clients. I am now fully suffering from Auschwitz syndrome, in that I feel like nothing more than a guard and that I'm "only following orders." I have greatly changed my strategy in most things criminal.

I now harass the Court as much as possible when they are being unfair, which is often. The sentences are completely whacko. Only a sadly uninformed person or a cruel idiot could believe 3 strikes is justified overall. I watched Prop. 66 go down in flames because a lying snake of a guv pushed it. So my position in all things criminal is thus:

1) If the DA can't prove the case, fuck it - I won't let the D plead. Period. I will obstruct as much as humanly possible.

2) If the client won't take my sage advice and plead when faced with overwhelming odds, I see no need to take further abuse from him. I'll talk to his family and try to get them on my side. Barring that, I'll try the case. I have a 3rd striker I got an offer of 5 years (80%) on HS 11350 after a year of "life" offers, and now he won't take it. I fought to get there, and I've tried to seal the deal. If he won't take it, it's his problem. I won't even try to tell him the sentence is fair. IT'S NOT FAIR - but it's the law. I'm tired of taking the grief for the bad law. I have tried to change it, and the people won't do it. So now I hope that it costs the taxpayers (this includes me) a FORTUNE to house petty criminals for life.

3) No more excuses for the electorate. If voters are so stupid as to DEMAND, DEMAND I say, a law they cannot afford, then more power to them. What we need now are more lawsuits to force the jails to give better medical care (it is abysmal in San Bernardino County), to prevent attacks on other inmates (also abysmal), and to do all of it it affordably, which can't be done. I want to see more prisons, just so that more staff will have to be hired. I want to see the bad laws of California enforced to their fullest extent, just to show how bad the system has become.

No more excuses. The drug war has failed. 3 strikes has failed. Prisons have failed in their overall mission. Why don't we demand some accountability?

I refuse to be an active part of "the system" any longer. I defend people, not statistics and number. I'M MAD AS HELL AND I'M NOT GOING TO TAKE IT ANYMORE!! When a defendant asks me why he's facing 25 to life, I tell him, point blank: "Because the voters are stupid children who want you to die in prison." I won't be "just following orders" any longer.

When the law has become a bit more just, I may change my mind. But for now, "the system" deserves only my contempt.

Tom McKenna said...

Good post. As a prosecutor, I can tell you I've certainly seen cases where the defense attorney felt she had to act more aggressively because the client thought she was in cahoots with the Commonwealth. In reality, it only ends up hurting the defendant, since if we have to play hardball, as you know, more often than not, the government has the hardest ball.

Of course, you look like one of those "true believer" types who probably gets his clients slammed harder than need be just because you go in with that "the system is inherently unjust" attitude that I'm sure goes over well with the prosecutors you deal with.

In my experience, a reasonable defense attorney with a client he knows is legally guilty does his client much better service by attempting to mitigate the circumstances and seeking a plea from the government. I know if I get a defendant against whom I have a strong case, but the defense attorney comes in wanting to wage war, I often have no choice but to try to max the case out, when if I had been approached about a plea, I would certainly make an offer that ordinarily would result in far less exposure for the defendant than he would have from the jury (the jury sentences in my jurisdiction).

Anonymous said...

You still haven't mentioned my favorite rule for PD life. Never have anything in reach of a client that hurts too much when you get shanked with it.

PD Dude said...

Tom - You think I'm a true believer? Don't get me wrong, I do think that the system is inherently unjust, but don't get me wrong, when many of my clients go begging for "justice," I often think to myself that that is exactly the last thing that they want. If I was a true believer, I would never have posted this in the first place. Anyways, the writer of that email certainly doesn't seem to consider me a true believer.

I like to think of myself as pretty down the middle, with a strong bias towards the underdog.

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