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.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Has it Really Been THAT Long?

Awesome election results. The senate races in Alaska, Minnesota, and Georgia are all still pending. I hope that Lieberman loses his chairmanship of the Homeland Security Panel, but I won't hold my breath.

I haven't posted in months because I have been killing myself with work. It seems that I have been under fire from the moment I went into my new position, and I don't like being where I am at in my life professionally. Suffice it to say that if I didn't have a wife and children to support that I would have left the public defender long ago.

Or would I? You know, most of the private defense attorneys I have met are motivated primarily by money. Not that I wouldn't be as well if I were a private attorney. It is critical to get paid for what you do, and legal clients, ESPECIALLY in the criminal justice realm, aren't know for being thankful. I have had many a client promise to write a nice thank-you note after a not guilty disappear, only to reappear again with a new charge with no letter of thanks to be found. Only requests for more and better work.

Years ago I wrote a motion to suppress for this guy on a drug charge. I got the motion granted - the DA essentially conceded without filing a response. About two years later the same guy comes back with a new drug charge, but this time with a legal search. He starts lambasting me about how I'm not working for him, and how he was able to get a similar charge kicked out two years ago because "everyone knew he was falsely accused." Seriously - he didn't even remember that I was the guy who got his case kicked two years earlier. And he went on and on about how innocent he was. I asked him whether he was as innocent now as he had been then, and he said yes. That was the only really honest answer I got from him.

But the pressures and the options with being with the PD are sometimes very different than private work. A few years ago a private attorney I know admitted that he loved the way I could talk to my clients. I basically don't take any crap from my clients. I fight like hell for them, but I don't pull any punches with them either. People, especially criminal defendants, are basically terrified of going to jail/prison (who wouldn't be?) and they constantly want you to tell them whatever it is they want to hear. "Yes, I know that you're not guilty and we are going to win at trial, despite all that pesky evidence against you." I tend to be brually honest with my defendants, believing that it's beeter they know more than less about their defense. But he couldn't do that, because if he did, his clients would up and leave him and go to someone who says what they want to hear.

The private attorneys I talk to make it clear that they must engage in a PR offensive with their clients most of the time. So many attorneys can spin a line of BS about how good they are that what client can actually tell how good or bad the attorney is until the results (i.e. NG? Evidence suppressed? DA won't file? Etc.) are in? And even then, the worst case a defense attorney can get is a "sure winner" because those are the ones that hurt the worst to lose and make us all doubt that we know what we are doing.

I watched a 1538.5 five years ago where a private attorney argued with a straight face that the cop cannot follow a guy around for a few miles JUST BECAUSE HE LEFT A BAR AT 2:00 A.M. I mean, really, police can't just follow some guy around for a few miles because they leave the bar at closing time. "Was the car weaving, officer?" "Why, yes it was. And your client rolled the stop sign as well. That's why I wrote all that stuff in my report." "Your Honor, this just isn't fair, following my client home from a bar and waiting for him to mess up. It's a predatory practice, your Honor." Yes, the attorney really did argue that. Note that he never actually disagreed with the officer, he just got offended that the cop would wait at the bar until closing time and follow drivers home.

It just seems like, for the private attorney, the issue isn't whether the isues are good, but whether the client can pay.

That being said, having a boss and a massive caseload sucks. I want to help people, bt I also don't want to go to an early grave because I wanted to help. I don't want my epitaph to be: "Here lies a Deputy Public defender who could defend, he won his fair share of cases but in the end, he worked too hard for his pay, he was emotionally distant from his family at the end of the day, so to his widow the life insurance please send."

Great election. Let's see if Obama will close Guantanamo now. Let's see if I can post a bit more frequently now.

Dennis Wilkins
The Guest PD Blogger