Wednesday, August 06, 2003

Hello and welcome to my blog. I'm a public defender in an urban area in California (sounds like the start of a Penthouse forum....."I never thought this would happen to me...."), where I represent people charged with all types of felonies, from minor cases like possession of drugs, to special circumstance murders where the defendants are eligible for the death penalty.

Hopefully this blog will dispel many misimpressions you probably have about PDs, and you'll come to the conclusion that I have, that Public Defenders rock, they're the best lawyers around, and our society is lucky to have a group like us.

I'll make my first post a basic one about what kind of work we do, and how we progress up the chain.

Where I work we start out doing preliminary hearings. Prelims are the probable cause determinations, basically rubber stamps, where the prosecution puts on evidence showing that an accused is likely guilty of the crime they're charged with, and that sufficient evidence exists to hold that person over for trial. I'll discuss more about prelims later, but they're a great way to learn the most important tool in being a trial lawyer: cross examination. By doing prelim after prelim, sometimes for months on end, we become among the best cross examiners around with practice that few can emulate.

After prelims, we go on to begin working in misdemeanors. We begin by just doing arraignments (where someone has the charges presented against them and they enter a plea of either guilty/no contest or not guilty). Later, we go on to start doing trials. Generally, the misdemeanor assignment goes on for anywhere from 1 1/2 - 4 years, depending on how the rotations are working and how well someone is doing.

From there, one frequently works in Juvenile Delinquency Court, representing Juveniles accused of crimes. This is sort of cross between prelims and misdemeanor trials, in that Juvis do not have a right to a jury trial (even though they face extremely severe penalties and lifelong consequences for these crimes), but the offenses are usually felonies, so you get practice with more serious cases and large volume.

Finally, after a year or two of juvi, you go on to felonies. The only step up from there is whether or not you do special circumstance murders (ie - death cases). People become eligible to do death cases (if they choose - many choose not to) after anywhere from 3 years on up of doing felonies (which means you will get many murder cases, just not those where death is a possibility, as well as plenty of other cases where the defendant is looking at life - which really means life here in Cal).

That's the basics, I'll talk more about the different aspects of each job at other times, but hopefully more anecdotally, as this preliminary stuff can be pretty dry.

The best thing about our job is that we get to tilt against windmills. We fight the power. Everyone is against us: DAs, Cops, and DAs with robes (ie - many of the Judges). Even bailiffs, court clerks, court reporters and other court staff don't like us frequently, but few show greater disdain for us than many of our clients. They save some of their best invective for us: public offenders, public pretenders, dump trucks, wanna be DAs, etc.... The fact is, most people don't appreciate something that is given to them for free. Legal services are no exception. I can't tell you how many times I've represented someone on a serious case and they bring in some worthless lawyer to take over the case just because that lawyer is a "paid" lawyer (as if we do this for free). In the end, most of my clients end up regretting their decision.

Right now I represent someone who was convicted at trial of serious charges for which he will probably spend the rest of his life in prison, and if not, at least 15 years. He dumped me before the prelim since he figured any private lawyer was better than a public offender like me. Well, he called me constantly afterwards, regretting his choice (not that he ever told the Judge this), telling me how I did more in a week than his lawyer did the whole time, how I was prepared more before prelim than his lawyer was at trial, etc..... AFTER he was convicted, he decided to fire his private lawyer and ask for me back (which he got). Well, sorry sir, but it's probably too late now, once you've been convicted, you're probably out of luck, but I'll do my best for you nonetheless trying to show all of the things that your previous lawyer should've done but didn't do.

Anyways, that's it for now, it's late, and I have a jury trial to deal with tomorrow. If you have any comments, or want to call me a public offender or some other nice things, go right ahead. Sorry, though, I can't give any of you legal advice (and as I always tell my friends when they call me up with a legal question: "If I can answer your question, you're in bad shape, because there's only one area of law that I really know anything about, and it's bad news if it applies to you").


Anonymous said...

I have a question about Pitchess motions. I am an attorney and I am working on my first murder case. If you want to show that an officer destroyed evidence how specific do you need to be in the declaration? For example, do you need to explain how this officer destroyed the evidence.

Rhapsodii said...

I am excited that I ran into your blog. I'm a freshman in undergraduate school, and my goal is to become an attorney. I haven't decided what area [PD or Prosecutor] but I do know that I want to become an attorney. I was just hoping that we could stay in touch. I know the laws in CA are very different from where I am, FL, but it is still a wonderful opportunity. Thank you.