Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Need To Vent

Disclaimer: what follows below is me whining and complaining. Some of the content is a repeat of prior posts, but written a different way. 

Heading into 2010 I had several cases moving towards jury trial. I was ready on at least three of them last fall, but the State moved like pond water turning over discovery. I had the meat and potatoes of the case and could have gone, but I kept getting put off.

[When I use the word "go" or any form of the word like "going" or "gone", it means "proceed". If I say the trial is going it means the trial will actually begin as scheduled]

Finally in January, I started setting cases for trial. Wait, I did get one set in December with a January trial date. And it did go. The State had only one witness (police officer) and a good case. I was not surprised when they answered ready. I lost that trial.

But I had 6 other cases to schedule in January. 2 Murders. 2  Attempt murder. The other 2 are minor robberies. I scheduled the first 4 as follows:

Trial Alpha was set for February 23.

Trial Bravo was set for March 8. [It was originally set for Feb 2, but the judge had a seminar]

Trial Charlie was set for March 15.

Trial Delta was set for March 23.

Everyone of these cases has great facts. Everyone of these cases can be won. And I am sure all of the defendant's are innocent. Yeah, I said it. And, yes, I believe it.

March was looking like one hell of a month. 3 juries in one month. All serious cases. Some trial lawyers are lucky if they do 3 juries in a year. I have found I like trial work and don't plan on shying away if I have a good case. Let's go. Let's put it on. 

I showed up to court on February 23 after spending four entire days doing final prep work for Alpha. I have known the facts of that case for months, but I had to draft my opening, fact check to prepare cross of up to 10 witnesses, research case law for motions in limine, and put together my trial notebook.

Being still pretty new at this, I am completely anal retentive about preparing for trial. I don't think you can ever be too prepared. Having a mastery of the facts will never hurt.

And I continue to claim no prosecutor(s) will ever be better prepared than myself. I won't let it happen. They might take one weekend to prepare a case for trial that I have been preparing since the arraignment. I have been developing and shaping my theory of the case all through discovery as more facts are revealed.

The great thing about being the defense, is that the State doesn't know how I am going to try the case. They don't know my theory. The State's theory is obvious. Just read the detective's clear/closed report. If they deviate from the script at trial, it causes problems for them. But you have to know the file to catch the deviations, thus the prep work.

Anyway, on February 23 I was ready. My client was wearing dress clothes while sitting in the holding cell (known as the bull pen). I walked into court at 10:00, but the prosecutors trying the case were not around. The 3rd chair (most junior) ASA was running the court call.

Finally at close to noon, one of the prosecutors finally came down from her office and said they were not going to be able to answer ready. Witness problems.

Though not completely surprised, it was a let down. I demanded trial. The State set Alpha for trial on April 12.

I came home, unloaded by trial bag and put the trial notebook on the shelf. Next up was Bravo, on March 8.

I have had Bravo since last summer. I started reviewing that file again for the millionth time. I edited an opening I drafted months ago. At this point, I still had one full week before trial, so I wasn't in crunch time yet. But I was actively preparing the case and started to put together the trial notebook.

This case had a status date of February 26. This was supposed to be the last date prior to trial. Motions in limine were ordered to be prepared and ready to argue. I spent most of an afternoon preparing mine. However, when I got to court I was told the State won't be ready. I demanded trial. The State set Bravo for April 19. Hmph.

Charlie, set for March 15, was next. Since Friday, February 26 I had been reviewing this file and getting it ready. Since the trial that was scheduled immediately before it (and the one before that) won't go, it just gave me more time to prepare. And more time to worry and be stressed out.

I called witnesses. I went to the crime scene again. I took more pictures. I took more measurements. I reviewed all of the witness statements again and refreshed my factual knowledge of the file.

Yesterday Charlie was set for status. Again, it was supposed to be the last date prior to trial. We do these final status dates to sort out any last minute pre-trial matters and sometimes present and argue motions in limine.

Motions in limine are requests for the judge to make pre-trial evidentiary rulings. Their purpose is to avoid delays during the trial, like long sidebars or bickering in chambers.

How surprised was I when I was told this case won't be ready as scheduled either? Gee. Really? But now I am stuck and can't demand trial because mid-April is already reserved for Alpha and Bravo.

I talked with the prosecutor and she told me if I demanded she would set it for April 12 (Alpha's new trial date). Damn. Is this a conspiracy?

Charlie might go May 2. Might. Or the State can keep not being ready until I ultimately demand on Charlie too.

Delta also had a final status date yesterday. My investigator is attempting to interview witnesses. And I already know this case factually, inside out. I was looking forward, however, to having almost 3 whole weeks to casually finalize this one.

But, this one isn't going as scheduled either. Double damn. What's the excuse on this one? A gun shot residue test on some clothing won't be done until the end of March. This case is from last August and you still have stuff at the crime lab? Seriously?

Again, I can't demand trial so we set Delta by agreement for April 27 but with an interim final status date in early April. My client wasn't happy. You wouldn't be either. But I told him we know the results of this test will be negative (because he's innocent), which will be more ammunition for us at trial.

This is so frustrating. These trial cases are not my only files. I have over 20 additional active felony files that I can't ignore. All of these cases require work and court appearances. But typically I schedule them around trials. And I often have to turn down new work because the date I am needed conflicts with a trial date.

What really jerks my chain is that I wasn't able to go to a NACDL seminar in Austin on February 25, 26, and 27 because I was supposed to be in trial on Alpha, thus I didn't register or make travel plans.

I haven't been back to Austin since I left in 2002. I was looking forward to eating at The Salt Lick again, which is about as good as it gets for a carnivore. I wanted to drink cold Shiner beer from a bottle and eat the best BBQ on the planet.

I still haven't eaten good brisket in almost 8 years.



No comments:

Post a Comment

Please feel free to offer comments and opinions. However, if you require legal assistance please call 312-504-4554 to speak with me personally.