Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Out on Tuesday, In on Wednesday

About a month ago I was called by the father of a young man. His son was recently released from the county jail on probation following a guilty plea on a gun case. The son was arrested again for possessing ammunition.

I was at the courthouse when I took the call. I told the father I was going to look up the case information in the computer and call him back. It was true the son plead guilty to a minor gun charge. He was released on a Tuesday and arrested the very next day. Wow. That seemed a bit fast.

I called the father back. The preliminary hearing on the new case was a week away. He would need to pay me some money to do the hearing. I also explained a petition for violation of probation was also filed. In effect, his son has 2 pending cases.

A few weeks went by without me hearing again from the father. But about a week ago, he called back. The son lost the preliminary hearing on the new case. I wasn't surprised. The son was also now being held with no bond. Again, not surprised (this always happens when a person on felony probation gets arrested for a new felony).

The father wanted to meet and pay me to take both the new case and the probation violation. We met last Friday. The father is from Darfur and speaks heavily accented English slowly. I explained all of the legalities and answered some questions. When it came time to pay me, we hit a bump in the road.

I don't normally write about what I am paid to take a case. I think it's tacky and no one's business. However, I live in a city where almost 100% of the people getting arrested for crimes I handle are from the low income areas. You figure it out.

This man didn't have much money. It's the kind of money that could maybe hire a criminal lawyer in Darfur. I told him there was no way I was going to take 2 cases for what little money he had. I told him I doubt any attorney in the city would. I was nice about it. He said he understood.

But he wanted my help. His son needed my help. The father works 2 jobs and 16 hours per day. He only had this little bit of money, but gets paid again in a week. Again, I gently resisted.

I thought he was going to very softly start crying. He may have. Something came over me. It happened quickly. In the blink of an eye, I realized I wouldn't be able to live with myself had I not taken what money he had and accepted the cases. I am not like this with everyone. I am no push-over.

But something reminded me I became a lawyer to help people. Here was someone asking for my help. Could I really say "no"? Was I going to go out of business by doing this case on terms he could afford? I accepted his money and prepared a fee agreement he could live with.

This morning I appeared in court for the son. I didn't have time to go to the jail and meet him ahead of time. But I spoke with him in the bull pen. He was very pleasant and appreciative. By asking a few questions I was able to fill in some holes about the new case.

In a nutshell the day after he got out of jail on his pistol case, 3 officers from the adult probation department showed up at the apartment where he lives with his father. They searched it. In the closet in his father's bedroom, they found some live rounds. He allegedly said they were his but had forgotten about them.

A few hours later, police officers show up and place him under arrest. That's it. The entire case. I told him I was going to talk to the judge and see if I could get him out of jail while this is pending.

Though I had never been in this judge's courtroom before, I didn't think he would be impressed with this case. I wasn't.

The judge came on the bench. My case was called. I arraigned my client.  Then I asked the judge to review bond. I offered a brief review of all the relevant facts and offered very little argument. I did say that given the facts, what the defendant allegedly did was not highly criminal. I also mentioned something about lack of mens rea. I asked defendant be released on I-bond (individual recognizance, or no money needed to walk).

When I stopped speaking the judge turned to the prosecutor. Because I spoke truthfully, not much came from the other side. Well, they didn't want him released because this is such a serious manner. Really?

The State would like to send him to prison for 1 year. Really? The prosecutor will get to elect which case to litigate: the new case or the VOP. I got the impression from the judge neither will fly very far. Over the State's objection he set bond at $500 cash.

Walking out of the courtroom with my client, I told him I would tell his father to use the money he was going to give me Friday to bond him out.

I can always get that bond money later.

The purpose of this post was not to show I have a heart. Rather it was written to illustrate how ridiculous my local criminal justice system can be, and often is. Couldn't the probation officers simply have told him that he needed to throw away the bullets? Couldn't they have offered to take them?

He didn't even know he was breaking the law or violating the conditions of his probation by them being there. I don't think he even knew they were there in the first place. No, instead they called the police. The police arrested him. Felony charges were approved. He was placed in the county jail where he's been for a month.

By being locked up this entire last month, all the tuition money he paid to go to school is gone.

And at the end of this, the State would still like to send him to prison. In this case, I can't help but see a tremendous waste of money and resources. This is typical, however. No one cares.


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