Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Mischief is a Superpower

I have a client whom I have represented 3-4 times in the last several months.  It is always the same charge: disorderly conduct.  He appears to have several intellectual disabilities, he is old, he is alone, and he is in the habit of taking long walks around his neighborhood*.  His neighbors find him to be strange and are in the habit of calling the police and the police are in the habit of arresting him and charging him with disorderly conduct.  The District Attorneys are in the habit of 'letting' him plead to the charges after a night in jail and go home.  His defense attorneys are in the habit of advising him to take that deal.  I got sick of watching my client be subjected to harassment and to mounting court costs, so after getting his agreement, I decided that some alternative tactics were in order.
First Step:  I told the District Attorney that I needed time to consider the offer.  This surprised the DA as most defendants will take any deal and sign any paperwork in order to go home and in order to avoid further jail time.  This also surprised the arresting police officer.  Every criminal defendant in the United States has a right to confront his or her accusers in court.  The arresting officer is almost always an important witness in a criminal hearing.  So, he was in court that morning, but he fully expected that his presence would not be required for very long that morning.  

Second Step:  I sat down in the comfortable chairs reserved for defense attorneys and the arresting officer sat down in a hard-backed and hard-bottomed bench.

Third Step:  I pulled out a volume of Justice League comics I had bought second-hand several weeks prior and had kept in my briefcase until I was appointed to this client again.  I did not have any other court business that day, so I leisurely leafed through it.  The arresting officer was visibly frustrated.

Fourth Step:  I finished reading and pulled out a second volume of Justice League comics.  The arresting officer went from visible frustration to outright anger.  

Fifth Step:  Lunch break.  Turkey on sourdough bread.  I made the sourdough myself.  It was excellent.

Sixth Step:  Back in the courtroom, I pulled out a collection of Archie comics.  The arresting officer stomped out of the courtroom at this point, but he could not leave the courthouse.

Seventh Step:  Last call.  The judge asked me and the DA what we were going to do on this particular case.  The DA indicated that I was considering a plea offer.  I told the judge we were rejecting the offer and would be proceeding to a hearing.  The judge and DA were dumbfounded.  The arresting officer was jubilant and he was mentally preparing to roast my client alive on the witness stand in revenge for having to wait in the courtroom all day.

Eighth Step:  I pointed out to the judge that the neighbors who called the police and had given the police statements were not present in the courtroom.  I further pointed out that the way the warrant was written, the neighbors were key witnesses in the case and that the DA would need to issue subpoenas to compel their presence in court to give testimony.  I made an oral motion to reset the hearing to one week from that day.  The judge granted my motion.  The arresting officer realized to his horror that he would have to go back to his witnesses and compel them to come to court to testify against their wishes.

Ninth Step:  I came back to court a week later and graciously accepted the DA's offer to dismiss the charges entirely.  I told him and the arresting officer that in the future, all such charges against my client would be result in a hearing and I would demand that the neighbors would be subpoenaed as material witnesses.  They said they understood.

One of the rights U.S. citizens enjoy is a right to due process.  If they are charged with a crime, they are entitled to a trial and to confront their accusers in court.  This has the double benefit of both giving an innocent defendant the opportunity to prove his or her innocence and to discourage frivolous accusations.  We may not have struck a major blow for civil rights, but it is a good example of our system working to protect the it was originally designed to do.  Although, we were a bit unconventional in how we went about using the system.

*Outside of court, I spent 45 minutes solving my client's overarching issues regarding loneliness and the lack of a solid support network.  I found a community center that hosted weekly events for senior citizens.  The center partnered with a local church to shuttle these folks to the events.  He is not so lonely anymore.

Mischief is a Superpower

I have a client whom I have represented 3-4 times in the last several months.  It is always the same charge: disorderly conduct.  He appears...