Friday, December 30, 2005

Off Topic: Overrated

Finally, someone in the media is speaking up against the ridiculous hyperbole about the 2005 USC Trojan football team. No, they are not the greatest college football team ever. Hell, there's no proof they are even the best college football team this year. But if you follow media reports--particularly those retards at ESPN--you'd think that they had already won the national championship, and actually played in the Space-Time Continuum Bowl Championship, and won. I'm not saying that my Texas Longhorns will definitely win the Rose Bowl, or even that they should be the favorite, but enough with all the USC hype. How about we let them play the damn game, first?

Earth to MADD: Buzzed Driving Is NOT Drunk Driving

I saw a news story last night about this new ad campaign being promoted with the catchphrase, "Buzzed Driving Is Drunk Driving." It infuriated me. I spent who knows how much of what should have been my relaxation time composing in my head what I would post on my blog about this issue. Then, this morning, I read Blonde Justice's take on it, and realized we were kindred spirits (no pun intended!), and I should probably just link to hers.

To sum up, though: No, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the Ad Council, and other advocacy groups, buzzed driving is not the same as drunk driving. You can buy as many ads as you want that say it, but it doesn't make it so. Buzzed driving is legal. Intoxicated driving is not.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Jail Mail

You get written up in the paper for getting one wrongly incarcerated man out of jail, and suddenly, every inmate in the county jail starts writing you letters.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

How Do I Sleep At Night?

That's the question that one of my court clerks posed to me last week. Here is the background. About three weeks ago, I was appointed to represent a man who was incarcerated on a probation violation stemming from a domestic violence assault case. When I looked at his file, I discovered that the motion to revoke his probation was not filed until one day after his probation expired, therefore the court had no jurisdiction to revoke his probation. Now, this was a rather unique situation because for many years, the probation department here and the court clerks were under an incorrect assumption about when an individual's probation expired. For example, if someone were given one year of probation on December 25, 2004, they believed that the probation expired December 25, 2005. This never made sense to me, since December 25, 2005 would clearly be the first day of a second year of probation, and not the last day of his one year of probation. Nevertheless, many local judges agreed with this assessment, and so prosecutors and probation officers would commonly file motions to revoke probation on what they thought was the last day of an individual's probation. Everyone agrees that if a motion to revoke is not filed until after probation expires, the court has no jurisdiction to revoke, extend, or modify probation. The disagreement was when probation expires. Well, in November of this year, our local court of appeals issued a ruling definitively stating that probation expires on the day before the anniversary date of the imposition of probation. I was right. And now, I had the binding case law to prove it.

So, back to my case. I brought the issue of the untimely filing of the motion to revoke to the judge's attention. She was not aware of the recent case. Before taking any action on my request to discharge the defendant from probation, she requested a copy of the case. I happily furnished her a copy of the case. She read it, and realized that she had no choice but to discharge my client from probation. Now, this was very upsetting to the probation officer. He told the judge that the victim in the case was afraid of further violence to my client. Although the judge certainly sympathized with that, she did not have any choice but to follow the law. Still, she took the time to have my client brought in front of her, and urged him to have no contact with the complainant in the case because that would probably just lead to more trouble for him. Then, my client was free to go.

So last week, I had another case with the same problem. The motion to revoke was filed one day late. The judge was already gone for the holidays, and my client was being held on other charges that would keep him in jail a little longer anyway, so I placed a post-it note on the file asking the judge to discharge probation. Well, one of my court clerks saw the note, and decided to tell me that I was wrong about the law. I told her that I was correct, and the judge was aware of this, and she could handle it when she got back. She told me that until I came into that court, this had never been the law. I informed her of the recent case, and that I had provided it to the judge on a previous case. That's when she told me that in that previous case, after my client's release, he went to see his ex-girlfriend and broke her nose. Now, I have no idea if this is true. I told the clerk that if he had done that, then he would have to answer for it in court, but that it did not change my obligation to follow the law. Then, she laid it on me. "I just wanted you to know that when you try to sleep at night." I told her that I slept at night just fine knowing that I did my job, and then I walked off. Perhaps I should have asked her how the judge slept at night, knowing she had signed the order to release my client. Perhaps I should have asked her how the probation officer slept at night, knowing that he had blown his chance to revoke my client's probation by filing the motion one day too late.

The truth is that I sleep at night very well knowing that I am doing my very best to represent the clients who the court charges me with representing.

Sweet dreams, all you public defenders out there. Sweet dreams.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Stupid Judges

I get lots of e-mails with amusing "stupid criminal" stories, but I think we need a new list for "stupid judges." My first nominee is New Mexico District Judge Daniel Sanchez who granted a woman's request for a temporary restraining order against David Letterman on the basis of the most preposterous "affidavit" I have ever seen. Among other things, the woman claims Letterman proposed to her on his show when he said, "Marry me, Oprah." If you read her whole "statement" that she attached to her request for a restraining order, you see that she essentially has been stalking Mr. Letterman. That didn't stop Judge Sanchez from rubber-stamping her TRO request when he should have been issuing a restraining order against HER. If this is the level of scrutiny Judge Sanchez applies to restraining order applications or other ex parte requests, I shudder to think about what search and arrest warrant applications he has granted without even reading them.

Eyewitness Reform Coming to Texas?

There is a great article in the Houston Chronicle today about eyewitness fallibility, and the possibility of reforming identification procedures in this state. Eyewitness identification is one of the most powerful forms of evidence in a jury trial, which unfortunately compounds the fact that it is, in actual fact, quite unreliable. Faulty identifications can be drastically reduced, however, if certain protocols are followed. Some of them, like using a "blind presenter", are just plain common sense. If the officer showing the witness the photo lineup doesn't know which photo belongs to the suspect, then there is no chance that officer can give any cues to the witness--either consciously or unconsciously. Why would any honest law enforcement officer be opposed to that?

Saturday, December 24, 2005

I'm Baaaaaack . . .

. . . with a vengeance! So, I'm still in Texas. Still public defending. I'm out of my funk, and ready to resume my ranting and raving. To start things off, check out the Dallas Morning News and local television coverage of my latest outrage--a 69-year-old man named Walter Mann, who I helped get released from jail after he was illegally held for 15 months! When I say he was illegally held, I don't mean he was accused of a crime that we ultimately proved he didn't commit. I mean that a judge jailed him on a writ of attachment and then . . . well, nobody did a damn thing. And so he languished for 15 months. That's when his cellmate and two public defenders took up his cause, and justice finally came. (You can see the CNN/AP rehash here. A follow-up story after the media found Mr. Mann is here.)