Thursday, March 22, 2018

For The People of the worst legal show ever made

Wow...just wow... ABC & Shonda Rimes have really crapped out a turd with this new show, For The People. It's a show about federal prosecutors & public defenders & the ONLY redeeming quality about the show is that it doesn't make public defenders look like incompetent morons. Other than that, it's a steaming pile of garbage.

Seriously, it makes Law and Order look like a documentary. I am pretty good at overlooking the inaccuracies in legal shows for the sake of the story line. But's SO bad.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Mental health & violence

There has been a lot of discussion lately about the role of mental illness in mass shooting/violent incidents. There is a portrayal that mentally ill people are prone to violence & that the people who perpetrate these crimes do so because they are mentally ill. The issue can be solved, the argument goes, by increasing funding for mental health services.

First, we absolutely need more funding for mental health services. However, we don't need it because people with mental illness are more prone to violence. We need it because it can be very difficult to lead a healthy, safe, fulfilling life when someone is suffering from untreated mental illness. So yes, please fund this area more!

However, the constant focus on mental illness as the reason people commit heinous crimes is unfair & inaccurate. It stigmatizes people with mental illnesses.

Anecdotally, my experience with violent crimes committed as a result of someone's mental illness has resulted in only two out of thousands of cases I have handled in 9 years. It's important to differentiate between violent crimes committed by people with mental illness versus violent crimes committed as a result of mental illness. It's entirely possible for someone to have a mental illness & commit a "violent offense & those two things not be connected. In those cases, it's not the mental illness that leads to the behavior.

Example of this difference: someone with bipolar disorder who burglarizes a house bc they know the homeowner has lots of money under the mattress & they want it. The decision to burglarize the home is not caused by the bipolar disorder.

In contrast, someone with paranoid schizophrenia is actively symptomatic & as a result of the delusions caused by the schizophrenia, they believe that their roommate is plotting against them to kill them. In order to protect themselves from the attack they believe is coming, they stab the roommate. In this case, the person's mental illness caused them to suffer from delusions that they believed were reality & they acted as a result of those delusions.

In the first example, while treating the bipolar disorder would likely benefit the person overall, it is not necessarily going to change the person's decision to burglarize the home, because the mental illness did not cause the behavior.

In the second example, if the person received treatment for their schizophrenia & were not suffering from delusions caused by that, they would likely not have stabbed the roommate, because the mental illness caused the behavior.

The second example is not something I have seen often in my 9+ years representing people accused of crimes. I can count on one hand the number of clients whose actions were a result of their mental illness. It's just not really common.

Often people can't imagine going into a school & gunning down first graders or setting a bomb to blow at a marathon, so the easy answer is "They're crazy!" No rational, sane person could do these things, the reasoning goes, so the people who do must be mentally ill. Society can't wrap its mind around a mentally sound person doing such atrocities.

But the truth is, it happens. Are these people who could benefit from therapy or other treatment interventions? Sure. But being an angry, bitter, resentful, or evil person is not the same thing as being mentally ill. Some people choose to do horrible things simply because they want to.

It's true that a chunk of these mass shooters/perpetrators of mass violence have been found to have a mental illness. But the inquiry should not end there bc it's possible to have a mental illness & commit crimes unrelated to the mental illness.

There is a lot of data that demonstrates people with mental illnesses aren't inherently more dangerous. It's easy to pin the problem of mass shootings/mass violence on mental illness. But it doesn't solve the issue. The term "mental illness" encompasses a wide variety of disorders. There have been calls to prohibit anyone with a mental illness from owning a firearm. Technically that would include people who deal with depression & anxiety, which are extremely common disorders. The issue is much more nuanced than simply prohibiting anyone with a "mental illness" from accessing a firearm.

We do need more funding for mental health resources. However, it is naive to think that if we simply treat people with mental illness & prohibit them from accessing firearms, this epidemic of mass violence will be fixed. It's not that simple.

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

2 Weeks In

Today was officially the two week mark at the new job. (Also, sidenote, March 4 was my 9 yr anniversary of being a public defender) It is definitely different at my new location than literally every other place I have practiced law. So I'm trying hard to learn the way this court system operates.

I have had a couple of interesting interactions with prosecutors so far. Today I called a pros to talk about our cases for tmrw. I introduced myself & explained that I was new to the office. We started talking about the cases & she asked me suddenly where I had been before coming here. I said I had been in another PD office for 9 years. She said, "Oh that male sense. You don't sound like you're a brand new attorney." So that made me feel a bit better about being new--at least I don't come off like I have no idea what I'm doing.

The other conversation was yesterday when I was discussing a request I'd made with a different pros. It's a crim sex case with a juvenile alleged victim so there was a forensic interview done. I've had that in cases before & the interviewers typically have specific training on how to conduct these interviews. One of the things I do in those cases is I request is the training materials & guidelines they use in these interviews. I check their best practices against the interview in my case bc if the interview is done improperly, it can lead to false allegations. Naturally I want to explore that.

So I had requested that in this case & i was talking to the prosecutor about it. She was unsure what I was looking for so I tried to explain it more. She said she'd have to look into it & then mentioned that no one had ever asked her for that before. I made a joke about just getting here & already rocking the boat. Her response was, "No! It's great, I'm impressed. Very thorough!" Nice to hear that I'm making a good first impression.

I did think it was weird that no one else had ever asked for it before. That's such a routine request to me that I was surprised it wasn't for everyone.

So far, things are going really well. I'm happy on a daily basis, which is not something I have felt in a long time. And I'm pushing myself to come out of my socially anxious shell & do things that scare me. Today was my first day in court since starting & i had no idea how things worked. I was getting anxious & panicky but I gritted my teeth & walked up to the clerk & introduced myself. I said I was new & had a few questions & she was friendly & helpful & everything went smoothly. It may not seem like much but for me, that's my nightmare. So being able to just push through it was a big accomplishment!

I'm very happy right now. I'm not used to it. But I like it.

Saturday, February 24, 2018


This week has been a whirlwind. I moved last Saturday & Sunday to my new apartment. It is a great place but apparently the location is a bit sketch. I'm not too concerned though. The bus stop is literally 100 steps from my front door & it's like 13 minutes to get to my new office. Super convenient! Ward & Hubert seem to have adjusted well to the move, so that's also good. I was worried that they might have a rough time but they did well!

I also started at my new office this week, so I had a lot going on. My new office is giant compared to my old one. It's on two floors! And it's a maze. I get very turned around trying to navigate through it. So far everyone I have met has been super nice & friendly & welcoming which is great when you're me & have terrible social anxiety & are terrified of initiating conversations with new people. So the transition to the new office has been really good. I miss my old office peeps, of course, but we are still in contact on a daily basis since we are all part of a Slack messaging group. So I haven't completely lost touch with my friends back there.

So far, a week into my new life, things are going well & I'm pretty happy. I'm even saying yes to social stuff with people I don't know very well in order to expand my social circle. I am really looking forward to what this year has for me, since it's starting out so well. Let's hope it stays that way!

Monday, January 22, 2018

Big exciting news!


I got offered a public defender position in the metro! Which means I get to move out of the sticks & back to civilization & closer to my friends & family!

Finally something good is happening! I feel like I've been pushing a boulder up a hill forever & hating so much about my life circumstances. I truly thought I'd never get a PD position in the metro. I felt so trapped & suffocated & like I had a weight dragging me down for so long. And amazingly, suddenly, everything is changing super fast.

I start at the new office on 2/20. I'm already getting cases assigned to me. I am looking for a new apartment & packing up all my stuff into boxes & AHHHHH I can hardly believe it's really real!!

I'm so excited! Also nervous & anxious & scared & sad to be leaving all my work people, but excited for the new changes coming. It feels like such a fresh start, like I'm finally putting everything behind me & shedding my old life fully & just getting a brand new start.

Squeeeeeee!!!! Is this real?!?!

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Here are some times when I was the only one keeping the train on the tracks

I always laugh to myself when people say that they'll never need an attorney because they don't commit crimes or get in trouble. The assumption in that is that the cops, the prosecutors, the probation officers, & the judges always get it right, so they would never get the wrong guy or make a serious mistake.

I'm here to disabuse you of that idea. Allow me to share some real life examples of times when EVERYONE ELSE thought things were supposed to be one way & I was the only one who caught that they were wrong & saved my client from getting railroaded.

Example 1:
I had a client who was out of custody on conditions of release until trial. My client eventually got arrested on a claim that he was not following his release conditions. Specifically, the jail officers had accused him of not coming in to do drug/alcohol testing twice a day. He had only been coming in a couple times during the last few weeks. Police arrested him on a release conditions violation & he spent late on Friday through Monday in jail. The prosecutor filed a motion on Monday to have his release revoked & make him pay money before he could get out again.

I show up to the hearing on Monday. I review the motion, accusing my client of violating because he hadn't been coming to do his twice daily testing. I then looked at the court's order, the order that says what his conditions of release are. Lo & behold, the order says my client has to test twice a week, not twice a day. Not one person had actually looked at the order before they locked my client up (for no reason) for four days.

I showed the order to the prosecutor who had no idea that that was what the order actually said, the judge came out, & I demanded my client be released because they was no legal basis for him to be in jail. The judge released him and apologized to him for the serious mistake that had occurred.

Example 2:
A client of mine was charged with felony perjury for allegedly lying on her application for a public defender. A judge reviewed the complaint & signed off on it.  I got the case & started doing some research on perjury for a  PD application. Someone can only be guilty of perjury of the statement is made under oath after they have been sworn in by a judicial officer. So I pulled the transcript from my client's hearing where she had applied for a PD & found out that the client had never been sworn in or otherwise affirmed under oath that the info in her app was true. I emailed the case law to the prosecutor & the next day, the case was dismissed because the prosecutor realized the charge was improper.

Example 3:
I had a client charged with a felony offense of aiding an offender. Once again, a judge reviewed the charge & signed off on it. In a nutshell, the allegations were that police were trying to find a guy that had a misdemeanor warrant & they went to my client's house looking for the guy. Client told police that he wasn't there (he was). Police asked to come in & look for the guy & my client said ok. Police found the guy & my client got charged with aiding an offender.

I reviewed the statute & saw that it requires that the person aids an offender for a felony offense. The guy was wanted on a misdemeanor warrant, so my client couldn't be charged with aiding him. I pointed it out to the prosecutor.

Prosecutor ultimately agreed, but suggested that the charge be reduced to obstruction of justice. I did some research on what that requires & quickly found that in Minnesota, lying to police (except about your own name/DOB) is not obstruction. In order to be guilty of obstruction, the person has to physically interfere with the officer's ability to do their job. It is possible that a lie COULD physically obstruct an officer, but it would be a pretty rare situation. The best my co-workers & I could come up with was if a cop was arresting your friend & you screamed, "There is a guy with a gun right behind you!" and the cop stopped what he was doing to focus on the guy with a gun, except you were lying to distract the cop so your friend could run away. So it's hard to make it to an actual obstruction charge on words alone.

And in my client's case, all she had done to "obstruct" was to say the guy wasn't there. After that, she actually helped, she let cops come in & search for the guy. That's like as opposite as you can get from obstructing.

So I sent the obstruction case law to the prosecutor & said that my client didn't obstruct. Prosecutor reviewed the cases I had sent & ultimately agreed with me & she dismissed the case. Client avoided a felony case bc I caught the prosecutor's error in charging.

Example 4:
Minnesota has sentencing guidelines that have a complicated method of determining what someone's sentence should be. One factor is a person's juvenile record. If an adult is charged with a felony offense & is under a certain age (I think 24 but can't recall for sure), then their criminal history score can be increased by felony level juvenile convictions that happened after the defendant was 14. You need 2 of those to get a criminal history point. The more points you have, the longer your sentence will be.

I had a client in his early 20s, who had two felony juvenile convictions. The person from probation who did my client's criminal history marked that my client got a point for his juvenile convictions.

I did some digging & was able to find that one of the two juvenile cases was from when my client was only 13. That meant it couldn't be used. Once again, I notified the prosecutor & he looked at what I had found & he agreed that my client should not get that point.

Knocking off a point is a big deal, since it can mean the difference between getting put on probation or being sent to prison.

These are just a few examples of times when everyone else thought it was one way, when it was really the other. My clients would have been screwed without a lawyer.

So even if you are innocent, even if you didn't commit a crime, every if (

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

As good as it gets

Lately my mind keeps mulling over the repetitive nature of life. It is hard for me to accept that THIS is what life is. That our entire lives are basically a repetition of the same day, over & over. This is what life is? What kind of ridiculous waste is that?

Here is my life, the entire essence of my existence:
Wake up, go to work, come home, dinner/errands/chores. Repeat Monday through Friday. Saturday & Sunday, catch up on sleep, errands/chores, maybe some social event, home.

That's it! That's my whole life. That's the entirety of my existence. It seems really pointless.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Losing one's liberty is punishment enough

A common argument against prison and jail reform is that jail or prison is supposed to be a punishment and should therefore be as miserable and horrible as possible. I disagree with this argument because it is shortsighted for one, and for two, it tends to put both prisoners and officers at a higher risk of danger.

People get angry when they find out that correctional institutions have things like yoga classes, television, educational programming, baseball, or other "fun" activities. the idea is that because you are incarcerated, you should be miserable every minute of every day that you are there. it is not enough to simply lock you up, you must also be completely and utterly miserable. People that support this argument seem to believethat losing your freedomas an insufficient punishment. But is it? Is it really insufficient punishment for the government to take away your liberty?

Having your freedom taken away results in a multitude of deprivations . If you think about the things that you, as an average person who is not incarcerated , enjoy the freedom to do every day, you see how much a person who is incarcerated uses simply by the fact of their incarceration . Anything that cannot be done within the incarceration complex is lost to them . It Cimmerian of things that they lose .

Here's a list of something that incarcerated people are not able to access or to do :
Go to their child's high school or college graduation
See their child get married
Go to a sporting event
See a movie in a movie theater
Make dinner for their family
Go to the park
Ride a bike
Wear regular clothing
Wear makeup
Go shopping
Have privacy
Sleep in a room that doesn't also have a toilet in it
Eat what they want when they want
Have more than a specific number of pillows, blankets, uniforms, etc.
Sleep in the same bed as their partner
Wear clothing & underwear that hasn't been worn by someone else
Go on vacation
Use products & toiletries in the brands they prefer
Go for a run
Be there when their grandchild is born
Sleep on a real mattress
Have a barbecue
Watch fireworks
Go fishing
Attend their children's school conferences
Attend their children's school activities
Access the internet without restrictions, if at all
Use a cell phone
Have access to their regular medications
Eat in a restaurant
Attend their parents'/children's/loved ones' funeral
Go outside when they want
Go anywhere other than the prison/jail facility meaning they spend every hour of every day in one space
Tuck their kids in at night
Play video games
Call people without it costing an exorbitant amount of money
Wear makeup or nail polish
Wear decent looking glasses (in Minnesota the prison issued glasses are called "birth control" bc they are so awful looking)
Go to see a stand-up comedy show

The list goes on & on. There is no need to make incarceration any more miserable than it already is. Losing your liberty, your freedom, is punishment enough.

Moreover, letting inmated have some things that society may deem too nice for jail/prison keeps tensions down & makes the institution safer for everyone, including the correctional officers & other staff. Keeping the inmates active & productive & involved in classes & activities is a good thing. It doesn't need to be the gulag. They've already lost a lot simply by being in custody. That's the punishment.