Saturday, June 13, 2015

Being a trial lawyer

Being a trial lawyer is an incredibly draining job. It's a job that is hard to explain to people who don't do this work, even to people who have high stress jobs where people depend on them. Trial is all-consuming. And the pressure & stress is unlike anything else.

As a public defender, people rely on me. In some of my cases, people's lives depend on me. Not in the sense that they will die, but in the sense that a guilty verdict will send them to prison & everything in their life will be irrevocably altered.

My last trial, the client was facing 91 months in prison if we lost. That is a long period of time. This trial that starts on Monday, the sentence is 144 months in prison if we lose. The outcome of trial will affect the course of the client's life in a very huge way.

And for most trials, it's a very solitary venture. As the attorney, I'm almost always on my own in the courtroom. I'm the only one I have to consult with & I am the only one I have to rely on. I have to make judgment calls, sometimes on the spur of the moment, & hope it's the right choice. Trial is a solo undertaking. Since it's all day, there is usually no time to go back to the office to debrief with others or discuss the day's events. You're all on your own.

Being in trial is almost a round-the-clock status. Even when court is out, whether for break, lunch, or the end of the day, as the lawyer you're still in trial mentally. There's still things that need to be changed, researched, looked into, modified, added, omitted, altered, etc. Trial never stops until the verdict is read. If I'm not asleep, I'm in trial.

Being a trial lawyer is hard to explain to someone else. It's not like Law & Order where the attorneys can just prance around saying whatever & it wraps up in an hour. It's mentally, physically, & emotionally draining. People who don't do this job can't understand what that is like.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Been awhile

It's been some time since I've posted, mostly because I've been overwhelmingly busy with stuff. Work has been crazier than usual recently & I'm slated to start a 1st Degree Criminal Sexual Conduct trial on Monday. Thankfully, I'm not the only lawyer on the case, so the work is cut down a bit. But it's a huge case & it's been consuming me recently.

Also the court calendar in my county has become a rapid paced blitz. My former county was always on the fast track, no matter what, and it was incredibly hard to keep up. My current county hasn't gotten that bad...yet...but it seems like it's going that way. And that makes a stressful job even more stressful.

One of my co-workers recently had a trial start on Monday & end late on Tuesday night. He was then required to start another trial that Wednesday. Two trials one week. I couldn't do it. I'd collapse.

The calendar routinely has felony trials starting on Mondays & gross misdemeanors & misdemeanors starting on Wednesdays. I have a mixed caseload, meaning I can be scheduled for two trials a week.

And the calendar for all other hrgs has sped up too. It's been making it hard to be on top of everything & to find enough time to do the proper work on cases. So, it's been exhausting.

I'll post more later. For now, I have to do some work for trial...

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Goodbye Grandma

My grandma died on Saturday.

I won't pretend my grandma was someone she wasn't. The truth is that my grandma was a difficult person to be around. She oftentimes said cruel & hurtful things. She was a very unhappy woman for most of her life. But I still loved her, despite all that. Even though it was hard to be around her because she was almost guaranteed to say something that would make me feel terrible.

I think she wanted to be loved & give love, but I don't think she knew how. She pushed people away because it was what she was familiar with & what she knew. She didn't know how to show that she loved someone. She spent much of her life being lonely, but it was by her own design.

My mom & my aunts have talked about how their grandmother, my grandma's mom, was an especially mean woman who said cruel, hurtful things. It's not hard to understand why my grandma was the way she was. She didn't know how to be any other way.

I loved her very much. I wish she had been able to accept love from others so we could have had a better relationship. I wish she could have known that our family loved her as much as we did. I can only hope that she knows it now.

If I can take anything from her life, it's to be open to the love people want to give you. Even when it's scary, let people love you. Because they do, whether you let them show you or not. And it hurts everyone involved if you push them away. Be open to the love people are trying to give to you.

I'll miss you, Grandma. I loved you very much, even if you didn't let me show you. 

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Let's punish people for crimes they didn't commit!

In yet another stupid decision, the Minnesota Court of Appeals has once again confirmed that DWIs are the actual worst crime possible. In fact, they are so horrible, the state is allowed to punish you EVEN IF YOU DIDN'T COMMIT A DWI. That's according to Dornbush v. Commissioner of Public Safety.

Let's review pertinent info before discussing the details of the case. In MN, there are differing ways to commit a DWI. One of those is being under the influence of a controlled substance. Even if it's legal, like Vicodin that your doctor prescribed, if it makes you too loopy to drive, you can get a DWI. Another way to get a DWI is by having any amount of a schedule 1 or 2 drug in your system, regardless of whether it affects your ability to drive. Just the presence of that drug in your system is enough to convict you of a DWI. Schedule 1 drugs are illegal drugs: cocaine, heroin, meth, etc. Schedule 2 drugs are legal, but considered by the medical community yo be highly addictive & have a high chance of being abused. This includes drugs like Adderall & morphine, etc. So, under this type of DWI, I am committing a DWI every time I drive, bc I take Adderall for my hyoersomnia. The fact that it actually makes me a better, safer driver (because I'm not going to fall asleep at the wheel) doesn't necessarily matter since the law requires only that the drug be in your system.

However, there is a defense available to that particular type of DWI, if you are legally prescribed the drug that is in your system. If so, then you are not guilty of a DWI just for having the drug in your system. Good news for those of us who need to take Schedule 2 medication and still be able to drive.

Also important to know is that the Department of Public Safety will revoke your license if you have a positive test for drugs or alcohol after a DWI arrest. That will happen before the criminal case is settled. It happens fast.

So, in the Dornbush case, the defendant was pulled over for a DWI & charged w/ having any amount of a schedule 1 or 2 in his system. He got his license taken away by the Department of Public Safety, as is the normal course of business with DWI cases. He eventually was able to show that the defense of taking the drug pursuant to a doctor's orders applied to him & the criminal case went away. Then he goes to the Department of Public Safety & says, "Hey, look, I shouldn't have had my license taken away, bc I didn't actually break the law. I was taking the medication as my doctor instructed, which means I didn't commit a DWI. So, can I have my license back please?" To which the Department of Public Safety responded, "No, you cannot have it back."

So, he appealed the decision to revoke his license. The license revocation is supposed to be an administrative penalty for having broken the law. Since he didn't break the law, he shouldn't be punished. Makes sense, right?

Well, no, not according to the MN Court of Appeals. They agreed with the Department of Public Safety, that he could not get his license back. Why? Because the defense that you are taking medication as prescribed by your doctor only applies to the criminal charge, not to the license revocation since that's considered a civil matter. Since the legislature didn't include it as a defense for the administrative revocation penalty, it doesn't apply. Sucks to be you, defendant who didn't actually commit any crime, because you're going to be treated the same as if you did!

The Court talked a lot about how this was an administrative penalty & that the license revocation proceedings are separate from the criminal stuff so the defense can't possibly apply unless the statute were to specifically include it as a defense to having your license revoked. But this argument/line of reasoning falls flat on its face. In Minnesota, if you have a prior DWI conviction or drug or alcohol related loss of license on your driving record, drug or alcohol related loss of license on your driving record, and you get charged w/ a DWI, it automatically jumps from a misdemeanor to a gross misdemeanor, because you're a "repeat offender" who needs to be punished more severely than a first-timer. Did you catch that? It's a conviction or losing your license for drugs or alcohol.

Which means that Dornbush, who has not committed any crime under the law, will be considered a repeat offender if he ever actually does get a DWI. He will be looking at more serious consequences that are reserved for people who have already had one DWI in the past & who apparently didn't get it the first time. He will be subject to forfeiture of his car & impoundment of his license plates. And he'll be required to do jail time that is reserved for repeat drunk drivers, despite not ever having been convicted of a prior DWI!

The Draconian ruling in this opinion kills me. The Court once again doesn't seem to care if DWI laws result in unfair or absurd outcomes or if we end up punishing people for crimes they didn't commit. As long as we can punish people, guilty or not!, for DWIs, that's all that matters. The Court completely ignored the issue with the loss of license causing the person to be facing more serious charges despite never having been convicted & having a valid medical defense.  

Given that I take Adderall as prescribed every day, I find this ruling more than just a bit troubling. I'm now terrified that I could lose my license if I'm ever pulled over. It's so stupid & nonsensical it makes my brain hurt. I don't understand how they reach their decision, because this one makes no sense. It's actually now punishing people who haven't committed a crime.

Punishing. People. Who. Have. Not. Committed. A. Crime.

Just let that sink in for a bit.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Quick updates

So, Guÿ bought me a Kinect for my Xbox for Valentine's day, which is awesome bc I've wanted one for awhile. And then, since I now have the Kinect, I got a dancing game called Dance Central & I'm obsessed. I LOVE dancing & I love learning choreographed dances, so this game is perfect for me. Plus, I'm pretty sure it counts as my daily exercise requirement, since I do it like every day for an hour or more. Seriously, I'm obsessed!! So much fun!

Also, a friend of mine does amazing artwork & also is an actress, so everyone should check out her website at www.jensiarts.com. She's incredibly talented, so please go check her out!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

We'll find any way to get around that pesky 4th Amendment

So, remember back in March when I discussed a recent MN Court of Appeals case, State v. Bernard? And I was super incensed by how ridiculous it was and how it managed to completely destroy the entire 200+ years of 4th Amendment jurisprudence?  Well, it was appealed to the MN Supreme Court, which was exactly what everyone expected would happen.  And today, the MN Supreme Court made a decision on that case, which is still way off-base in my opinion, but at least it did not completely decimate the 4th Amendment the way the Court of Appeals' decision had done. 

It's still a decision that doesn't seem to grasp how the exceptions to the 4th Amendment work and still comes out with the wrong holding. And makes bad law that doesn't make sense with other laws already in place and established for a long time. 

So, as usual, let's review this case with swear words and colorful language:

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Not Guilty! My favorite words!

I was in trial this week on a difficult case. The charge was one of those where just the charge itself is bad & people assume being charged is bad enough. It was a very tough case w/ difficult facts to work with & even more difficult bc I honestly believed my client was innocent. And those are the hardest to defend bc the pressure to be successful is so high.

This was a commit to prison case, meaning if he were convicted, he'd have had to go to prison, no probation. And it was a long sentence: 91 months. My client had a lot at stake going into trial. And I was so nervous I was shaking at last Friday's pretrial motion hearing.

We started on Monday & wrapped up today. Jury went out at 11:50 a.m. They had a verdict by 1:25 p.m.

My heart sank. That felt too fast to be good for my client. They felt like it was going to be a guilty verdict & I was going to be devastated & my client was going to be beside himself.

The verdict was not guilty. I gasped audibly in shock & joy. So did my client. I grabbed his shoulder, he grabbed mine, and he said softly, "Thank you so much. Thank you."

My client had been in jail since his arrest. He was released after the verdict. He had to go back to the jail to be booked out, but this time, the transport bailiff didn't have to hand & leg cuff him. My client was a free man. My client finally got to go home & get his life back & see his son again.

There is no way to describe the feeling of getting a not guilty verdict. It's relief and joy and excitement and vindication and satisfaction and tons of other emotions all at once. Getting a not guilty that saves someone from prison, that adds even more to the emotional overload.

Seeing your client finally walk out w/o handcuffs and knowing I'd helped to set him free...it's an experience like nothing I can ever explain. It's powerful & overwhelming & humbling all at the same time.

Days like this make it all worthwhile.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Here we go again

So, I had two trials right before I went on vacation last month. I lost both. I had to prepare for 4 trials but only 2 actually went. So it was an exhausting month. I finished my last trial two days before I went on vacation. A much needed vacation by the time it rolled around.

I came back from vacation on January 6th. And today I start another trial. A really serious trial that's going to be a lot of work this week.

Next week, I'm scheduled for another serious trial, as well.

I'm already exhausted & the stress from this first trial is going to eat me alive. And then I have to also try to prepare the other case for trial while simultaneously being in trial on this case. There should be a rule that you can't be in trials back to back. It's too hard & too exhausting. Not to mention nothing else gets done on your other cases.

So, I went from rarely having trials in 2013 & most of 2014, to having prepped for 6 trials in 2 months & actually going to trial on at least 3 and if next week's case doesn't settle, 4 trials in 2 months. That's a lot of trials.

I'm already tired from this week & it hasn't even started.