Wednesday, May 25, 2016

My absence

I've been gone for awhile without meaning to be. I've been grappling with some incredibly intense depression the last few months & trying to keep my head above water. I didn't get the federal PD job & things have not been going well lately. I've been struggling to put on a happy face & pretend I can make it through, but the truth is, I don't think I have it in me anymore.

The divorce almost broke me. That was a sudden, deep blow that almost snapped me in two. Lately, it's not a sudden blow. It's an accumulation of years of struggling & pain & hurt & disappointment. It's the weight of a thousand little hurts that are crushing me. It's my resolve to keep going, slowly fading away. Like an injured warrior, losing blood from wounds, trying to keep fighting, but eventually her body gives out & she can't go on anymore. That's how this feels.

The divorce was just the most serious of the wounds. Maybe if it was just that one, I could survive. But the emotional trauma started well before the divorce. I was damaged long before then. The divorce was just the deepest hurt.

So I have been gone, struggling just to keep going. I don't have anything left anymore. Every last ounce of strength I had is gone now. My reserves are used up. I have nothing left.

I don't have it in me to care anymore. I don't have it in me to keep trying & hoping for happiness. I won't find happiness. This is my lot in life. If I accept it, instead of hoping things will change, then I can't be disappointed when those hopes are destroyed.

That's why I've been gone. The last of my strength was going towards trying to hang on, trying to overcome the depression. And now, it's just swallowed me whole. And I'm not able to fight it anymore.

I am a shell of a person now. The world has sucked me dry and plucked out every good thing in me. I am now hollow & going through the motions of life.

Friday, March 18, 2016

It's #PublicDefenseDay!

Today is important but most people don't realize it. That's because today is the day that, 53 years ago, the US Supreme Court held that a person accused of a crime who could not afford an attorney must be provided an attorney. The case, Gideon v. Wainwright, was a landmark ruling.  Prior to that case, a person who could not afford an attorney was basically S.O.L.  They had to represent themselves against the full force of the government's power.  It was a modern-day David versus Goliath.  

Clarence Gideon's tale is not only notable for its creation of the right to court-appointed counsel, but also because the underlying criminal case demonstrated so perfectly why it was unfair to make a person proceed without counsel when they wanted one.  Gideon was charged in Florida w/ breaking and entering with intent to commit larceny, after a local pool hall was broken into, vandalized, and burglarized my an unknown person.  A witness said he'd seen Gideon leaving the pool hall that night with money and wine in his pockets.  That was enough to get Gideon arrested and charged with the crime. 

Gideon appeared in court and requested an attorney to help him defend against the charges. At that time, only people who were charged with capital (read: death penalty) cases were able to have the court provide them with an attorney. When Gideon requested an attorney, the Florida court told him, in a nutshell, "No attorney for you!" (Imagine the Soup Nazi voice).  To which Gideon gave the most perfect, beautiful, and succinct response: " The United States Supreme Court says I am entitled to be represented by counsel."  Sometimes the simplest answer is the best. 

However, Florida, being all Florida about it, still wouldn't give Gideon a lawyer. So, he had to represent himself at trial. And he did. He didn't plead out or plead no contest. He took that em-effer to trial and maintained his innocence the entire time. However, he was going up against a trained prosecutor, who had the full force of the government, police, etc. on his side and who had (presumably) gone to law school and had experience in trying cases.  Unsurprisingly, being outmatched, Gideon was convicted. He was sentenced to 5 years in prison. 

But our hero Gideon refused to give up. Instead, he took it upon himself to write a petition to the United States Supreme Court, arguing he had been denied due process of law by being forced to go to trial without the aid of an attorney, in violation of his Sixth Amendment right to counsel, as applied to the States by the Fourteenth Amendment.  He wrote the whole thing in PENCIL. By HAND. From PRISON. 


He toiled away at the prison library to be able to get this thing together.  It's actually fairly well written, despite some errors in grammar, syntax, etc. He did a damn good job. You can read the whole thing here. And you should--it's not that long and it's worth seeing how this one man's handwritten, penciled petition changed the entire legal landscape. 

And the US Supreme Court decided to hear his case. The Court gets hundreds of petitions a year and they get to choose which ones they want to hear.  There's only a small number of cases they are obligated to hear. Most of the cases that the Court hears are because the Court has determined it wants to hear them. And of all the cases that request a chance to be heard, the Court hears roughly 80 a year.  So, Gideon's chances of having his case heard by the Supremes was not high. Somehow, he hit the jackpot and got his case in front of the Court. 

Interestingly enough, almost as if they were tipping their hand a bit, the Supremes appointed an attorney to represent Gideon at the Supreme Court.  That attorney was Abe Fortas.  Fortas later went on to become a Supreme Court justice himself. 

On March 18, 1953, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Gideon's favor.  The Court held that the State of Florida had violated Gideon's rights by refusing to appoint him counsel and remanded his case back to the Florida court for further action in line with the Court's new ruling.  The Court's decision impacted every criminal defendant in the United States, not just Gideon.  The Court had said that assistance of counsel by a person who wanted it but could not afford it was a fundamental right under the US Constitution and that providing attorneys to indigent defendants was essential for a fair trial and due process of law.  That meant no one accused of a crime who couldn't afford a lawyer could be forced to defend him or herself without the help of an attorney. 

TADA! Creation of the "public defender." 

So, back to our story...Gideon's case was returned to Florida and since he was deprived of a fair trial the first time around, he was given a new trial.  This time, with an attorney to represent him. And you know what happened??? 

Ready??

Want to know????

Gideon was found...


NOT GUILTY!  Of the very same charges he was previously convicted of and sent to prison for 5 years! Because his attorney--his court-appointed attorney--was able to discredit the only witness during cross-examination and destroy the State's case. And the jury took only one hour to acquit Gideon. 

Five years in prison to a complete acquittal.  Same charges, same case, same witness.  The difference? An attorney. 

Gideon's case illustrates the reason why the Supremes ruled the way they did.  Because it's fundamentally unfair to make a person have to defend themselves in court without help against a criminal charge against a trained, experienced prosecutor.  And if the playing field isn't fair, then the results get skewed. As in Gideon's case. He was unable to effectively defend himself, but once he had help, he was acquitted and walked out of prison. 

It's a great story. It changed the entire criminal justice system, for the better. And, the original case shows why legal counsel is so necessary. No one would perform their own surgery--why make someone perform their own legal defense?  Both are technical, complicated worlds that don't often make sense to outsiders and that have a language all of their own. And both have serious consequences if done poorly or incorrectly. 

So, Gideon's case left a lasting legacy for all criminal defendants. The full force of the law and the faceless government could no longer overrun the little guy. Now, the little guy got to have their own fighter to get in the ring and throw some punches. 

Are the sides perfectly, evenly matched? Of course not. The financial disparity between the two sides is stark in many places. But, even if it's not a perfectly level playing field, it's better than it was. And those of us who are here, in the ring, throwing punches against the giant Goliath that is the government are doing it because we want to, because we love the fight, because we love the thrill of victory against the enormity of the State, because we like helping the underdog, because we care. 

Society as a whole doesn't particularly like us. We represent "criminals" and "bad guys." We get people off on "technicalities" (also known as "your constitutional rights"). We stand beside the loathsome, the unwanted, the overlooked, the reviled, and we fight for them. Society doesn't understand how we can sleep at night, defending people like those in Gitmo or people accused of child rape or murder or any number of terrible crimes. They don't get it because they don't understand it's not just about this one client, this one case, or this one charge. It's about more. It's about upholding the idea that we live in a country that values fairness and justice.  That we would rather have it done right.  That we uphold and protect the things our ancestors fought and died for, that the Constitution was created for. 

I am proud to be part of a group of people who defend those that society reviles.  I am in good company. John Adams defended the British soldiers in the Boston Massacre and Abraham Lincoln defended many people charged with murder*.  If I get to be in the same ranks as those people, I am proud.  

I am proud to be a part of Gideon's legacy. I am proud to stand by my clients and step into the ring to throw some punches. I am proud when I get a TKO on Goliath.



*You can read more about how public defense is awesome in this editorial over at Slate.com. 

Friday, February 26, 2016

Time to make some changes

I've decided I need to move. I have lived in rural town for almost 3 yrs & it has not been a good move for my mental health/depression issues. So it's time to do something to make myself happier. And that means moving back to a location closer to my friends & family.

The commute will suck, since it will double my drive time. But I think it will be worth it to have my social life back again. It will be worth it to not feel so isolated & alone.

When I moved to my current location, I had a car payment that ate up a big chunk of money. I paid my car off last year, so I don't have that expense anymore & that means I can afford more for rent. So that frees me to move.

I found a place I'm interested in. There aren't any open units right now, but it sounds like there will be in the future. And that will give me time to pack, etc.

Having a plan to move makes me feel less trapped by my life. It makes me feel like there's a light at the end of the tunnel. And eventually I.hope to get a job near the metro, too. But until then, I can at least live somewhere that makes me happy.

Also I finished my couch! Here's the final result:

Monday, February 15, 2016

The biggest project I've ever done!

So I have had my couch for about 10 yrs & it looks like it. The cats have torn the sides & arms up, so the foam is coming out. I want a new couch, but I don't have the money & I don't want the cats to rip up a new one. So, I decided I should just re-upholster the couch. I've never re-upholstered a single thing in my whole life, so of course why not start with a super big piece of furniture & the only piece in my living room?? Sounds reasonable!!

To the internet I went, in order to find out what it takes to redo a couch. New fabric. Some stuffing to redo the spots that the cats have torn out. Thread. Ability to sew. Staple gun. Really the only thing I didn't have was a staple gun.

But whoa, the amount of fabric needed for the project was huge & upholstery fabric isn't cheap. I could just buy a new couch for the cost of the fabric. After a little more internet searching, I found out that canvas painter's drop cloths are a cheap way to get a lot of fabric! Who knew?? Canvas isn't the softest but for a couch I figured it would be fine.

However, the canvas comes in beige & I'd decided I wanted a robin's egg blue couch. Which meant I needed to dye the drop cloths. This is not a small task. I used 12 bottles of Rit dye & 3 packages of powdered dye. I had to go to 4 different stores to get enough dye. Then I had to dye all the fabric in my bathtub since I needed a container big enough to hold 36 gallons of water. And then I had to make sure the fabric was constantly in motion, so it didn't get streaks or dye unevenly. It was a weird night, me with a big ass wooden dowel, standing over a bathtub full of water that is so dark it's almost black, stirring away for like 45 minutes. But, it was worth it! The color came out exactly the way I wanted it to & looked great!

I next tore off the fabric from the couch cushions & seats & used the old fabric as the pattern for the new fabric. I took the brown piping from the old fabric & recycled it on the new fabric bc I thought the blue & brown would go great together. So I did the cushions & the seats.

I don't want the cats to tear up the new fabric, so I did some additional research & found out that they sell vinyl sheeting that you can attach to your couch so the cats can't scratch the fabric. Good idea, except it looks really obvious that you have plastic on your couch. I love my cats, but I'm not ready to clearly announce that I'm a crazy cat lady to everyone that comes into my apt. I mean, I'd like to date someone again, so... I had to come up with an idea.

Which became taking the vinyl sheeting, sewing it to a contrasting piece of fabric on the back, & then spraying the front with a clear coat that takes away some of the shine. Those pieces then get attached w/ brass furniture tacks like you see in fancy leather furniture. That way, the vinyl sheeting looks more like it actually belongs on the couch, rather than something I added on.

I'm almost done with the couch. But I need a staple gun to complete the project. And I don't want to spend money to buy one so I can use it for one project.  So, I asked Guy if I could borrow one from him. (Yes, Guy & I still talk. Story for another day.) I just wanted to borrow the gun, so I offered to pick it up & bring it back if he could loan me one. He asked why I needed one, I told him my plan, & he offered to come help me. I told him he didn't have to, but he said he wanted to & he'd bring 2 staple guns so we could get it done really quick. So next Saturday, he's coming over to help me finish it up.

I've got the cushions & seats done & the vinyl pieces are ready to be attached once it's time. I'm super excited about the way it's looking so far & really excited about how it will look when it's all done. It's going to look so awesome! And so much more affordable than buying a new couch.

Pictures of the project so far are included. I'll post a picture of the final project when it's all done!

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Scalia was a strange character

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died yesterday. He's been an outspoken force on the Court for as long as I've been interested in the law (late high school/early college) and most everyone who is somehow in the legal world has an opinion of him. Many people not in the legal world do, too.

Scalia was an interesting character in the Court. Oftentimes, I found myself frustrated & disgusted with things he said or wrote. He was a phenomenal writer, even when I wanted to scream bc I disagreed with him so strongly. But I was often at odds with his position on issues & I never counted him among my favorite justices (yes, I have favorites...RBG, I'm looking at you). His social views were appalling to me & I found much of his opinions lacking in any sense of empathy or feeling.

That being said, I cannot deny that some of the most important decisions in the realm of criminal law have been from Scalia. Before Scalia, the Confrontation Clause was essentially meaningless. The Confrontation Clause is the part of the Constitution that says if you're accused of a crime, you have the right to face your accusers in court & make them answer questions. In the past, it was permissible for hearsay statements to come in as evidence against a defendant if the judge determined the statements were reliable. No live testimony needed, just a submission of the statements. Scalia wrote the Crawford decision, which ended that practice. If someone is accusing you, you have the right to make them do so under oath & subject to cross-exam. The importance of Crawford can't be overstated. It changed the way trials & courts operated in a major way.

Scalia is also the reason that an actual scientist/lab person now has to come into court & testify about their results, rather than just submitting a report & calling it good.

Scalia was also a staunch supporter of the 4th Amendment & had a hearty distrust of the State as an actor bc the Founders had that same distrust. He often reminded the judiciary that judges are part of the State & that's why a jury is so important, bc they are NOT agents of the government. He wrote a brilliant dissent in Maryland v. King about the collection of DNA samples from people arrested for crimes but not convicted, in which he skewered the majority for trusting that the government would keep its word & limit the use of such DNA.

Scalia was a justice that I often felt was lacking in compassion & mercy, that was too hard-lined for my taste, and whose social views I absolutely hated. But I cannot completely vilify the man bc he also was a champion of the 4th Amendment & the Confrontation Clause, which are extremely significant legal areas.

I hope that whoever replaces him upholds the good things Scalia brought to the Court while also doing better in areas that Scalia was lacking.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

So exciting!!!

I have a first-round interview w/ the federal PD office!!! I'm so over the moon that they are even interested in me enough to want to interview me. It would be absolutely incredible if I were to get the position. Even if I don't, being picked for an interview with the feds is SO cool!

Here's hoping!

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

More about DWI cases

To the person who wrote me a recent comment that I'm not going to publish, I want to say thank you so much for what you said. It was really touching & lifted my otherwise-rather-glum spirits. Thank you for taking the time to reach out & tell me your thoughts. It meant a lot.

In rather exciting news, a case from Minnesota has been picked up by the United States Supreme Court!!! This is probably the closest I'll ever get to being at SCOTUS, so I'm nerding out about it. It's even a case I've talked about to you all! It's the Bernard case involving whether or not the state can make it a crime to refuse to submit to a dwi test. I've voiced my opinion that I think it's wrong to charge a person with a crime for not consenting to a search. And the law in Minnesota on this topic continues to be a moving target. The court of appeals recently held that the state cannot make it a crime to refuse to provide a blood sample. The Bernard decision had dealt with breath samples--it's ok for the state to charge you with a crime if you refuse a breath sample.

So, presently, here's what we know on this topic:

If you're arrested for a dwi & refuse to provide a breath sample, you can be charged with test refusal.

If you're arrested for a dwi & refuse to provide a blood sample, you can't be charged with test refusal.

If you're arrested for a dwi & refuse to give a urine sample, who the hell knows? The courts haven't decided this yet.

To make the cluster even more fucked, the statute says that if a cop first asks for a blood sample & the person refuses, a urine or breath test must be offered instead and if a cop first asks for a urine sample & the person refuses, a blood or breath test must be offered. So you can refuse some tests but not others & some we don't know if you can refuse & sometimes the cops have to offer you a different test which you may or may not be able to refuse.

So. That's fun. Good luck trying to understand that mess.

The right to refuse the blood test causes the most trouble for drug-dwi cases, when it's not alcohol that's the issue, it's drugs. Unlike alcohol, you can't smell it on someone & it doesn't show up on a portable breath test. And many of the "possibly high" indicators are also "possibly medically related" indicators. I had a dwi case once where the police thought it had been drugs, but turned out the guy had had a seizure. Slow cognition, droopy eyelids, confusion, garbled speech...hard to say what causes that without a tox screen of the blood. And any defense attorney with half a brain would be able to get a case like that either outright dismissed or to win at trial if there's no proof of any drugs in the person's system. In the past if a person refused to give a blood sample, they'd still get charged with a crime for refusing. (The most ridiculous parts of the test refusal statute are that 1. The penalty for refusing is almost always more severe than failing the test, so ACTUALLY DRIVING WHILE INTOXICATED is less serious than not giving a sample and 2. Yo can be charged with & convicted of a dwi-test refusal even if you were 100% sober. So combine those two stupid things and you wind up with the possibility that a completely sober person who values their civil liberties & refuses to consent to a sample gets a gross misdemeanor dwi-test refusal charge with the possibility of a year in jail, while an actually intoxicated person driving with a BAC of .15 gets charged with a misdemeanor dwi with the possibility of 90 days in jail. Way to keep our roads safe, legislators!!!!)

The easiest fix to all of this is to just make cops get a warrant for a blood, breath, or urine sample. Then there's no arguments to be had about the test refusal law & what type of tests you can or can't refuse, etc. When I get a case w/ a warrant involved, my immediate reaction is, "well shit" bc most of the time, that will prevent any 4th Amendment arguments about unlawful searches or seizures. All that terrible, horrible, damning evidence that tanks any case we may have gets to all come in. And the thing I challenge the most during pretrial hrgs is warrantless searches (and not to brag, but I win a lot of those, too. Bc I'm a badass.). So, the quickest & easiest way to head off all these issues w/ dwi tests is to just get a damn warrant authorizing the police to collect a blood, breath, or urine sample.

However, the police & the state & the courts strongly dislike this option. Dwi cases make up a large chunk of criminal cases. And the state gets a shitload of money on the cases. On a misdemeanor dwi case, you can expect a $300-400 fine, $80-85 in "court costs" (aka your fee for using the court system), a $25 alcohol assessment fee (which goes to the state and not to the place where you get an alcohol assessment done), and a $680 license reinstatement fee. That's a lot of money. And it goes up from there. If your test is high enough, you pay the state $680 and you have to get an ignition interlock device installed in your car, which is a few hundred dollars & get the device read every month, which costs at least $100 each time. So, dwi cases are cash cows.

Yes, yes, I realize that drunk driving is a problem & people get hurt or killed. In law school one of my roommates was t-boned by a drunk driver & almost didn't make it. She ended up in a coma for 3 months & had yrs of rehab & still has ongoing problems from it. So I GET IT.

Still, dwi cases are a bankroll for the state. And if the police were required to get warrants, that would slow them down, although with the availability of telephone warrants now, not that much. And it's inconvenient. A lot of dwi arrests occur after bar close or on the weekends. Judges don't want to get constant 3:00 a.m. phone calls to issue warrants.

The fact that it's inconvenient or slows things down doesn't trump the 4th Amendment. At least, it shouldn't. And the courts have said that in the past. But when it comes to dwi cases, that doesn't seem to matter.

So, the answer to the problems w/ the test refusal cluster is "get a warrant" but since the legislature & courts don't like that solution, we get a giant mess. But now that SCOTUS has the Bernard case, hopefully we'll get some clarity.


Sunday, December 06, 2015

Staying afloat

To start, a message for the people who have been leaving me hateful/hurtful comments lately--1) I have comment moderation turned on, so I have to approve your comments before they actually get posted, so no one will ever see your mean words because I'll never approve them. 2) If you dislike me so much, stop reading my blog. Seems fairly simple to me. 3) I actually don't care whether you approve of me or not, so if it means that much to you to say awful things anonymously via the internet, knock yourself out. Seems extremely petty to me, but you do whatever you need to make yourself feel better. 

Moving on...

As I've expressed on here, I'm struggling with my depression pretty badly lately.  I've had my medication dose increased and I've been doing the stuff to try to help myself through this rut--doing things that make me happy like sewing and painting and drawing, spending time with my friends and family, listening to/watching stand-up comedy, working out and eating well, etc. It's definitely better than when I was last going through a serious bout of depression, during my divorce, when all I did was sleep and work and cry and wake up every morning wishing I had died in my sleep.  So, on the positive note, I have learned from my divorce-induced depression stage how to cope with my depression periods much better and how to take care of myself during these periods. At least that's one positive. 

That being said, I really think I need to make a change and get out of this location I'm currently in. I don't particular enjoy living in rural Minnesota, especially when almost all my friends and family live rather far away from me. I would much prefer to live in the metro area. And I think I need to live in the metro area closer to the people I love in order for my mental health to be stable. I feel like if I can get back to the metro, my mental health situation will be much better. Of course,e I'll deal with depression no matter where I'm living. It's just part of who I am, like my thyroid condition or my hypersomnia.  It's just a part of me. I know that I will have difficult periods in the future. But I also know that certain things can aggravate my depression and make it much harder to cope. And one of the major things right now is that I live so far away from people that I care about and that I live in a location that I don't want to be living in. I don't enjoy living in rural areas. I like the city. I feel happiest in the city. 

I live out here because of my job. I love my job and I love my office and the people I work with. I have a fantastic group of people that I am lucky to not only have as co-workers, but also as my friends. I know that I have been extremely fortunate to have these people in my life. But, the only thing I have out here is work and that's not what I want my entire life to be about. Of course, being a public defender is a huge, important part of my life that I wouldn't want to give up, but it can't be the only thing in my life. And right now, it is. Because everything else is too far away. So, I need to be back in the metro. I need to be closer to my family especially. My poor mental health is affecting my ability to do my job, because I am having a hard time focusing on some days and I have difficulty lately feeling motivated. I don't get the same excitement about stuff the way I typically do when I am not dealing with feeling depressed.

Getting out of rural Minnesota is a necessity at this point. All I want to do is be a public defender and also be closer to my friends and family. I don't want to have it be either work or the rest of my life. I want the areas of my life to be in harmony together. 

In the meantime, I am working on trying to keep my head above water and not give in to the sadness and hopelessness that comes with depression. I am trying to make it through each day.