Sunday, March 31, 2013

Life in trial

There is a fairly decent chance that I will be in trial this week. On Friday, my case was the second one on the list, meaning that if the first case resolves, my case will be up.

Being in trial is a unique experience. For me and most attorneys I know, everything else in life sort of stops. Like you hit the pause button on your life. All other cases disappear. You have only one client, the trial client. Everyone else is nonexistent during that time.

The same is true for your personal life. Everything is secondary to trial. No social events, no church events, no errands, nothing. Just trial.

Basically when handling a trial, it's like signing up to work every minute of the day minus when you are sleeping. During the day, you are in trial. During the breaks, you are reviewing your case, planning your questions, thinking of how to best present things, etc. There is no "break." Just trial work while the jury goes pee. Same for lunch. Shove something down your gullet while working.

After the work day, you continue to work. You plan and prep and practice. In the shower, you're practicing your open and closing statements. You are practicing your motion argument in the car. It consumes every minute of your life. You go to bed too late and wake up too early. You are never thinking about anything but trial.

So finding out that I'm going to be in trial is both good and bad. I enjoy a good trial. It's the ultimate in "being a lawyer." My very own Law & Order moment. But I also know that my life will be taken over that week and I will no longer have the ability to do anything else except trial.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

You get a speedy trial, you get s speedy trial...EVERYONE gets a speedy trial!!

What would happen if every defendant demanded a speedy trial all on the same day?

Currently the judicial system in Minnesota works on the premise that most defendants are willing to give up their constitutional right to a speedy trial. With the exception being people unable to post bail, that premise is usually true. But what if it weren't?

It's an interesting question. No part of the system is adequately funded. Not the court itself, not the court admin, not the PDs, not the prosecutors, and not the crime lab. There isn't enough money to fully staff most of these areas. We all do the best we can with what we have and we make it work. But if every defendant demanded a speedy trial, the system would explode.
In MN, once a defendant makes a speedy demand, the court must have their trial within 60 days. The exception to this rule would be if a person is in custody on a misdemeanor offense-then the time drops down to 10 days (the max sentence on a MN msd is 90 days and our state says you do 2/3rds of your time, which would mean if someone had to wait 60 days in jail on a msd, they would have served the max sentence they could get if convicted. So, they made it 10 days for a speedy msd trial).

Best case scenario: 60 days is 8 weeks. If the trials are very quick, a court might be able to squeeze in 2 trials a week. Assuming 2 trials/week that is 16 speedy trials per judge. In the rural counties, the average number of judges is 2-3. So, if every judge was presiding over speedy trials, that would be 32-48 trials that would be within the speedy time frame.

I have quite a few more cases than 48. So does every public defender I know. Some have close to 200.

Of course, the rules provide that the speedy trial date can be continued for another 60, so that it starts within 120 days of the demand for a speedy trial, but that can only happen if there is good cause. You know what is not considered good cause, according to the MN Supreme Court and Court of Appeals? Court schedule congestion. "Too busy with too many cases" doesn't fly, says the Courts. So, that option wouldn't be available.

So, we are a three judge county and we can do 48 trials in 60 days. Assuming they are quick and uncomplicated. What happens to all the other cases? The ones that can't be held within 60 days? Those people can start filing motions to have the case dismissed. They probably won't get granted, at least not on day 61, but if they delay is too long they will. And if they are in jail waiting for the trial and they don't get a speedy, they are entitled to be released without posting any bail.

Another side effect would be that no other type of case would be heard. No civil cases would be able to be on the calendar because every judge would constantly be presiding over trials.

And, since the crime lab is underfunded and back logged, unless they somehow magically had enough time and people to do all the needed testing, it's inevitable that on some cases, the state wouldn't have test results back from the forensic crime lab in time for trial. There would be a real possibility that they would show up for trial without DNA results, fingerprint analysis, drug testing, etc. completed. Which makes proving cases beyond a reasonable doubt very hard, especially when the defense attorney hammers on the lack of forensic evidence in the case (which we do when we can. I've won cases at trial on that argument and when we talked to the jury, the lack of testing despite the availability of material to test sunk the state's case). The lab can currently accommodate requests to rush a particular test because not everything is speedy. But what if everything was? They couldn't possibly keep up with the demand. No area of the justice system could.

That is the fatal flaw in the whole thing...we operate on the assumption that a vast majority of defendants will waive their speedy trial rights. Legislatures fund the system without realizing that, should people choose to demand that the government abide by their speedy trial right, the entire system would collapse under the weight of complying. Sure, some metro areas have more than 3 judges and could handle more trials in that 60 days, but the number of judges a county has its based on how many cases it has. So while more trials could be heard in 60 days, more cases would not be heard in those counties since they just have more on a regular basis.

It's dangerous to fund a system based on everyone giving up their speedy trial right. We should fund ALL areas of the judicial system with the assumption that people won't give up that right, to ensure we could handle the volume if they don't. Right now, it would be too easy to cause a widespread systemic failure, simply by asking that the judicial system honor the constitutional right to a speedy trial. That is a very precarious way to balance the system.

It has not ever happened (yet) but it is certainly interesting to think about what would occur if it did.

To make the hypothetical even more messed up, imagine what would happen if everyone demanded a speedy trial AND the PDs office had to furlough every PD for a few months because they didn't have funding. So, no attorneys for all these speedy trials... I think the technical term for that would be a "clusterf*ck."

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Bits & bites & everything nice (well, maybe not that nice)

I am trying to make sure to twat every day. That is the correct term for posting on Twitter, yes? Twatting? I am up to 6 followers, so I feel pretty important.

Found out that one of my fav prosecutors is leaving and going to work @ the USAO. Which is sad, but also really cool for him. And now if I'm ever federally indicted, I'll just call in a favor. Connections, baby!

Preachers' Daughters on Lifetime is my new dirty television obsession. If you aren't watching it yet, you should be. It's teenage girls with preacher parents and the girls are crazy! I'm obsessed.

In only 26 short days, I will be 30. Which sounds crazy old to me, even though I know it isn't. But it's still the oldest I've ever been. And it sounds so grown up. Like I should be a real adult now. Do real adults wear pants all the time? Because if so, I am going to have some major issues with being a real adult. Man, pants are just so...blegh.

Ward stole my spot on the bed tonight because he is a spoiled brat. My reaction was to pet him and talk to him in baby talk about how cute he looked under the covers, all snuggly and adorbs. I just can't understand why he is so spoiled...

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Let's talk about marriage.

Today the Supreme Court heard arguments about Prop 8. Let's take a minute to talk about marriage. As someone who has been married and found myself on the painful end of a divorce, I feel like I have some experience in the marriage area.

Allowing two people who love & care for each other to get married does not, in any way, shape, or form destroy the "sanctity of marriage." In fact, it does the complete opposite by allowing two committed individuals to legally unite their lives and creates bonds that legally obligate them to take care of each other.

More marriage does not destroy the sanctity of marriage. Divorce does. Instead of funneling all this time & resources into preventing people from getting married under the guise of protecting marriage, perhaps more energy should be focused on making divorce more difficult. Protect the unity of marriage by not allowing people to get married and divorced on a whim. Eliminate the concept of a "starter marriage." Making divorce more difficult will cause people to think carefully about the choice to marry someone. People wouldn't be able to jump ship so easily, calling it quits on marriage like it was an old pair of shoes they are tired of.

The hypocrisy of claiming to be in support of marriage without actually doing one single thing to protect marriage from being little more than something to do until you get bored with the other person absolutely infuriates me.

You seriously want to protect marriage? Then make divorces harder to obtain before you go around limiting who can get married. Deal with the staggering divorce rate first and then maybe that BS argument about protecting marriage might sound less like a compete lie to cover homophobia and more like a legitimate belief. I still won't agree with your position on gay marriage, but at least I won't think you are doing lip service without any real action. I can respect someone with a different opinion as long as they stand behind that opinion and really mean it.

Prevent divorce from being the instant go-to when things get dull or rocky and then we can talk. Until then, don't talk to me about protecting marriage.

Monday, March 25, 2013

I give, I give...

Ok so CB keeps telling me I need to get a Twitter account for my blog. I don't get how to use Twitter at all. But I caved into peer pressure and signed up.

You are welcome to follow me, but don't expect too much from it. I don't even know what a hashtag is used for.


I am already confused...

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Television in real life

So I'm sort of obsessed with watching true crime shows and documentary-style shows where they go inside real prisons in America and interview inmates and officers, etc. Because apparently I don't get enough of this stuff in my work life...

Anyway, as I watch these shows, I am always amazed at how much time people get sentenced to in other states. Like I was watching one the other day where the guy was in  state prison for selling drugs and his sentence was 75 years. 75 YEARS?! I don't think it's even possible to get a 75 year sentence in Minnesota without some special circumstances. First degree murder will get you life in prison w/o the possibility of parole.  Otherwise, unless there is some aggravating factors, the sentencing grid in Minnesota tops out around 480 months (40 years).

Another one I saw was an 18 year old kid who was in prison for the first time was there for an aggravated robbery. His sentence was 25 years. The presumed sentence in Minnesota for a first time offender convicted of aggravated robbery is 4 years.

So, is Minnesota excessively lenient? Or are other states excessively harsh?

Also, in a similar vein, I happened to be watching "Snapped" on Oxygen (shhh, don't judge me) and it was a new episode. I was only half paying attention until I heard the narrator say, "In 2010, in Lake Crystal, Minnesota..." And then it had my full attention. Minnesota is never mentioned in these type of shows, so I was fascinated. It was an interesting episode, until it got towards the end, when the show was covering the outcome of the murder charges and the narrator said, "Prosecutors offered to take the death penalty off the table if the defendant would plead guilty."

(Insert record scratch noise here)

Fact-check fail. Minnesota doesn't have the death penalty, so the prosecutors didn't offer that unless they were being facetious. Or aholes. In either case, it wouldn't have been s legitimate offer.

Way to go, "Snapped."

Wednesday, March 20, 2013


I just found out that I've got to represent a juvenile on a CHIPS file. CHIPS means Child In Need of Protection or Services. It is different than juvenile delinquency stuff.

I know exactly nothing about CHIPS cases. I probably know more about contract law than CHIPS. So this should be interesting........

Monday, March 18, 2013

Hug a public defender day

Fifty years ago today, the landmark case Gideon v. Wainwright was decided by the US Supreme Court. That court unanimously decided in that case that for a person accused of a crime, having an attorney was a necessity, not a luxury, and that if a defendant was too poor to afford one, then the court would appoint one @ public expense. The public defender was born.

The promise of Gideon is still lacking because of terrific underfunding and lack of resources. But the work done by public defenders is a vast majority of the work done in criminal courts.

We win trials for clients. We win motions for our clients. We argue for sentencing that will help our clients get the treatment they need that cannot be received in jail or prison. We negotiate with prosecutors to get charges reduced or dismissed. We explain to our clients what their options are, what will happen at their next court date, and what they can expect.

I've had six cases dismissed at or before the omnibus hearing. In one case, a terrified defendant with no criminal history at all was charged with felony aiding an offender. The law requires that the "offender" being "aided" must have committed a felony offense. In this case, the offender was wanted for misdemeanor warrants, so my client clearly was not guilty of this crime. But the prosecutor & the court had missed that requirement in the statute. After a bit of discussion with the prosecutor, the case was eventually dismissed.

My client didn't speak any English.  My client was poor. My client was facing a felony charge. My client would not have been able to hire a lawyer and certainly could not have discussed this statute with the prosecutor on their own. The promise in Gideon came to fruition in this case.

This is just one example of the work we do every day to protect the rights of the citizens, to ensure fair processes in court, and to help people in need. We have a long way to go still to achieve all that Gideon stands for, but we are fulfilling it in some very big ways.

We get called names, get told we aren't real attorneys, get punched by angry defendants, get scolded by impatient courts, and generally are not really well-received by the public. But, I am incredibly proud to be a member of this elite class of lawyers, defending the least among us. I hope that for every one of my clients, I am fulfilling the promise and ideals of Gideon.

Now, go hug a public defender.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Adjusting to my new work assignment

I am slowly becoming more accustomed to my new county, although I still wish I was in my old county. Nothing is wrong with the new county. It's just new and I don't like change. Plus, I miss the people in my old county. I've been there for four years. That's a long time.

But I'm adjusting to the new county. Some things are nice, like the fact that I don't have to drive to court anymore, since my new county courthouse is only a block away from my office. And the jail is closer, like a 5 minute drive if you hit all the red lights. So that is nice & saves me a lot of time.

The new county schedules things completely differently than my old county. As a crash course for non-lawyers/lawyers who work in other states with different rules, in MN, a defendant will show up to a first court date & formally be charged. This is called a Rule 5 hearing. They can apply for a PD @ this point in time. The next court date is called a Rule 8 and this is usually the first time I'm with the defendant in court.

So, now that we all know that, back to scheduling in my old county, the Rule 8 hearing was usually within a week or two of the Rule 5. Pretty soon after they appear at the Rule 5, I will meet them & be in court with them. Makes sense, since people are usually pretty freaked out @ this point in the process and want to talk to their lawyer ASAP.

However, in my new county, I got a new file in mid-January. I popped it open & looked to see when the Rule 8 was scheduled for. I actually had to double check that I had read it correctly because it said the Rule 8 was scheduled for March 25! Wowza, talk about a drastic change of pace! And that tends to be par for the course. If the defendants aren't in custody, the court dates are spread pretty far apart. If they are in custody, the court schedules them right away so they are complying with the timing requirements for in custody people. But otherwise, the court dates are spread out.

This is both good and bad. Good because I have time to focus on immediate needs clients, i.e. those who are in jail awaiting trial. So I have way more time to meet with clients at the jail and deal with them right away. I also have time to meet with out of custody clients more often, since I'm not in court so often. So those things are good. 90% of lawyering takes place outside of the courtroom, so having more non-court time to get things done is helpful, because then when I am in court, I am always well-prepared and ready to go. I think the only continuance requests I have had to make were for cases that I took over for another lawyer and the trial date was like a week away when I got the file.

The bad? I forget who my clients are and/or what the case is about. I see a court date that is a month and a half away & I read the complaint & put the file away. Then I don't think about it again for a long time because the court date isn't for awhile. So, I get phone calls from people and I think, "Who? Is this my client?" Or I see the file in my drawer & can't remember what the case is about. So that is a bit frustrating. But that is really just my brain being forgetful...

Semi-related but not really: since court is so close, I can walk there now. But that creates the issue of my pant hems dragging in the slush and snow and salt. Which is a great way to ruin dress pants. So, in the pair of pants that I sewed, I solved the problem with some fancy snap cuffs.

On the inside of the pants near the bottom, I sewed two snaps, one on each side along the seams. They are basically invisible from the outside. But, when I need to go walk outside and it's gross outside, I can just snap the cuffs up so they don't drag in the slush. It beats rolling them up, since they always unroll as you walk, or stuffing them in your boots, because they get all wrinkled at the bottom. Snap cuffs! Why hasn't anyone figured this out before?

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Sewing master

I made pants! My first pair I've ever made on my own. I am pretty excited about it.

And I don't normally stick my butt out like that. CB told me to so it would be a funny picture. She is clearly a bad influence.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Still looking and feeling good

Been a week and a half and my nails are still in good shape! Normally they would look like a hot mess by now.

I am also still feeling pretty good on a daily basis. Some days I still feel pretty down but they are happening less and less. It is a nice change of pace from feeling horrible every single day of my life.

Saturday, March 09, 2013

I prefer to limit my human interaction

So, I got a new phone recently. It has the talk-and-text feature. You know, where you can talk into the phone instead of typing out a text message.
I think that used to just be called "talking on the phone."

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Zombies and Martha Stewart

Guys, I'm running!

Ok, not exactly...but sort of... I found this phone app called Zombies, Run! 5k training. So I decided to check it out. I've done two of the missions (which is what they call workouts). The story has me training inside the base camp in order to be able to go out into the zombie infested world and grab supplies for the survivors. So no zombies yet, since I'm still inside the camp. But, I like this so far because the woman who talks to me through my headphones says things like, "Run slowly" and "Don't push yourself." I can totally get on board with that. I'm awesome at not pushing myself, especially when it comes to exercise. And you can add in your own playlist of music, so the "incoming transmissions" just pop in around your music. In my case, I listened to an episode of "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me" with Martha Stewart as the guest. She is surprisingly funny. And apparently she loves both Spam and Velveeta (both make me gag).

Also, did you know she dated Anthony Hopkins? And that she broke up with him because she couldn't stop seeing him as Hannibal Lechter? I found that hilarious.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

I'm such a wordsmith

CB and I were talking about the fact that we have double the amount of women working in the office than men. I asked, "So what is the opposite of a sausage fest?"

I decided that the opposite of a sausage fest is a clam jam.

Monday, March 04, 2013

Product review

It's been awhile since I've talked about a product that I like enough to talk about it. But, recently I have become a fan of Sally Hansen gel manicure kit. A coworker and I (Carpool Buddy, aka CB) split the cost of it. It's not terribly spendy but it was more than either of us wanted to pay if it didn't work. There are two versions. One has a mini-LED light and uses nail polish strips. That is about  $30. We got that one. The other one uses actual polish, not strips, and a bigger LED light. That one was like $120. Too much for my budget.
However, they sell replacement items for both the big and little kit. So, we bought a shade of the gel nail polish. CB used the strips and I used the polish. Since I didn't use the strips I'll just talk about the polish.
I freaking love it! I can never seem to wait long enough for my nail polish to dry and I always screw it up. This dries right after you stick your nail under the light, which lasts about 30 seconds! Amazing!
And normally I manage to somehow chip my polish in a day or two, at most. If I put my hands in water for any length of time, it's over. But this has stayed looking nice since I did it on Saturday. AND the picture I'm including in this post is what they look like after I spent an hour with my hands in water while I cleaned the bathroom. They look pristine!
So, I give this two well-manicured thumbs up. I would suggest getting the small kit and if you want to use regular polish, not the strips, buy the individual colors as you need them. Unless the bigger light is really important to you, you can get all the pieces from the big kit (minus the light) as replacement items for cheaper than buying the big kit. So, go with the little one and buy the other pieces separately.