Monday, June 04, 2018

Domestic Abuse No Contact Orders are a well-intentioned but poorly-executed idea.

Minnesota has this thing called a Domestic Abuse No Contact Order, aka DANCO, that a prosecutor can request & a judge can issue whenever there is a charge of domestic assault or related offense. These orders are almost always issued at the defendant's first appearance & they are issued in almost every case.

These orders are well-intentioned, because they are meant to try to keep an alleged victim safe from harm. In practice, they are poorly-executed shit shows that create a multitude of problems. Why? Let's discuss.

Generally the time frame between someone being arrested & then being in court is fairly quick & it's not always possible for the prosecution to get in touch with the alleged victim to see if she wants a DANCO or not. In those cases, the prosecutor always asks for one & the judge always grants it.

Additionally, even if the alleged victim doesn't want the order, the prosecutor can still request one & the judge more often than not grants it.

In either case, the order is almost always a blanket prohibition from any kind of contact whatsoever for any reason. This also includes third-party contact. And this is where the trouble is.

First of all, if the alleged victim doesn't want the order but it still gets put in place, that is setting the defendant up to fail. That order IS going to be violated. Repeatedly. Because, think about & your partner want to be in contact with each other, you have kids together, live together, you love each other, you talk to each other every day, & then suddenly one day, a judge tells you that you have to pretend this other person that you love & have a life with doesn't exist anymore. You think you could do that? How about when your partner calls you or texts you, saying they miss you & they kids miss you & could you come by for a visit?

I get that abusive relationships aren't healthy relationships, but that doesn't mean the couples' feelings for each other are any less strong or intense than a healthy relationship. The fact is that if two people are in love & have a life together, the chances that they are going to be okay with the court suddenly severing that is slim to none.

If she wants the order, that's a different story. But a decent chunk of the alleged victims don't want the orders but the orders are still in place.

So that's one problem.

The other problem is related & arises when the orders are put in place without knowing what the alleged victim wants or over her objection. It's a complete & total shut down on all communication of any type. For any reason.

I frequently hear clients express concerns about how they will be able to pay for the things they have typically paid for for the family or provide childcare for the kids while the alleged victim works. So either he works & pays the rent, insurance, groceries, etc. or he stays home with the kids so she can work. Both people are needed to make the household function. Except now he's removed by court order. So if she works, she no longer has childcare. So then she loses her job. Then the bills can't get paid.

Or he is working still but has no way of getting her the money to pay for things. The orders always prohibit defendant from having contact and from going to the residence. That means he can't wait for a time for her to be gone out of the house & slip a check or an envelope of money under the door for her. That means he can't put it in the mailbox. He also isn't allowed to mail it to her, to email her to arrange a way for her to get the money, to text her about it, or to have someone else give her the money. So, the alleged victim no longer has a reliable source of income to support her & the kids. Can't pay rent, insurance, buy groceries, etc. She & the kids are now without the necessities of life. If she contacts him to arrange for him to provide money to support the family & he responds in any way, he faces legal consequences. So in an attempt to protect alleged victims, the court system ends up hurting them.

Judges are frequently reluctant to issue a DANCO that is anything other than a blanket prohibition from any kind contact. No judge wants to find out that she allowed some contact between the two & then an alleged victim was injured or killed. That's understandable. And it's understandable that the judicial system should have some way of intervening in potentially dangerous situations & preventing harm. But a blanket prohibition in a DANCO doesn't seem to be doing what it is meant to do: protect alleged victims from future harm.

The legal system loves sledgehammer solutions. They don't serve justice, however. Instead, the legal system needs to be nuanced & tailored to the needs of the people in the system.

Why can't we have DANCOs that allow for 3rd party contact to coordinate financial support or other family needs? Why can't we have DANCOs that expire after a few weeks, so there is a "cooling off period" that the prosecutors say is the purpose of these orders, but doesn't sever the family's arrangements for childcare or jobs, etc? Why can't we make DANCOs more tailored to the ends which they are meant to achieve, protecting from harm? Being suddenly cut off from all financial support is harmful.

And if the alleged victim doesn't want the DANCO, I think it makes more sense to not order it, except in rare circumstances when there is serious injury or the alleged victim is a minor. When the alleged victim is an adult, she's capable of making decisions for herself. And if she says she doesn't want a DANCO, she likely has her reasons, financial or otherwise. Who knows their own life better than her? Ordering a DANCO over the objection of the alleged victim simply sets the defendant up for failure.

I have seen DANCO violation charges (not necessarily in my cases, but in the system generally) for things like:

A father allowing his 17 year old son who had run away from mom a week before stay at his house & have something to eat & then texted mom to let her know son was safe. Son & mom were both alleged victims that dad was prohibited from having contact with. Feeding his son, giving him a place to stay after a week on the streets, & notifying mom where son was were all violations & the dad was charged.

A husband who was unable to have contact with the wife or the residence who went in the middle of the night to put oil in the wife's car, because he had always done it for her & knew she wouldn't know to do it on her own. He went at night so as to not have direct contact with her, but a neighbor saw & he was charged.

A man answering a call from his girlfriend after she had texted him that she was suicidal & needed to talk to him. The state found out & charged the man.

A guy who used his mom to provide money to his baby mama to help with the finances. He gave money to his mom, she then gave it to the baby mama. Again, the state found out & the guy got charged.

And one of the most common occurrences...the alleged victim is voluntarily in the car/on the bus/at a public function/etc. with the other person & they end up being seen by police. Traffic violation. Officer on the same bus or at the same location & sees them together. Something like that.

We have people getting charged for a trying to support loved ones or responding to potentially dangerous situations or the alleged victim wanted to be with them. We have people in need of money or support that can't access it. We need to have better ways of keeping alleged victims safe without completely upending their lives & leaving them without resources they need.

Sadly I don't expect that they will ever happen. There is no desire from judges or prosecutors or advocacy agencies to formulate a more nuanced response. A lot of the mentality from these groups is that the alleged victim should leave the relationship & sever all contact in the future.That's not always realistic for people or what they want to do. And if they have kids together, that's going to be almost impossible to do. They are very likely going to either still be in a relationship or still have some contact bc of the kids. The system needs to find better ways of handling these situations. But I'm not holding out much hope.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Three months

I've been at my new job & in my new apt for three months now. It's been so good. Better than I imagined it would be!

I like my office a lot. My co-workers are wonderful & funny & awesomely supportive. My bosses are good & let me do my thing. There are a lot of judges so I get variety in who I'm appearing in front of instead of constantly being in front of the same two or three judges. I have a smaller caseload. I have a ton more options for lunch!

I got a kickball team together with my officemates & we play in a league on Tuesday nights. We are pretty rough since it's our first season but we have so much fun it doesn't matter that we aren't really good. We just have fun. And one of my teammates calls me coach now, so that's pretty funny.

My apartment is great, although my neighbors both upstairs & around can be a bit aggravating at times. But that is neighbors, so oh well. I have a whole room dedicated just to my sewing & arts. I have a backyard & a little mini porch & the kitties have tons of space to run around & places to nap.

Since the beginning of 2018, I haven't had any real major depressive episodes & I have felt really good overall. Not every day is fantastic but overall I have more good days than bad.

I'm happy. I don't know how long that will last, but I am grateful for it while it is here. It is a nice change of pace from the way I felt for so long.

Three months. It's feels like it's been both almost no time at all & a long time.

I've even had my first jury trial in my new location! It was a First Degree Drugs case & my client was facing a minimum of 109 months of convicted. It took the jury less than a hour & they came back with a big NG!! My client had been in jail for about 3.5 months & he got to finally go home. And I found out it was the first time that prosecutor has ever lost a trial. So that was a great way to make my entrance!

Things are good. I'm happy. And that's enough for now.

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?!?!

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.