Profiles in Happenstance

Chasing Truth, Catching Hell turns one year old today. A surprising amount has happened since then; my cathartic creative writing project is now featured on the ABA Journal’s “blawg” roll and has hundreds (plural!) of readers. An amazing community of bloggers, lawyers, writers, and informed citizens has visited Chasing Truth over the past 12 months.

Many stumble upon Chasing Truth through search engine queries. In furtherance of this blog’s goals of educating and entertaining its readership, I will attempt to answer the questions that many of Chasing Truth’s readers have been trying to answer with the help of the internet.

“How to win a Romero Motion.” This reader is a public defender (or intern) sitting in front of an office computer. His client faces a life sentence under California’s Three Strikes law. In a Romero motion, the public defender will, essentially, beg for mercy in the face of his client’s love of drugs and/or violence. In utter desperation, he has consulted Google for answers. Google doesn’t know how to win a Romero motion. Unfortunately, the only sure way to win a Romero motion is to defy the laws of physics and travel backwards in time to stop your client from having a record. If this is not possible, the public defender will simply have to plumb the depths of his client’s life story, find the shiniest nuggets of redeeming humanity, and convince a judge that the remainder of his client’s human worth is so precious that the drafters of the Three Strikes law would never have wanted the client to serve a life sentence.

In all seriousness, best of luck.

“What happened to Demontes Wright?” This reader is an idealistic young lawyer whose friend has a job in asbestos litigation that allows him to subscribe to HBO. Young Lawyer invites herself over to watch Gideon’s Army, an excellent documentary on public defenders. Gideon’s Army is the story of three intrepid public defenders in the South who war for their clients’ freedom against a drought of resources and a flood of indigent clients. During the climax of the film, public defender Brandy Alexander argues that her client, Demontes Wright, could not have been the man who robbed the liquor store in question. I’m sorry that the plague tornado knocked out the electricity before this reader could see the end, but rest assured that Ms. Alexander won her client’s freedom, despite the ease with which her innocent client could have lost ten years of his life in prison.

Related search: “Travis Williams public defender Georgia.” This reader has the bad luck of being accused of a crime in Georgia, and is desperately hoping that Gideon’s Army super lawyer Travis Williams will be his public defender.

“Are my rights violated if I can’t even go to the bathroom, but they say you’re not even under arrest and police interrogate me without reading me my Miranda rights?” This reader has been questioned by police to the point of physical discomfort. However, in deciding whether his rights have been violated, the question is not whether the reader felt free to leave. The question is whether the reasonable, prudent, Yale-educated Supreme Court justice would have felt free to leave under similar circumstances. If a member of the Ivy League ruling class would feel free to waltz out the door of the police station, this reader should too. If a cop has told this reader that he can’t use the bathroom, he is being detained. If this ever happens to you, stop talking immediately. In all honesty, consider soiling yourself to prove just how trapped you feel.

“Getting help for your client on remand” The good news is that this reader finally got a referral from that business card that he taped above the urinal in the bathroom that adjoins the visitor’s lobby at the local jail. The bad news is that now this client expects his money’s worth. This means that unless the attorney can lower his client’s bail, the client will not be able to make more money to pay the lawyer. This will oblige the lawyer to waive preliminary hearing and then dump his client on the public defender once the case is set for trial.

This reader needs to get his leased Audi out of the nearby parking garage very, very quickly. I know a number of reckless teenage vandals.

“Can a good lawyer get you out of anything?” This reader has hired the lawyer described in the paragraph above. Never underestimate the private bar’s willingness to sell a client an enema of sunshine in lieu of honest legal representation.

“How do you win a Marsden motion?” Unfortunately, I wouldn’t know anything about that. Best of luck to you. Indigent criminal justice reform needs to take place nationwide. People who commit crimes in my county are lucky to have such good representation. But I want everyone in America to have access to the same high quality level of defense. Protecting the rights of our most vulnerable citizens protects the rights of everyone.

“People in jail for drug addictions ‘leave a comment’” County jail is a terrible, smelly, occasionally violent, and perpetually depressing place. Its callow corrections officers are not interested in making any of its tenants into a better person. Maybe this reader needs to write a Yelp review?

“Movies about chasing something and never catching it” Thanks for stumbling upon my blog by accident. I really do appreciate the additional readership. I’m sure that somewhere, out there, is a Zooey Deschanel movie with your name on it.

“Can I add a profile to the Megan’s Law website.” This impish prankster has a great idea for getting his chemistry teacher fired. Unfortunately, these gates of hilarity are blocked by Department of Justice firewalls.

“Crystal meth cannot climax” Not to be an insufferable optimist, but some would say that this is a feature of crystal meth, not a drawback.

“Public defender burnout.” This reader is likely a public defender, and she was probably scheduled to spend a full day cross-examining tearful victims in an all-day preliminary hearing. This reader welcomed the excuse not to check the blinking light on her phone that tells her that she has yet another unhappy call to return. This reader may well be deliberately postponing that life-sentence case that he just cannot bear to try until another attorney takes over his calendar. Or, this reader may have the burden of being someone who works hard without complaining. His public defender’s office may have rewarded this work ethic by giving him some terrible, thankless, high-volume court calendar that the squeakier wheels refuse to do (and somehow get away with doing so).

For what its worth, I’ll bet that this reader is doing a great service to her clients. I will also wager that most of her clients think so too. We love you. Honest. You are why we need student loan forgiveness for government servants. Being able to pay bills every month without excessive anxiety would really help with preventing burnout, would it not?

“Pretenders drink while you’re at it.” This is clearly one of those Zen riddles that one ponders while hoping that his coworkers have not noticed the third vodka soda that he has ordered during the weekly office happy hour. This reader is cheating by searching the internet for answers.

A confession to friends of this blog; I never expected to still be adding to this site one year later. You make me want to keep writing. I reserve the right to broach this blog’s anonymity when I need to plug my first legal thriller; until then, I remain your secret admirer.

Respectfully Submitted,

Norm DeGuerre

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Meet Your Neighbors

Here’s a fun exercise for you readers in California. Go to this link:

http://www.meganslaw.ca.gov/search_main.aspx?searchtype=zipcode&lang=ENGLISH

And when you do, enter your ZIP code in the box to the far right of the screen. Be sure to select the “map” option for viewing your results.

See those little blue squares on the map? Each one represents a person in your area who is required to register as a convicted sex offender. Try clicking one of the boxes. Ew! Look at that creeper’s mugshot! Look at what he was convicted of doing! Afterward, grab every minor within arm’s reach, run to your concrete panic room, throw the bolts, and keep your 12-gauge aimed at the door. Because that’s what you feel like doing, right? I mean, there are incurable pedophiles everywhere! Surely the local used car dealerships are fielding countless inquiries about windowless vans and ice cream trucks.

However, even if you take these measures, sex offender registration has not and will not make you or your children safer.

“Megan’s Law” is the popular phrase used to describe a set of laws that requires people convicted of certain “sex offenses” to register with the state. Registered sex offenders (RSOs) must inform local law enforcement of their current address within five days of their birthdates or within five days of acquiring a new address (whichever comes first in a given year). Local law enforcement must notify neighbors if an RSO moves into their neighborhood. Some laws prohibit RSOs from living within a certain radius of a school.
“Megan’s Law” is named for  a young girl in New Jersey who was sexually assaulted and killed by a convicted sex offender living in her own neighborhood. Megan’s father used this tragedy to lobby (successfully) for laws that would alert parents of convicted predators moving to their neighborhood.

However, senseless tragedy is rarely vulnerable to sweeping preventative measures designed to make people “feel safe.” Here are some of the folks whom I have represented who – despite being registered sex offenders with profiles on the Megan’s Law website, are no more or less likely to be after your kid.

I. The Live-in Abuser
The overwhelming majority of child sexual abuse happens at the hands of someone the child knows. The father. The step-father. The live-in uncle. The mentally-disturbed older brother. The swim coach. The chances of a child being abused by a stranger with a van, raincoat, and lost puppies that need finding are astronomically small; chances are much greater that you’ve already invited and welcomed the abuser into your life. And chances are even greater that this person is not (yet) on the Meghan’s Law website.

Otherwise, why would you allow such a creep into your child’s life?

II. The Jailbaited
Sometimes parents receive uncomfortable reminders that their minor daughters have the bodies of grown women, and are thus attractive to grown men who are not pedophiles. Having sex with a 16-year-old will probably not get you on the Megan’s Law website so long as you are not more than ten years older than she is.

However, if the sixteen-year-old who you met through your community sports league sends you the following text message:

“O hai. Want 2 see my boobz?”

And if your response is anything other than an emphatic, all-caps NO, you will have just solicited child pornography. If she sends you a picture of herself, topless, in front of the bathroom mirror making a sideways “peace” sign and ducklips, you are now in possession of child pornography. Remember to let the police department know within five days of changing your address!

And although this person now has plenty of free time during the day now that he is effectively unemployable, he’s not lurking near jungle gyms looking for prey. No child is safer…unless the child is a post-pubescent with the thirst for exhibitionism that comes having too many parents skipping too many piano recitals during childhood.

III. The Transient
Mental illness, drug addiction, poor hygiene, and Megan’s Law are patches in the sad quiltwork of reasons why a registered sex offender might have no residence at all. Some localities are more restrictive than others. Local ordinances in San Diego were recently found unconstitutional; since no part of San Diego is fewer than 1000 yards from a school, local laws effectively banished all RSOs from the city limits.

Some manage to find apartments or trailer homes outside of town…often finding other RSOs as roommates. But others sleep under bridges, or in doorways, or on the streets. I’m not necessarily asking you to find sympathy for these people, but doesn’t this completely undermine the intended purpose of sex offender registration?

In California, transient sex offenders must register as transients every thirty days. Sometimes local prosecutors – in their zeal to prosecute those who violate the terms of their sex offender registration – will prosecute transients who habitually sleep under the same stairway for too many nights per month on the theory that they have developed a “concurrent address” that must be registered; failing to re-register in a timely manner is a felony offense in its own right.

And so prosecutors provide a perverse incentive for transient sex offenders to not seek shelter. Is anyone safer when more and more people don’t have a permanent address?

I have many more things to say about the accidents that happen when voters amend our criminal sentencing laws through ballot initiative and popular vote, but that may be for a future post.

Respectfully Submitted,
Norm DeGuerre