Dear Norm: How Do You Defend Those People? (Part 3,223)

Dear Norm:

How do you defend those people?

No, I don’t mean “how can you live with yourself ensuring due process for people who have done really really bad things” or anything like that. I mean, how do you actually do it? When you have a client accused of something awful, and he/she has next to nothing by way of a defense, how do you defend them anyway?

Sincerely,

Asking for a Friend

 

Dear Asking:

This question hits close to home. As mentioned in previous posts, I’m in the midst of the most serious trial tour that I’ve ever had. Every so often, you hear a story in the news where your jaw drops and then you check the locks on all your windows and doors… and then you call your grandma to tell her to check the locks on all her windows and doors… I will spare you the details, but suffice to say I have a new client who did something very, very bad. Because he was arrested at the scene of the crime, there is no identification issue or shoddy detective work that will let me claim that someone other than my totally innocent client must have done this heinous thing.  With all of the different charges and enhancements, this client faces a sentence of more than 100 years to life.

So where does a public defender start in defending this client?

First, I mentally prepare myself for the very real possibility that I will be stuck taking this case to trial, despite the lack of defense and withering, death-ray stares that my client and I will face from the jury during the entirety of the trial. The assigned prosecutor may not want to make my client any sort of plea bargain. “This defendant is the worst of the worst,” Mr./Ms. District Attorney may say, “and he deserves nothing short of a life sentence.” This may be true, but it does not relieve me of my ethical obligation to safeguard my client’s rights unless he is offered something in exchange for giving them up. It is not in my client’s legal best interests to simply plead to a life sentence out of hopelessness, and I will never tell him to do so.

Second, I drastically recalibrate my sense of what a “victory” would be in a case like this. I assemble all of the facts that weigh in favor of conviction, find the handful of “good facts” that weighs against a particular charge/allegation, and then decide which charges or enhancements I can argue against with a straight face; even in the deeply horrendous cases, prosecutors still overreach and charge more things than they might be able to prove. Then, I ask myself “so if by some improbable happenstance I manage to beat the charges I’m contesting, what does my client get?” For the client described above, I define “victory” as beating the two enhancements that carried a mandatory life sentence so that, in theory, I can try to convince a judge not to impose a discretionary life sentence on the remaining charges. Yes, “victory” is a relative term.

Third, I must earn enough trust from this client so that if an opportunity does come for him to save his own life, he’ll heed my advice and seize that opportunity. I sit with him in the jail interview room and listen to his half-hearted denials of guilt. Rather than cross-examine him and dissect his claims for implausibility, I gently remind him that ultimately, a jury would be asked to compare the victims’ word, the medical evidence, the photographs, and the client’s first version of events that he shared with the police to this new, second version of events that he now offers me. I see his face sink, ever so slightly, with realization; I have succeeded in grounding my client in the reality of the evidence against him without moral judgement or direct confrontation.

Fourth, I must give the client something that he gets to decide for himself. Clients hurt themselves most when they feel out of control over their legal situation; such clients feel “railroaded” and see their public defender as just another piece of the machine that is pushing them toward a certain outcome. When this happens, the client resists the public defender’s advice just for the sake of resisting the process as a whole. I remind the client that the decision to go to trial and the decision to testify are his and his alone, but I also remind him that he has the power to set a more realistic goal for himself. For example, for a client looking at a life sentence, pleading to any kind of determinate prison term, even if that sentence is dozens upon dozens of years, is still better than a “life” sentence; prisoners with (theoretical) release dates are categorized differently and are housed in less restrictive settings; such a situation would still guarantee a “life” sentence as a practical matter, but the quality of that “life” in prison would be substantially better. With this in mind, I tell the client that he has the power to “offer” the district attorney a plea to many dozens of years in lieu of a life sentence in exchange for not making the victims testify in court.

Before trial is the time to get creative to do whatever I can to make my client’s experience better for him. Like I said above, any sentence with a number is better than “life.” But there might be other things to consider. A coworker once told me a story of a man accused of felony child abuse causing death, a charge that carries a sentence of 25-life. Unlike first or second-degree murder, the crime of fatal child abuse does not require any particular intent, let alone the intent to kill that is required for a murder charge. Regardless, my coworker’s client agreed to plead to one count of second degree murder. Why? Because not only does second-degree murder carry a lesser sentence (15-life), but the charge itself would guarantee a less dangerous time in prison than a charge of child abuse causing death. This was arguably a better outcome (When your cellmate asks you, “So whadda ya in for?” What would you prefer to tell him?), and the client had the clarity of mind to make this deal because it was something that he felt he had the power to do in the universe of drastically-narrowed possibilities in which he found himself.

Fifth, I can make a pitch to the District Attorney on behalf of my client. The key is to remind the DA that a person is not born with the urge to…God, I can’t even say it, but such a person can only be made. Granted, most people with terrible childhoods and mild mental retardation do not go on to do the things that my client did. However, a substantial part of my client’s childhood was spent holding a gun in a closet and listening for signs his mother’s john was getting out of control. We can’t pretend that this had no impact at all on the adult he became. I can make the argument that if my client does not deserve mercy now, he probably did at some point in his life, and the things that happened to him in between were rarely, if ever, under his control to prevent.

Sixth, if this case does go to trial, there are a handful of tricks for losing with style and dignity.

  • Consider waiving opening statement; opening statements can be treacherous things in that if you promise the jury that the evidence will sound a certain way, there is a real possibility that the evidence will come in much worse than expected. Sometimes it is best to say nothing up front, let the wave of awful wash over you, and then attempt damage control during closing argument. Also, defenses sometimes “pop up” if the district attorney screws something up.
  • During the victims’ tearful testimony, get the information you need from them as gently as possible. During closing argument, accuse the district attorney of exploiting emotion and sympathy while holding yourself out as the sober, rational alternative.
  • Make objections under the United States Constitution, and not just the California Evidence Code; maybe your client will have a chance at tying up the system in federal post-conviction litigation if he preserves a “federal issue” in the record.

 

Finally, I document every decision that I make in the case as well as the reasons for it. My client will be convicted, an appellate lawyer will be running a fine-tooth comb through the record of the trial, and if I screwed something up so badly that my representation was constitutionally defective, then appellate counsel can (and should) argue this to the appellate court. Before actually presenting this argument to the court, appellate counsel will contact  me informally and ask me questions about why I decided to conduct this client’s defense the way that I did. As unbelievable as it may sound, this will not be my last truly awful case, and not every decision or its rationale will burn itself into my mind. If can’t defend myself, my client’s next lawyer will argue that I didn’t defend my client either.

Does that sound simple enough?

 

Respectfully Submitted,

Norm DeGuerre

Criminology 201: Selected Topics in Disorganized Crime

Criminology 201: Selected Topics in Disorganized Crime

In my last post, I discussed a client whose life experience failed to square with the accepted narratives that are taught to police, probation, and corrections officers during the course of their training. I now have a vision of what it would look like if my client were given the chance to communicate his life experience in a classroom setting. If any criminal justice class actually would let this client teach the lessons that he had learned just by living his life, the final result would probably be a wonderfully educational public relations disaster for the school in question. It might climax in a conciliatory letter of some sort to the aggrieved student body, with a short explanation of how little their textbooks had prepared them to comprehend life on society’s margins.

Like this one:

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From the Office of the Academic Dean, William H. Taft Institute of Criminal Justice and Weight Loss:

A number of students who were enrolled in last semester’s Advanced Criminology seminar have petitioned for review of their grades and disclosure of the grading criteria used by last semester’s guest lecturer. Our guest lecturer has provided a complementary set of explanations for the final exam that was given at the end of the term. He hopes that you will then use the lessons contained within his explanation to  figure out what went wrong with the remainder of your assignments, and assures you that “life is hard, but it isn’t complicated.”

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Question 1: Multiple choice, choose the correct answer.

You are a probation officer supervising a juvenile ward. He is often truant from school, and his urine has never tested negative for THC, suggesting daily marijuana use. To aid in this minor’s rehabilitation, you should:

a)    Violate the minor’s probation and advocate for his detention in juvenile hall – the

       minor must cease his violations of state and federal drug laws

b)    Order the minor to enter residential drug treatment for what is clearly a crippling

       addiction to a Schedule 1 controlled substance

c)    Get the minor drug counseling and something, anything, worthwhile to do with his day

d)    Wait until he gets arrested for something more serious, and then figure it out

Half of the class chose answer choice (a), the other half chose answer choice (b). Clearly, neither half had experimented with marijuana in high school. If you had, you would know that marijuana is not a reason to skip school; the decision to skip school is made completely independently of the decision to smoke pot. School holds nothing for a huge number of these children. They often have learning disabilities, or anger problems, and largely-inherited substance abuse patterns. They need far more help to succeed in school than they receive, and many predict their own failure early and throw in the proverbial towel. And with all this free time these kids now have, why not smoke pot?

Of course teenagers shouldn’t be smoking pot. It interferes with their brain development, screws with executive functioning (very relevant for someone debating the merits of stealing a car), and creates a lifestyle that makes it very hard for them to interact with professional adults (teachers, employers, customers, etc). But pot isn’t dangerous; in fact, it has no known fatal overdose. Depriving them of freedom for smoking it is counter-productive at best, and completely self-defeating at worst. Of course, some sort of intervention is necessary, and without it, this minor will likely end up in serious legal trouble: not because of marijuana, but because of the people in his life who also happen to smoke it. Those who reside in the real world will answer with choice (c). Those who are already employed in the system might answer with choice (d), but that’s not the right answer either.

Question 2: Multiple choice, choose the correct answer

Which of the following can be considered as proof that a juvenile has joined a gang?

a)    Wearing baggy jeans

b)    Living in a neighborhood that is controlled by a gang

c)    Spraying gang graffiti on a highway overpass

d)    None of the above

To those who chose an answer other than choice (d), consider for a second that the word “gang”suggests a semi-disciplined criminal conspiracy. Wearing certain styles of clothing, even if that clothing bears the colors or logos that gangs use to identify themselves, says nothing about whether a person is a member of any such organization. Anyone can wear a certain color of clothing, and clothing can be shed at will when the social group dynamics cease to reward the teenager for wearing them.

Like conformist fashion tendencies, mindless vandalism is also common to at-risk youth. Anyone can spray anything on any surface; the vandal does not need to have been given orders to do so in micro-writing that was smuggled out of a maximum security cell block in the anus of a corrupt corrections officer.

Finally, while many gang members have the misfortune of growing up in neighborhoods that are already divided into gang rivalries, no sane person chooses to live there. People are born there, stay there, have no hope of ever leaving there, and will probably die there. These kids have roughly the same life expectancy as someone living in the Middle Ages. Gang membership is assumed by rivals just by virtue of that child’s neighborhood. Before the child knows it, he is choosing his bus routes to school so as to avoid “rival” territory. He is already suffering the drawbacks of gang membership; wanting to accept the benefits is an easy sell, especially if they have no other alternative for safety. Again, the correct answer is choice (d).

Question 3: Short answer

What does it mean to “hold someone accountable” for his actions?

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Holy shit. As often as I heard you say this during our class discussions, very few of you seem to know what this phrase actually means. Holding someone accountable doesn’t mean showing them that their actions have consequences: anyone who has witnessed a car accident understands this. It doesn’t matter how many years of prison a person receives; the Convicted does not need you to remind him, repeatedly, in varying tones and volumes, that his own actions resulted in tremendous loss to himself and others. I suspect that many of you relied – to your detriment – on the thesaurus, which lists the following as synonyms for this phrase: attack, brand, blame, denounce.

Holding someone accountable for their actions entails building empathy for those affected by their actions; these parts of the brain may have atrophied from years of mistreatment in childhood, so we need to be patient. Holding someone accountable includes teaching them about alternative choices that could have been made. Extensive work needs to be done with those who – with or without reason – felt that they had no choice in their actions. Too many of your answers would have fit on bumper stickers, let alone three lines. Put more thought into phrases that are used so frequently. And for God’s sake, stop thinking in slogans.

Question 4:

Describe a situation where a person might plea “no contest” to a crime that they did not commit.

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Again, a disappointing number of blank answers for this question. The students who confronted me about this question after class insisted that no one in their right minds would do such a thing. During the course of these conversions, I inferred that none had ever been given poor legal advice by an attorney that either did not have the time to care, the ability to care, or the retainer to care about that person’s case. A depressing number of Accused plea because, quite simply, they do not have confidence that their attorney has heard, understood, or investigated their defense. And without a defense, why wouldn’t they plea?

Do not underestimate the frightening penalties that follow trial, especially in jurisdictions where the criminal sentencing laws (and the judges tasked with imposing them) are left to popular vote. Many, many innocent people (or people who have a colorable argument for their innocence) surrender their rights simply to minimize risk.

Finally, don’t underestimate how often the district attorney uses a “devil’s bargain” to coax a plea from a defendant who has a strong defense. In fact, the deals become more irresistible as the prosecution’s case weakens. For example, a defendant who is in custody on the day of trial will find a “credit for time served” offer irresistible. An 18-year-old will plea to terrible things in exchange for minimal time. A good lawyer will sometimes advise him or her not to take the deal, but the defendant will always respond by asking, “But I get to go home today?” In California, an 18-year-old becomes a walking life sentence if the charges to which he pled happened to be “strike” offenses; his next felony case might result in a life sentence. The DA gladly cuts time up front with the expectation that they will get him later; and if his record is made serious enough early on, that “later” can last the rest of his life.

I know that the premise of this question hurt some students’ tender sensibilities, but taking my lectures seriously would have given you plenty of material for to answer this question.

Question 5: Essay

Part I: Consider the the following hypothetical. The minor described below is a ward of the juvenile delinquency court and you are his probation officer:

    Jaime is a 15-year-old high school freshman. His mother probably should not have had children until she had a stable relationship and/or living arrangement. Jaime’s mom probably should have tried to have all of her children with one person, rather than several people. Jaime’s father should have attended his domestic violence classes like his probation officer wanted to. He also shouldn’t have died when Jaime was 9 years old. Jaime’s mother should have finished her drug rehabilitation program and should not have relied as heavily upon her own mother for child care. Jaime’s mom should not have dropped out of high school, because Jaime’s mom should not have had to settle for working a graveyard shift at the front desk of a shady motel by the freeway. Even though she insists upon working this job, Jaime’s mom really should be getting home in time to make sure that Jaime and his little brother are getting to school on time.

    Jaime should never have failed his first semester of high school. Jaime should have studied harder and placed a greater emphasis on his education. Jaime should not have gotten himself suspended for fighting; Jaime should learn to control his seemingly irrational bouts of anger. Jaime should not take his anger out on his family by punching holes in the wall. Most importantly, Jaime should not be cutting class to smoke marijuana.

Part II: Please comment on the following, and show how it would influence the way you would approach Jaime’s supervision:

When you use the word “should,” you are arguing with reality.

Unfortunately, I have no sample answers to discuss because none of you attempted an answer. This was disappointing given the preoccupation that most of the class expressed concerning criminal street gangs. Several students expressed interest in stopping violent gangs, mainly because of some awful episode of Lockdown: Life on the Inside that they insisted upon mentioning in class.  However, none of you realized that little Jaime is a prime candidate for gang membership. Kids love group identity, and young men love a sense of feeling power and control.

Imagine the many, many niches in Jaime’s life that would be filled by a gang. He would have family, safety, financial opportunity, and a steady drug source within one social circle. Eventually, Jaime will get caught. He will be arrested. He will be sentenced according to the astoundingly severe sentencing laws that Californians put on the ballot. As a result, Jaime will possibly serve 10, 15, or 20 years in prison on his first case. And with nothing to do for 10-20 years, and with no social capital other than gang membership, what do you think will happen once he gets to prison? Prison gangs are the Frankenstein of California’s criminal justice scheme, and fixating on what someone should do, taking decades from their lives for things that they should not have done won’t actually fix anything.

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Well, readers? What is your answer to Question 5? How would our approach to criminal justice issues change if we addressed the real world as it is, and not how it “should” be? Anyone? Anyone?

Please share your thoughts in the comments section. I would love to hear some new ideas.

Respectfully Submitted,

Norm DeGuerre

Dear Norm…

Dear Norm:

How do you defend people when you know they are guilty?

Sincerely,

Gill T.

Dear Gill:

Believe it or not, I appreciate this question. I appreciate it every time it is asked, because it gives me the opportunity to correct what I expect are cherished misconceptions about how our “justice system” actually works.

Your question is more complex than you may have expected. There are both practical and philosophical ways to understand my duty to defend the accused.

1) Just because a client is guilty of SOMETHING doesn’t mean he’s guilty of EVERYTHING the DA has accused him of doing. On the night of their respective arrests, my clients were likely not involved in the type of activity that would be considered “innocent.” Yes, one client may have kiestered (yep, it’s a verb) several grams of crystal meth into the jail, but he insists that it was for his own “personal” use. A client may have stabbed a rival gang member in the stomach and then in the neck, but the screeching of his brakes before he jumped out of his car to do the deed shows that it was hastily-conceived murder, not “premeditated” murder. There are many ways for a DA to charge the same act, and the punishments vary wildly depending on which penal code sections they decide to hurl at my client. Often, the state will accuse my client of the most that they think they can convince a jury into believing, not what my client actually did. (So not fair!) If the DA’s office charged my clients with what they actually did, many of my clients would likely confess and thereby save a whole pile of tax dollars. Just because my client is guilty of something doesn’t mean that he’s guilty of everything he’s accused of doing. And that’s where I come in.

2) The Sixth Amendment to the US Constitution guarantees the accused the right to counsel. An additional two rights belong to the client and the client alone: the right to a jury trial (or to plea to the charges), and the right to testify (or not) at that trial. In order to make those rights more than lifeless scribblings on discolored parchment at the National Archives, the court appointed lawyer needs to table his or her tender sensibilities and find something worth saying in the event that your guilty client decides that he doesn’t want to plea. Basically, how I feel about my client is completely irrelevant to the job I have to do.

3) When you spend enough time with a person, especially in a confined space, it is fairly easy to remind yourself that this human being is not different – in any meaningful way – from every other human being that you have known. When my clients share even a tiny sliver of their life story with me, I quickly realize that very few of their personality defects or social pathologies would not have been remedied by having access to more money and at least one caring adult during their formative years. It is not uncommon for people who are abused to later abuse others or to be a victim of abuse. (This isn’t true of everyone, but the more disadvantaged a person is, the likelier this outcome will occur.) So my client beat up a rival gang member, and the other kid almost died. I admit, that’s pretty bad. But where was the “justice” system when my client’s stepdad was beating him as a 13 year old while his mom looked on? Why weren’t my tax dollars being used to educate him so that he has legitimate opportunities for employment? What “choices” did my client actually have to avoid his current situation? Answer this question again knowing that minorities are overrepresented in prison populations. Shouldn’t his punishment be reduced in proportion to our (society’s) responsibility?

I also remember that my client’s opponent is the STATE OF CALIFORNIA, which includes: a small army of police officers, several hives of district attorneys, laboratories of criminalists, and a vast reservoir of out-of-touch retirees to serve as jurors. My clients will be sentenced according to laws that were passed by ballot initiative, i.e. by voters who love double-digit sentences but hate the taxes necessary to house what will become it’s geriatric prison population with some semblance of dignity. Yeah, my client may be guilty, but in many cases the potential punishment is even more appalling than whatever crime he committed. Also, this carries more when you remember my previous point: my client’s family may have always been working against him, too. Often, I am the only person on my client’s side who is thinking of his best interest. With my juvie clients, I sometimes got the impression that I was the only adult ever to have done so.

All right, up until now, I’ve kind of avoided the question. This is because abstract existential issues don’t come up in my day-to-day assignments. In fact, the only client who ever gave me the “willies” was passed off to another lawyer when I changed assignments. But I would have defended him with my very best effort. Here’s why:

The adversarial system is in place so that innocent people are kept out of jail. I presume my clients are innocent. Even if I know otherwise, I am still obligated to act as though (because if I can’t, who else will?). If a guilty client goes free, it means something went wrong in the system: the wrong person was arrested, the evidence was seized illegally, my client was too deranged to know what he was doing was wrong, or the DA screwed something up.

In short, if the system is working properly, I should not win. And if my client is found guilty despite my best efforts, then our society has the satisfaction and peace of mind knowing that we don’t put innocent people in jail without giving them a fair shot. (In theory.)

I trust the justice system to do it’s job. For the system to work, everyone has to do their job and do it well. This means that cops do good police work and don’t resort to harassing citizens. This means that DA’s charge clients with what they actually did instead of trying to trump up charges or use dirty tricks to get promoted faster. (Or, that they actually try cases instead of settling for lesser charges. You might see how this particular fault doesn’t upset me too too much, but it should you!) This means that judges are impartial and enforce the law. This means that I do my best to provide a defense for the accused. I’m only one part of the larger whole.

In short, everything else in society is designed to rain moral judgement (and shocking consequences) upon a client’s head; perhaps his lawyer can be the one person who can restrain the urge to judge him?

I hope that this answered your question, dear reader. Other readers (dear or otherwise) should feel free to submit questions themselves. Informed readers make for better voters and jurors; my future clients will appreciate that.

Respectfully Submitted,

Norm DeGuerre

Since it Offends Me, It Must Be Illegal

When confronted with gaps in their evidence, prosecutors will stammer and bluster about things that my client did that they found offensive – as though that actually made them guilty, somehow.

A juvenile client of mine was accused of DUI. However, no breath or blood test ever put his blood alcohol level at or over the .08 limit in California. Now, it is illegal for a minor to have any alcohol in his or her system but the standard set by law for a DUI charge is .08 BAC regardless of age. When I confronted the DA with this fact and asked him for a reduced charge, his first instinct was to mention that my client had three other minors in the car with him and how “offensive” he found that and how my client needed to be “taught a lesson.”

As though any of those things made him guilty.

I used to think that this was a tactic, a dirty trick that DAs used when backed into a corner. But today, I realized that this may be a sign of a deep-rooted bias. I have no idea whether their office culture promotes this bias or whether this mindset predisposes one to a career in criminal prosecution. It certainly explains why the laws we pass to protect ourselves from people we fear are being used against people who merely piss us off.

I’ll give you another example:

A woman was accused of committing an “assault with force likely to produce great bodily injury.” The “assault” took place in the jail infirmary. Our client is a woman who had an incurable STD. She spit in a nurse’s face and declared to the entire infirmary that she hoped that the nurse would die.

This behavior is most certainly rude and totally gross. However, to imply that such behavior can produce “great bodily injury” is just not true. Medical science lacks any sense of civic duty and there has never been a single documented case of transmission of her STD via saliva.

But the nurse was afraid, and The People are offended on her behalf. If modern medicine can’t be more sensitive to the feelings of crime victims, then we’ll just march boldly backwards to the days when Ryan White’s classmates thought that they would get AIDS from sharing his toilet seat.

There’s precedent for this sort of thinking. The state of North Carolina recently declared that no climatologists on the state payroll would use models that predict exponential increases in ocean temperature by the end of the century; only linear models will be used. Screw it if these models happen to be scientifically correct.

This is a democracy, damnit! Nobody, neither legislative expert nor scientist gets to write laws without the consent of those that are offended by facts!

Facts are sometimes difficult to understand, so let’s make it easy: If it’s offensive, just make it illegal.

Respectfully submitted,

Norm DeGuerre

Welcome to my workaday world…

When people in their late twenties and early thirties gather to drink and converse in public, “What do you do for work?” is the typical ice breaker question. Oh, so you’re a consultant. And you’re a programmer? And your wife is a project manager…

Me? I’m a lawyer. I’m a public defender. No, I don’t “defend the public” from criminals. I defend people who are accused of crimes but who can’t afford to hire their own lawyer.

And then, the follow-up question comes. Without fail, I am always asked The Question:
How do you defend those people?

The best thing about being asked The Question every single time a new acquaintance finds out what I do is that I get to practice lots of different answers. With family members (and others with more tender sensibilities), the best answer is the earnest one. A legal system that flatters itself “fair” and “impartial” must treat everyone who comes before it with a basic modicum of dignity. My clients don’t often receive dignity from the world of poverty, drug addiction, and/or psychological trauma from which they come. And even if my client did something truly awful, the only person who will treat them with dignity and ensure that the system doesn’t cheat in its haste to remove him from society is–or should be–his lawyer. It’s a role that I enjoy playing, and every so often, justice comes out of it. That’s how I defend those people.

Sometimes this answer takes too long. Sometimes the listener has spent too many college years avoiding the talky-chatty classes that enable one to absorb humanism and civics at the same time. Sometimes they find it easier to hold on to the rigid value system learned in childhood than to let go of prejudices and look at the messy choices one must make as an adult. Sometimes a person has simply seen too many cases on Law and Order thwarted by fiendish defense attorneys to actually listen to what I have to say. In such cases, I (sometimes) refrain from working one or more of the following phrases into the conversation:

Pedophiles? They’re only scary if you’re seven.

Who said you can’t steal a car in self-defense?

The assault rifle was just for personal use and not for sale.

But quips like these do everyone a disservice. It’s not an answer to The Question. This person may well be a juror for some other defendant in the future. Since California puts all of its truly serious “criminal justice” issues on the ballot for a popular vote, this person might very likely have a direct influence on my own legal practice. If I have information worth sharing, I need to share it sincerely. Multiple installments might be necessary.

And this is why this blog exists. I see sides of life that most will never see unless they are knee-deep in it themselves. The criminal justice system is a subject on which most people have opinions despite not having the professional training or experience to participate in the field. This is only natural as crime stories capture the imagination. These stories involve questions of right and wrong, sanity and insanity, free will and the lack thereof. Poverty, addiction, violence, police authority, and state power come together in ways that often write their own lurid headlines.

Simply put – I want everyone who visits my blog to leave with a more informed opinion about the justice system. It’s good for you. It’s good for me. It’s good for my clients. It’s good for our democracy. I am fully aware that these are my own subjective experiences and that they may or may not be proof of any larger “truth” beyond themselves, but I will always make sure that the stories you read here have truth in them. Truth is something we all chase, even if we never quite catch it. The chase alone is worthwhile.

My rules of engagement for this project are as follows:

  1. I am choosing to make this an anonymous blog. This is for the sake of my clients, not my own. I will tell my readers that I am a thirty-something public defender working in a major metropolitan area in California. Beyond that, I will not share any information that allows the reader to identify a client by name, or even by description.
  2. I will never comment on a “pending case.” By the time you hear about it, any issues of law or fact have been resolved. My blog is a place for reflection, not news.
  3. To further ensure everyone’s privacy, the people about whom I will write are likely to be composites of many different people.
  4. Under no circumstances will client confidences be shared. Ever. Nothing I write will allow a client, another lawyer, a judge or any other “officer of the court” to be identified in any way.
  5. I will never mock a client. I do, however, reserve the right to respond to my work with gallows humor, dry humor, sarcastic quips, exasperation, desperation, and indignation. I will endeavor to keep feelings separate from judgements.

Disclaimers are fun, but now it’s time to get to work.

Respectfully submitted,
Norm DeGuerre