Drive-By Lawyering

Since I started doing juvie, I sometimes find myself rehearsing my legal advice in my car on the way to work. My seven-mile drive gives me precisely the amount of time that I have to advise my clients on important legal issues. It’s easier for my clients to understand me when I am concise and using fewer words is always more difficult than foaming at the mouth with whatever feels good to say. Explaining the pros and cons of various courses of action to boys who often have only a third-grade reading level in such a way that they actually understand complex legal concepts in under twenty minutes cannot be done without practice.

With traffic, my drive to work takes about 18 minutes. A sampling of things that I explained to my client in under 18 minutes today:

1. You tell me that you didn’t know the car was stolen. But the police report says that you confessed, and that he tape-recorded the entire confession. No, I don’t know if I can get you out today. I’m genuinely touched at how much remorse you feel for not being a better father to your daughter, but I have no idea what I can do for you if you don’t tell me which version of your story is true.

2. So I know that you remember me. I got you a “not guilty” on your last case here. You see why I’m really, really unhappy to see you back, right? Yes, you will probably “get out” of juvenile hall faster if you plea guilty today, but that is really not a good reason to plea. Well, you’re right, I can’t stop you from doing it if you want to. You do have the absolute right to decide how you plea. Just remember your rights next time before waiving your right to remain silent and confessing EVERYTHING to the police.

3. I know you didn’t actually steal the car, but your little thuglet friend told you that it was stolen moments after the police pulled him over for running the red light. And when the cop walked to the window, you and the other kid ran. Since you ran in different directions, the cops could not catch either of you. You knowingly, and successfully, helped your friend get away with a crime. That makes you an aidder or abettor to the crime and thus equally guilty. No, “accomplice” is a word that only exists in TV shows. The real term is aidder or abettor. Look, if you finish the probation program, they’ll wipe out your juvenile record anyway.

It should be noted that I had to repeat much of Item 3 to the district attorney. The district attorney was “offended” that my client was pleading guilty in court despite the fact that he denied involvement. Why? Because my kid cares more about getting out of custody as soon as possible than having the “real” story told and so he will say whatever it takes to make that happen? It may be the first time I have ever had to argue my client’s guilt to a DA.  And I don’t need to tell you that took less than 18 minutes.

Respectfully submitted,

Norm DeGuerre

Just Ask if They Have Delivery

A huge portion of my cases begin with a routine traffic stop. The single best thing you can do to avoid police contact is obey every single traffic law.

At least half of what you do in your car is probably illegal. Crack across the windshield? Rosary hanging from your rearview mirror? Those can obstruct your vision in violation of Vehicle Code sections 26710 and 26708 (a) (2), respectively. Did you remember to use your turn signal? Are all of those tiny lights above your rear license plate working? Is your “full and complete” stop close enough to the real thing so as to not get pulled over?

The answers to these questions matter more than you think. In California, many “fine-only” infractions are still “crimes” in the technical sense. It its zeal for 18th-century standards for treating prisoners and the accused, the Supreme Court of the United States has found it reasonable under the Fourth Amendment to arrest, strip-search, and imprison a person so long as there is probable cause to arrest for some sort of state crime, regardless of how “minor” the criminal offense.

And so going 5 miles per hour over the speed limit in a residential zone can provoke a severe–and wholly constitutional–intrusion into your personal freedom. Note that this severe outcome may or may not be likely for you, depending upon your income-level, skin-tone,  general attractiveness, and/or criminal record. However, just because there are disparities in the justice system doesn’t mean you should expect your “desirable qualities” will get you off the hook. Lady Justice isn’t blind but you can’t assume she will close her eyes to your shenanigans just because you smile pretty and talk real good. All of us are only one “misunderstanding” away from a misdemeanor.

I’m not implying you should drive around paranoid. In the vast majority of cases, the officer will do the typical thing and “detain” you for so long as it takes to write you a traffic ticket for something you probably shouldn’t have been doing. But even so, the length of a typical traffic stop is plenty long enough for the officer to notice what other obviously illegal things you–or your passengers–are up to. If my client knew he was one “California stop” away from going off to prison for the rest of his life, I’m sure he would have driven a bit more carefully.

Drive safe.

Respectfully submitted,

Norm DeGuerre