Mimesis Law
15 October 2019

Epic Fails: Noel Edition

Nov. 28, 2016 (Fault Lines) — There aren’t many tangible benefits to being a public defender. Generally, you’re overworked, underpaid, and get less respect than Rodney Dangerfield. On the plus side, the work is usually interesting: you’ll have good days and bad days, but no boring days. The other major benefit is that we’re like the Donald Trump of telling war stories…we have the best of all of them. So, inspired by Chris’s Friday Fail posts, I’m gonna give you, our devoted Fault Lines readership, the opportunity to vote on which of my clients was the dumbest.

In no particular order:

1. Client is charged with beating up his girlfriend in front of her daughter, and he can’t make bail. And he’s not pleading to this BS, and he wants out, right now. But this is only the arraignment, so I tell him we’ll have to set it for a preliminary hearing. He snarls back that he wants it set as soon as possible.

I ask the judge to set the prelim 3 days from now. The prosecutor says she can’t secure the witnesses by then.

CLIENT: No, I talked to witnesses. They’re not coming.
ME:       Don’t say anything.
CLIENT: No, you don’t understand! I TALKED to them and I told them NOT TO COME!
ME:       (panicking) SHUT UP!

That was the only time I’ve ever raised my voice in court. I’m usually a pretty mellow guy, so that caught everyone’s attention.  The prosecutor is snickering. The judge is trying not to laugh but is smiling pretty widely. The inmates in the box, though, they lose it. The judge actually has to tell them to stop laughing so we can get on with the docket. When I meet with the guy later at the jail I have to explain why it’s a bad idea to admit to witness tampering in open court.

2. Client is charged with shoplifting from Walmart. When I meet with him at the office, he says that he was having trouble finding a job, but a friend of his told him about a program that the Probation Department has that helps probationers find work. The problem is, you only qualify for the program if you have a felony or three misdemeanors. My client only had two misdemeanors, thus his trip to Walmart.

By the time sentencing comes around, he’s found a job. I explain the situation to the judge and suggest that probation is the way to go…after all, the only reason we were there is because he was having trouble finding work, and if he goes to jail he would lose his new job, and we’d be back to square one. The judge shakes her head in disbelief and sentences him to 10 days. My client loses his job. He does not qualify for the program he was in interested in, because it doesn’t exist.

3. Client is charged with drunk driving. The officer got a call from dispatch, who tell him that two different calls have reported a dark-colored van all over the road. The officer encounters the van, sees that it actually is all over the road, pulls it over, and approaches the driver. After the license and registration stuff, the officer asks, “Sir, have you had anything to drink?” My client replies, “Fuck yeah! I drank half a gallon of Wild Turkey, motherfucker!”

4. Client has just gone through a drunk driving trial, which he lost. We’re in front of the judge now for sentencing. I make my pitch for probation, which is he what he would have gotten if he’d pled. The prosecutor, in trial tax mode, asks for the maximum of six months. The judge is already writing the docket entry while the prosecutor is talking about the client’s rather rude behavior (cussing, screaming, refusing to get out of the car) towards the deputy. The client interrupts the prosecutor. “That deputy is a lying piece of shit!” he yells.

The judge glares at the client, crosses out whatever he had already written down, and gives the client six months.

5. Client has just finished 120 days of “shock time” in the Department of Corrections. At his first meeting with his probation officer, 48 hours after release, he tests positive for marijuana. The prosecutor recommends that his probation be terminated and that he serve his full sentence of six years. I explain to the judge what actually happened: the client didn’t get out and blaze up; he had smoked a joint his last night in DOC to celebrate getting out.

The prosecutor is incredulous, pointing out that that’s worse; marijuana possession on the outside is a misdemeanor, but in DOC it’s a felony. I reply that that’s one way to look at it; but another way to look at it is that the defendant didn’t technically violate his probation since he smoked the joint before he got out.

The judge rolls his eyes at me at gives the defendant another 120 days.

So how about it, folks? These guys might not have had a good outcome in their cases, but you can decide who wins the prize.

6 Comments on this post.

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  • Jim Shepherd
    28 November 2016 at 9:53 am - Reply

    So much stupid here that it is hard to choose, but I’m voting for #2, because Kafka.

  • Mark M.
    28 November 2016 at 10:12 am - Reply

    #1. Double bonus for hearing hijinx.

  • CLS
    28 November 2016 at 10:26 am - Reply

    1, if for no reason other than we keep telling people around here shutting up is the best course of action to take.

    I’ve never done work as a public defender, but did cut my teeth on court-appointed cases, and this is the best I’ve got to add to the list.

    Client is charged with Theft Under $500. This is small town stuff, so I go run her record on the computer system in the clerk’s office. I’d never seen a name come back with fourteen pages of charges. I know the bail bonds agent who gave her bail, and asked about her. Let’s just say after a five minute phone call I knew this was going to be a rocky road.

    Day of the preliminary hearing comes, and I’ve yet to see or meet the client despite numerous efforts to contact her. I finally catch her on a cell phone outside the courthouse talking about how her “fucking piece of shit free attorney” hadn’t met with her yet.

    I introduce myself.

    We don’t even make it through the door before gaffe #1 starts. The courthouse doesn’t allow cigarettes or cell phones. She thought she could get past that by stuffing both down her shirt. In front of a security camera.

    Once I get her file I start talking to her about the evidence, trying to get her story. She cuts me off.
    “Bind the case over to the grand jury. I’ll never get a fair trial in front of this judge.”

    Despite my pleas to have her do the sane thing and have a preliminary hearing, she persists. So when our case is called, I ask the judge to bind a misdemeanor theft charge to the grand jury. This shocks the judge.

    “Mr. Seaton, have you explained to your client the costs and risks of such an action?”
    “Yes, Your Honor.”
    “Well okay then.” He then instructs the client to not commit any other criminal acts while on bond because Tennessee had just enacted a new law that revoked your bond and kept you in jail until trial if you decided to commit a crime.

    A week to the day I get a call from the Court Clerk:
    “You need to get down here. She’s done it again.”

    This time it was a Theft over $1000 charge, and when I meet with her in her new jumpsuit the first question she asks is a doozy. Loudly, in front of other inmates in the box, three sheriff’s deputies, and the ADA working the day’s docket:

    “Why didn’t you fucking tell me I couldn’t make bail if I stole new shit?”

  • David Zirschky
    28 November 2016 at 11:14 am - Reply

    Number 5 takes the cake not only because it is INCREDIBLY stupid on the client’s part, but because that defense attorney had some serious gumption to stick to his guns and argue a technically correct point.

  • Jim
    28 November 2016 at 12:09 pm - Reply

    I went to high school with all these people.

    “Take it back, take it back, oh no, you can’t say that.
    All of my friends are not dead or in jail…” — John Prine

  • Josh
    28 November 2016 at 10:05 pm - Reply

    I like #3’s style. I bet it was real 101 proof Wild Turkey, not that sissy 80 proof stuff they make these days.