Help Me Help Young Criminal Defense Lawyers
August 10, 2016 (Fault Lines) — The Nebraska Criminal Defense Attorneys Association has asked me to appear at the second annual two day “boot camp” for young lawyers (and law students) who want to practice criminal defense. They want me to present the “view from the federal bench.”
NCDAA asked me to prepare a short hand out for my small part of the program to accompany my talk. Here it is:
NCDAA’s 2nd Annual Criminal Defense Boot Camp
View from the Federal Bench
Richard G. Kopf, Senior United States District Judge
Here are the top ten things young lawyers need to know about practicing criminal defense in the United States District Court for the District of Nebraska:
- It is a different world from the state courts—be afraid, be very afraid (kidding, sorta). For example, you cannot file paper. Everything is done electronically. As another example, we handle our own discipline and the Counsel on Discipline is not involved.
- There are local rules that pertain to criminal cases. You can find them at http://www.ned.uscourts.gov/attorney, scroll down to Local Rules. Memorize them or die!
- In Lincoln and Omaha, all the motion practice takes place before the United States Magistrate Judges. That’s where you will start out for the first appearance, and so forth. Dispositive motions (like motions to suppress) come to the District Judges by Findings and Recommendations of the MJs.
- In Lincoln, the MJs take nearly all the pleas of guilty and then issue Findings and Recommendations. In Omaha, the District Judges take all the pleas.
- You will fly partially blind when it comes to discovery—example, no depositions. Know Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 16 or risk cancer.
- Get on the Criminal Justice Act Panel so you can receive appointments. You get paid $129 per hour plus expenses. There is a program (the C panel) where you follow (without pay) an experienced lawyer through two cases to get experience before you will be appointed. Contact David Stickman, the Federal Public Defender, to apply to become a member of the panel.
- Your best friend is the Federal Public Defender and the Assistant Federal Public Defenders. They are always willing to help. In my opinion, they are among the best criminal defense lawyers in Nebraska.
- The federal prosecutors (Assistant U.S. Attorneys) are fair minded and will not screw you around. In general, you can trust them, but they are tough adversaries and they really don’t give a damn that your client is a nice person except for the kilo of meth he or she schlepped.
- Most cases are drug or gun or “kiddie porn” or immigration cases. They almost always end in pleas with or without cooperation (snitching). There is a petition to enter a plea of guilty that is required. See http://www.ned.uscourts.gov/content/form-district-petition-enter-guilty-plea. All plea agreements must be in writing and the government prepares the plea agreements using form language—they won’t budge on the form language, but will negotiate substantive matters.
- If you don’t understand the Sentencing Guidelines, you are a living and breathing example of malpractice. I will gut you like a fish if you appear before me without understanding the Guidelines applicable to your case. On this, I’m not kidding.
I would also like your assistance.
I want to know from the many experienced criminal defense lawyers who read Fault Lines or who write for Fault Lines what suggestions you might have for the young lawyer who wants to practice federal criminal defense. For those of you who are less experienced, I would like you to tell me what you would like to know. By gathering and sharing your comments, you will help me help the young’uns here in Nebraska. By the way, if you disagree with any (or all) of my “top ten” list, let me know that too, as those insights would be of particular interest.
Richard G. Kopf
United States District Judge (Nebraska)
*Screw the Beatles. All hail the late Joe Crocker. The link takes you to his performance at the Queen’s Golden Jubilee on June 3, 2002 with help of Phil Collins on the drums!