A blog by Miami Criminal Defense Lawyer Brian Tannebaum. Commenting on criminal law issues of local and national interest.

Friday, July 25, 2008


While sitting in my office yesterday, the cell phone rang. Caller ID said Stewart was calling.

Some background:

Before the ink was dry on my Bar license, Stewart, and his mother became my clients at the public defender's office. Stewart had his 2nd DUI, and Mom had either a DUI or some traffic issue, can't remember.

They were unlike a lot of public defender clients. They came to my office several times for meetings, and we always had nice conversations. Mom claimed to be a painter and said she was going to paint me something.

I resolved both their cases, no jail, just some probation, etc...

Mom gave me the ugliest painting I think I ever saw, but it was her painting and the first gift I ever received as a lawyer from a client. I remember getting some crap from my supervisor about receiving a gift, and as a result, hung it right in my office.

Stewart continued to get into minor trouble. I left the PD's office and helped Stewart for little or no money. Mom came to me with an occasional "can't pay rent can you talk to my landlord" problem.

When I was in the PD's office, they were clients with a case. When I left, I realized they were alcoholics and Stewart as well a drug addict.

Stewart got his 3d DUI, it involved a minor fender bender. He went with the public defender, but when Stewart showed up 9 minutes late to his trial and the judge took him into custody, forcing a waiver of his speedy trial right, he came up with a little bit of money and hired me.

I appealed on some pretty weak case law and a stronger argument in my mind that what the judge did, "just wasn't fair." An appellate judge agreed, and dismissed Stewart's case.

Stewart's Mom died, I found out a few months later when Stewart called about some leak in his condo. He didn't tell me about Mom, I had to ask. He was in and out of labor type jobs, setting up convention halls for meetings and shows.

Finally, he caught a break. He sold his condo and made a $70,000 profit. He took it easy, his new found fortune in hand, and didn't work, for 4 years.

A possession of cocaine case made him a convicted felon after all these years of me helping him to dodge even the hint of a misdemeanor on his record. He didn't hire me for that case, not wanting to spend some of his fortune on a decent attorney's fee.

After that conviction, I didn't hear from Stewart. He was tired of me yelling at him about being a "loser," even though he always called, and always told me "I need to hear this."

When he called yesterday, I didn't pick up. I knew I'd listen to the message later and hear either about his new arrest, or legal matter not worth pursuing under any theory.

So I listened to the message.

It wasn't Stewart.

It was his drug addict girlfriend calling to tell me she found him dead.


She told me about his last few months of life. I felt like I was watching the movie "Leaving Las Vegas" all over again.

Stewart's at the medical examiner's office. No family. No money. Awaiting an autopsy.

Stewart died a junkie.

I always liked him though.

Brian Tannebaum is a criminal defense attorney in Miami, Florida practicing in state and federal court. To learn more about Brian and his firm, Tannebaum Weiss, please visit www.tannebaumweiss.com

Monday, July 21, 2008

My Big Fat Pig Colleagues

So today a potential client calls. Her whole family is arrested in a RICO case. Two family members are represented by one lawyer (something I never do). The third, is my potential client.

Appointment set. Time? After she goes to the other lawyer's office with her two other family members. (Criminal defense lawyers can stop reading here, as they know the end of this story).

At a restaurant, I see the other lawyer having lunch with a former judge. I mention to him that I received a call from the third family member, I know he's going to see the other two, and that I don't want to interfere with his representation, but family member three wants to hire me.

He comments to the judge "oh, we we're just talking about professionalism, how professional of you!" He also mentions that he's spoken to the prosecutor and that "all these cases can be resolved." (Should have been my clue).

Client just called to say she "can't make it." Wants me to call her back.

I do.

"I'm going to go with (other lawyer) because he says there's a plea deal."

Oink Oink my "colleague."

Brian Tannebaum is a criminal defense attorney in Miami, Florida practicing in state and federal court. To learn more about Brian and his firm, Tannebaum Weiss, please visit www.tannebaumweiss.com

Thursday, July 17, 2008

When It's More Calls Than Cases

Sometimes I wonder if people want to talk to attorneys rather than hire them.

Today's one of those days. Girl calls, arraignment is today, actually it was 2 hours before she called from out of state. Wants a lawyer, a free lawyer, but won't of course say that. So I engage her in conversation. Small case, but a problem for her if she doesn't resolve it and instead waits for the arrest warrant to be executed. I can handle the case without her here, but I have to get to court today to be at the already-missed arraignment.

I quote the fee. At that point I realize her husband's on the phone because he starts yelling at me. He wants to know how I can charge her when "it wasn't her." I explained that this was unfortunate, but I didn't know that, and even so, she still needs a lawyer, and SHE CALLED ME!

He continues yelling at me, and finally says "WE'RE COMING DOWN THERE TODAY TO TAKE CARE OF THIS OURSELVES." Before I could say 'Ok," he hung up.

Then mom of another client calls to ask about her son's case. She has a lawyer but is concerned about the process and wants some advice because her jailed son is telling her what he's being told by the jailhouse lawyers, and she's anxious. She wants to hire me, so I ask why he's in jail. "Can't afford the bond." Short conversation there.

I always live with the knowledge that "you never know," who's on the phone or where it will lead. I just sometimes wish there was a way to avoid playing phone lawyer somedays.

Brian Tannebaum is a criminal defense attorney in Miami, Florida practicing in state and federal court. To learn more about Brian and his firm, Tannebaum Weiss, please visit www.tannebaumweiss.com

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

So Much For Terror Watch Lists....

UPDATE: JIm Robinson said in an interview that he applied to be removed from the terror watch list 3 YEARS AGO, and is still on the list.

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Justice Department's former top criminal prosecutor says the government's terror watch list likely has caused thousands of innocent Americans to be questioned, searched or otherwise hassled. Former Assistant Attorney General Jim Robinson would know: he's one of them.

Read more here

Brian Tannebaum is a criminal defense attorney in Miami, Florida practicing in state and federal court. To learn more about Brian and his firm, Tannebaum Weiss, please visit www.tannebaumweiss.com

Saturday, July 12, 2008

What If We Federalized The Entire Criminal Justice System?

It's heartwarming to know that when you have a blog and stop writing for a while, you get treated as if you haven't called your mother, and she's worried you may not be eating, or dead.

Since I've been observing and not blogging, some significant things have happened.

On the federal side, Guantanamo detainess now have the right to contest their detention in federal court. Most people have never been to federal court, where contesting detention these days of any defendant is a long shot, but cue the fear mongering war on terrorism types who claim that this of course means they will all be released into the streets of America and we should all be afraid, very afraid.

On the state side, budget cuts are causing public defender's offices to cut staff and refuse to take cases. Judges are screaming about the lack of court funding, caused by legislators who believe a properly funded judiciary is somehow a "bad" thing.

Escaping any criticism are the district attorney's offices, who refuse to prioritize the prosecution of cases.

Hence, my question whether we should consider federalizing the entire system.

Now, I practice state and federal defense, and I know the first response is "OH NO, not the feds!"

But wait.

Federal judges and the United States Attorneys are appointed. State judges and district attorneys are elected. When's the last time you saw a victims rights group on the steps of a federal courthouse?

Now I have no issue with crime victims. I do take issue with the new way of prosecuting state cases of: 1. arrest, 2. file charges, 3. find out what the "victim wants," 4. Offer that.

The fear of state prosecutors and judges over what the victim will do if they don't get what they want is often paramount to what should "really" happen to the defendant and the case. Restitution has been dumped into state criminal courtrooms as if they are bill collection courts.

Not in federal court.

Yes restitution is mandatory in federal cases, and victims are consulted, but they don't run the place nor does the media. You can't vote out federal judges or prosecutors.

Additionally, the feds prioritize what they prosecute, states and counties don't. A recent comment from a district attorney is proof. In response to severe budget cuts I read "unfortunately, we're not going to be able to prosecute every case."

You mean every fight between two people? Every DUI where the defendant had a breath alcohol level below the legal limit? Every first time offender who deserves a break? Every child abuse allegation and domestic violence violation where there is a pending divorce and it's clear the allegations are "suspect."

Anyone walk into a misdemeanor courtroom lately? Or watch a felony prosecutor struggling with a case because she knows what should happen, as opposed to what the victim wants?

Victim's have taken over the system in state court. And before all you victim's advocates start typing, I'm not talking about murder, robbery, rape, and sexual battery. I'm talking about that grand theft case where your car was stolen, and you want the death penalty. The mantra of "criminal's have more rights than victims" has turned the tables on how our state system runs, and we don't have the money to do what every victim wants in every single case.

But we won't stop acting that way.

Think about it, what if the feds took over?

Brian Tannebaum is a criminal defense attorney in Miami, Florida practicing in state and federal court. To learn more about Brian and his firm, Tannebaum Weiss, please visit www.tannebaumweiss.com