Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Just Another "Your Job Must Be Exciting" Day In Criminal Defense

This is for my colleagues, who will remember their own day like this, for the law students dreaming of being a criminal defense lawyer because "it must be so cool (and it is), but mostly for me, because if I don't write this down, I will never remember it properly.

So last week I get a call about a 19 year old kid with an arrest warrant for violating his probation. Seems he reported for a couple months until he was told he needed to pay about $600. He didn't have the money, so he left Miami to go live in Tallahassee with his brother.

A few months later he learns of the warrant, and decides to tell his brother, who tells his mother, who calls a lawyer in Tallahassee, and then is comes to me.

Now normally this is how this works: the client is arrested, put on a bus in a few days and sent to jail in Miami. No bond is granted, and a hearing is held. The client can admit to the violation and try to work out an agreement with the state, or take his chances with the judge. Probation is a second chance. Violations usually result in some jail time.

I find out the the prosecutor now assigned to the case is a guy I like very much. I call him. We work out a deal where he'll extend my client's probation and add some community service hours and drug testing. He realizes my kid is just immature, is encouraged that he now has a job and is enrolling in school, and he thinks the judge, newly elected, will go along with the deal.

So I set it for court.

This is going to be great. Fee is paid, client comes in, deal will be accepted, and client will be back to Tallahassee for dinner.

Sort of.

After the judge accepts the deal and gives my client a little "talking to," the clerk announces he has another warrant, some petit theft resulting from a DVD theft at Costco.

Things are still OK. Judge says she will set aside the warrant or I can go to the misdemeanor judge and see if she will. I don't want to just set aside the warrant, I want to close that case as well.

I go see the misdemeanor judge handling the case. She's a friend, but I'm not on her calendar. Her incredibly friendly judicial assistant has the file brought into court within minutes. The prosecutor agrees to no adjudication, and just the payment of court costs.

Done.

Message received on blackberry - 2 p.m. depo cancelled.

Back at the office.

I have a client coming in from California for a hearing the next day, and a new client driving 2 hours to see me at 2:30 p.m.

At 12:45 I receive a call from the felony judge's assistant.

"Your client reported to probation."

"Great," I said.

"They're taking him into custody."

"He has another warrant for driving on a suspended license."

"The judge will be back on the bench at 2 p.m. if you want to come in and handle it."

So I call the mother, who doesn't speak English and in a frustrated tone ask her to put me on the phone with the probation officer. Of course I should be smart enough to realize the probation officer is way down the hall behind a "buzz" locked door.

She somehow gets him on the phone.

He has that "I hate talking to attorneys" tone.

But he of course has already called the police and they are there. (Yes, it's Miami, we have no real crime here......)

I ask him if he can just hold my client there until 2 when I get the warrant quashed.

In the end he becomes understanding, and says he will call the judge.

This is the best.

Judge tells him that the only way she will agree to let probation hold him is if I, yes me, I go pick him up at probation and bring him to court.

At first I'm annoyed, but then I think "what judge would do this? I've been given an opportunity to have my client not taken to jail. So I have to take a ride somewhere. Big deal. Maybe this is the creativity I speak of in criminal justice so much.

Probation officer wants me there quickly. I meet my receptionist in the lobby of my building and take my lunch from her. I'll eat it in the car.

Now this probation office is on 79th street and 27th avenue. This means nothing to those of you outside Miami, but for a visual, I've never in my entire life been to 79th street and 27th avenue.

The probation office is located in a mall where there is a traffic school, driver's license office, and coin laundry.

I was overdressed.

After waiting almost an hour until 2:20 p.m.with the half English speaking receptionist telling me "few more minutes," two probation officers walk out. One is the guy I spoke with on the phone, the other is a supervisor. They lie to me like I'm stupid. "We didn't know you were here for almost an hour."

They tell me, gotta love this, "the judge has no authority to quash a bench warrant unless she is on the bench. She cannot do it from her chambers."

Lie. Lie, lie, lie. A judge can issue orders from her bedroom, vacation, on the phone, anywhere.

You liars.

Anyway, they tell me, by the way. the cops already took him to jail.

I race to the courthouse. I enter the courtroom of the felony judge who obviously knows what happened, stops the proceedings and tells me that another judge will set aside the warrant (the actualy judge who issued the warrant)

I go to that judge's courtroom and his clerk writes up the order, gives it to the judge and hands me 3 certified copies.

It's now 3 p.m.

I go to the corrections office.

Problem.

He hasn't been booked.

I have to wait until he's booked to present this order, or "come back tomorrow."

Come back tomorrow? What are these people thinking? Leave him in jail overnight?

I'm not waiting.

I'm told to go see the corporal.

After a while of back and forth and another corrections officer joining us, both confused that an order has been issued clearing a warrant prior to booking (read: you can't get someone out who isn't in), I am advised that when he shows up at the jail, they will immediately ("immediately") release him.

A few hours later I receive a typo laden text from the kid. He's out and on his way to Tallahassee.

3:30 I get back to the office, sign up the new client, and just laugh.

So to everyone who asks "criminal defense, what's that like, must be exciting?"

Yeah, exciting.

As I've said for a long time, sometimes it's like trying to land a 747 on a short grass strip.

Brian Tannebaum is a criminal defense lawyer in Miami, Florida practicing in state and federal court. Read his free ebook The Truth About Hiring A Criminal Defense Lawyer. To learn more about Brian and his firm, Tannebaum Weiss, please visit www.tannebaumweiss.com

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