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

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Wanna Get Famous Off Trayvon Martin?

Got an email today. Subject line was "Trayvon Martin Media."

In the past week, our phones have not stopped ringing with calls from TV & Producers asking for legal experts who can discuss the Trevyon Martin shooting. They want strong Florida Attorneys and if you are one of them, we should probably speak ASAP.

Are you a strong Florida attorney? Well, are you?

What does that even mean, and who makes that determination?

You, I guess.

A strong National Television & Radio appearance can bring to the attention of millions your legal expertise.

What if you have no legal expertise?

Nevermind, I know better than to ask that question - being on TV makes you a legal expert.

We also have the ability to bolster you & your firms Twitter & Facebook followers and enhance your firm’s YouTube Channel.

OK. And?

Nevermind, I know. SEO, Google juice, more hits, more leads, more calls. More people with no money that want to talk to you because "yer famouse."

Now in all fairness, I was quoted on this case. Reporter called me - had a question about the law. And have I been on national TV? Yes, twice in 17 years. Once to comment on one of my cases, and the other to comment on a trial going on. I wasn't asked back a second day because I wouldn't "take the position" they wanted me to take. You know - criticize the lawyers and pretend I would do a much better job?

Any new clients?



But getting back to the issue of being a "legal expert," it is clear that the way to this title is not by work or reputation, it's by being placed and appearing to be an expert.

So there's a dead kid, and hey, maybe it's your time.

Are you a strong Florida attorney?

Brian Tannebaum is a criminal defense lawyer in Miami, Florida practicing in state and federal court, and the author of The Truth About Hiring A Criminal Defense Lawyer.Share/Save/Bookmarkokdork.com rules Post to Twitter

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Unintended Consequences, Again

So now here in Florida we have a dead black kid, killed by a neighborhood captain of crime watch white guy that has 911 on speed dial, and has the community - the country - in a rage over the fact that our "Stand your Ground" law caused the cops to decline an arrest.

Stand Your Ground was passed by the Florida Legislature in an effort send a message that not only should guns be allowed everywhere, but that people should be allow to use them - to kill people - anywhere. The NRA supported it, NRA (and their money) loving legislators supported it, and the Governor signed it. Yeah, we all heard the testimony that it may cause otherwise minor altercations to turn into a phone call to the local funeral home, but that's what we call "unintended consequences," and hell, it's just part of the parade of horribles that liberal gun-rights-hating folks whine about.

I mean, are we really to think that some over-zealous neighborhood crime watch captain is going to blow away some kid who has a bag of Skittles and an Iced Tea in his hand and claim self-defense? C'mon.

But now we're going to have hearings. We're going to amend the law. We've got the feds and state law enforcement department investigating the non-arrest, while the local state attorney prepares the case for a grand jury.

The community does not believe this death, this claim of self defense was an intended consequence of Stand Your Ground.

Unintended consequences of criminal legislation usually get the short shrift during the legislative session. Laws, brought to legislators by prosecutors, victims advocates group, or as a result of a tragic death of a child, need to be passed. That the wrong people will go to jail or not go to jail, is something that local prosecutors and judges (if given discretion) can deal with.

Legislators normally respond to scenarios of unintended consequences with "no prosecutor would file that case," or "we trust the police to make judgment calls."

Well, the police made a judgment call in this case.

Was it the right one?

Appears the community's answer is a collective "hell no."

Death always generates emotion. The death of a child is always described as "the worst." When the death of a child is tied to a crime, there is always legislation.

And the Stand Your Ground law will be amended. Next session, bet on it.

But what about other laws that have unintended consequences? How many cases have we heard about where minor drug offenders are in prison under archaic minimim mandatory sentencing schemes? What did legislators say when these unintended consequences were presented?


What about where those that aren't sexual offenders (in the literal sense) or sexual predators (in the literal sense) are tagged as such?

Every year advocates go to the legislature and seek modification of these laws - these criminal laws that snag those who were not intended to be "victims" of these tough-on-crime statutes.

But the cries mostly fall on deaf ears. Only death brings about change. The old adage "does someone have to die," holds true in the world of criminal legislation.

In the years I've spent watching the Florida Legislature, it's been made clear that of the 10 amendments in the Bill of Rights, the one is most sacred isn't 4, or 5 or 6, or 8, but 2.

And now we have a problem. We have a law - a gift to gun rights advocates and those "sick of crime" everywhere. And we have a dead kid, a kid that is viewed as having done nothing wrong. He's dead. His killer claimed self-defense. The discretion given to law enforcement was used - but used in a manner that received disapproval.

Unintended consequences of criminal legislation imprison people every day, take away their livelihoods, their families, and their futures.

But when these unintended consequences result in death, those that were too busy to listen before, now cry for justice.

Equal Justice means that equal attention to those who are victims of unintended consequences is required - whether they are convicted, imprisoned, or dead.

Brian Tannebaum is a criminal defense lawyer in Miami, Florida practicing in state and federal court, and the author of The Truth About Hiring A Criminal Defense Lawyer.Share/Save/Bookmarkokdork.com rules Post to Twitter

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Another Stupid Discussion About Trying Every Case

In Miami, we have a misdemeanor "jail division." It's for those charged with misdemeanors that haven't bonded out for whatever reason. All their cases are set for trial in the "jail division." There you find the career criminal homeless, the recidivist DUI offenders that no longer have anyone to post bond for them, and others that are sitting in custody for misdemeanors while the county pays about $140 a day for their stay (The downtown Hyatt Regency has a rate in the off season of $129 a night.)

About 15 years ago, while I was still in the public defender's office, my former trial partner was assigned to the jail division. After a few weeks, he had an idea to help the judiciary in their long-standing goal of "moving things along," and filed demands for speedy trial on every case in the division. For some reason, the state wasn't able to try every single defendant in the jail division within 2 months, and so some of these misdemeanants were simply released.

Yeay! Great idea. Everyone loved it. We all cheered, (except the brass at the PD's office who raised some issue as to whether the clients were all on board with the demands and whether this mass filing was in each client's best interest). But we were young, and celebrating at happy hour.

And so now the New York Times has an article about the notion discussed by every PD and private criminal defense lawyer at every bar since the beginning of plea bargaining, of trying every criminal case in order to collapse the system.

Here's my response:

Shut the f*ck up.

It's never going to happen.

Forgetting for a moment that it's (more than) kind of unethical to recommend a client proceed to trial because someone needs to "take one for the team," (and also that lawyers are required to convey plea offers and going home today or going to trial in 3 months isn't really a decision that's difficult for even the dumbest criminal defendant), the private bar won't do it because there's no money in trying cases (and most of the private bar is only interested in not having to work that hard for their fee). The PD's won't do it because, well, every PD in the country has discussed this option, and it's never happened and it's an impossible conspiracy to coordinate.

Yes, if every case, or even a few percentage points down from the current 98% of cases that don't go to trial, went to trial, the defense bar would own courtrooms and judges would be begging the prosecutors for better offers. It would be a watershed in the American criminal justice system.

But it's not happening.


Brian Tannebaum is a criminal defense lawyer in Miami, Florida practicing in state and federal court, and the author of The Truth About Hiring A Criminal Defense Lawyer.Share/Save/Bookmarkokdork.com rules Post to Twitter

Friday, March 02, 2012

If You See Something, Say Nothing

Why is it that only after a kid like T.J. Lane blows away 3 other kids, whose only crime was going to school that day, do we begin to look at their social media activity?

Why is it that a kid like T.J. Lane writes "Die, all of you," and we don't even think to say, "hey, T.J., (and I hope I get this right) "U Mad bro?"

Why is it that we watch people fall on the internet and, watch? Why is the thought of an email or text or God forbid, a true blue live phone call, out of the realm of possibilities?

Why do we watch?

Why do we say nothing?

We can make the excuse that we don't take it seriously, that it's all "internet banter," but why are we unwilling to know? Do we want to see the results of the truth of it?

And let's not blame the dozens or even more of T.J. Lane's 148 Facebook friends that saw his writings and did nothing. We, do nothing. No one is to blame for the decisions, insanity laced or not, T.J. Lane made this week. The blood is not on the hands of those that lurked, that read his writings and moved on to some great viral You Tube video or awesome naked pictures of some hot chick.

This concept of watching things on social media, and, watching, isn't limited to the writings of future serial killers. Lawyers do it too.

Lawyers watch other lawyers lie, puff, and create false reputations on the internet all day, and do nothing.

We, do nothing.

We see something, and see it.

Someone else will say something, but you're not going to say anything because, well, it may not make you any friends.

And the internet is all about "friends," right?

Recently I saw a cryptic status on a friend's Facebook page and I committed the cardinal sin of calling him. Yes, something was wrong. We talked about it. "How did you know?"

I saw something.

Messages fly across the net and we read them. We know the people writing them, we care about them, we eat with them, we know their families, we know these people.

But they're in "second life."

Maybe it's not true, maybe it's just to get attention.

And sometimes attention is achieved.
Non-anonymous comments welcome.Brian Tannebaum is a criminal defense lawyer in Miami, Florida practicing in state and federal court, and the author of The Truth About Hiring A Criminal Defense Lawyer.Share/Save/Bookmarkokdork.com rules Post to Twitter