22 July 2010

Wednesday, 21 July 2010, was a court service day in Newton. The number of cases was surprisingly small including four people transported from the jail to the courtroom. My trial for Monday has gone out. The defendant has decided she would rather plead than go to trial regardless of the fact that I have encouraged her to try it. Most are afraid of trial and just want it to go away which is easiest done by pleading guilty. Fines are never paid so the fine doesn't matter. Most will not ever be able to drive legally which does not stop them from driving. What does not occur to them that the next time, and there always is a next time, it will be more difficult because of the previous legal pleas. Forward thinking, long range goals, thoughtful analysis are not part of the equation for most defendants.

My view is that trial would be the best thing for both them and the community as a whole. These defendants, most young, uneducated, and not very bright have never experienced anything like a trial where they must sit and be judged by the community and present themselves in a manner that would indicate to the jury that they actually belong or potentially belong to the productive part of that community. The idea of getting on the stand and testifying is truly frightening for them and they just can't do it. If they did--if they actually went to trial--went through the process, it would have a lasting impact on them which a few days in jail, a fine, or a lecture by the judge does not. The goal, after all, is to convince these defendants that they ought to get a job, look, dress, and act in a manner that allows them to be part of the community. Our system of plea bargaining does not do that. Trials would come much closer to having the desired effect.

Defense attorneys are as much to blame as the defendants themselves, but that discussion is for another day.

The second event of the day was the swearing in of Brad McCall as a District Judge. 36 judges were in attendance from the 5th judicial district, robed and properly recognized. Several other judges were in the audience. Much to do was made with several dignitaries making remarks. The courtroom furniture was shifted about by the local clerk's office and there was room for all except a few latecomers. We have a new opening to replace Judge Keller and it is conceivable that Jasper County could have two district judges after a hiatus of 20 years without any.

20 July 2010

Made a trip to the Polk County Jail this morning to meet with a federal defendant and the interpreter. The presentence investigation report was read to him verbatim--a requirement with the judges. The Polk County Jail is lawyer friendly. They have rooms to meet with the clients. No window look throughs here. I object to the practice of having to talk through a window with my client. I think that it inhibits the attorney-client relationship. It is tough enough to convince defendants that you really are on their side. Speaking through windows is not conducive to trust. At the Polk County Jail it would be helpful if they provided golf carts as far as you must walk on occasion. And, you are escorted by a female inmate who is not suppose to chat, but sometimes does a little. They meet you just inside the entrance and walk with you just outside of the area where you meet with your client. Usually their are several at each location reading a book or otherwise visiting until an attorney needs an escort. It is unclear why we need escorts, unless for the fact that many of us might not know where in the jail to go. The jail has visiting rooms between the pods and I have never not been able to meet with a client at that jail.

This afternoon I had a driving while license suspended trial in Newton with Judge Mott. My client didn't bother to contact me about the case until yesterday. During the phone conversation it was clear that the officer may not have had a constitutional basis for the stop. The care my client was driving was registered to his sister whose license is also suspended. My client has short hair and a beard. There was some conflict in the testimony whether the officer could have determined before the stop what sex the driver was, but the first question is the fact that the registered owner of the car suspended a basis to stop a vehicle. The second question is whether once the officer saw that it was not a woman driving he had the further right to ask for a driver's license? I moved to suppress even though the matter was set for trial. Judge Mott heard the evidence and withheld ruling hoping that someone might give him some authority. I will see what I can do.

17 July 2010

Yesterday was a Marion County day. I was actually appointed to represent a man on a child support matter. This is unusual, but the court's allow for an appointment of an attorney in contempt procedures if jail time is contemplated. And, in this case they were certainly contemplated. Jail was avoided with the payment of money. One should not forget that it is all about money. Money can keep you out of jail. Those without money will spend more time in jail than those who have it. I expect this has been the case since before there was money. It is somewhat troubling to say that it is a fact of life--but it is.

This isn't necessarily the place for a sociological treatise, but it usually happens that those without money have no money for the reason that they are not smart enough to get any. The fact they have no money and the fact they do more time in jail are the result of the same set of circumstances. It is my opinion that one does not cause the other, but both have the same cause.

In the other matter, an OWI in associate district court, we have not much of a defense so we set a plea date on out. Defendant's need an evaluation and instruction on the importance of obtaining a temporary restricted license to have the judge order a 50% reduction in the fine. That amounts to $625 and is a big chunk for most defendants.

16 July 2010

T'is Friday and we've had a rather quiet week with a minimum of out-of-town travel. No trials and the trial scheduled for Monday will not go. We had an offer from the County Attorney that my client could not refuse. He was charged with public intox 2nd and simple interference. It would have been an interesting trial. Drinking yes, but my client while drinking at an acquaintance's apartment was attacked by his acquaintance and struck in the head with a hammer. Evidently they had a disagreement over some rather, what seemed to them, nontrivial matter. In any event, my client stumbled down the stairs and out into the street where he was met by Newton police and told to stop. However, being somewhat dazed, he did not obey the officer, which in Newton, raises to a serious matter, and therefore arrested and charged with public intox and interference. The county attorney has decided to drop the public intox charge with a plea to the interference, a simple misdemeanor, with time served. My client, who is not unaccustomed to spending a few days in jail periodically has agreed to this resolution of the matter.

In Knoxville on Tuesday it was a somewhat different matter. Of my two cases, both are set for trial. Offers were made, and rather good ones, but were rejected by my clients. Whether that remains the situation as we approach trial is uncertain. Defendants have a propensity to change their minds as trial approaches. Trial scares them. In fact, it frightens them more than going to jail. At trial they must actually act as if they are a part of a larger society where people will form an opinion of them. They will be required to talk in front of people who will be looking at them and judging them. This is a psychological impasse for many who more than likely have been unable to do anything resembling this since they dropped out of school--an environment still focused more on self-esteem and low achievement than on producing people who can actually function in a group setting.

The objection I have to the attitude of the Knoxville county attorney's office is the same objection I have to many--simply because a charge is filed, the attorneys in the office insist that the defendant plead to something. Whether this is a vindication of the local police department or pressure from the local police department to affirm their arrests, I can't answer. But it occurs. When the plea offer is rejected, annoyance is immediately evident. In Knoxville, I was informed by the county attorney handling the case that she was not afraid to try cases and that she actually wins trials. I did not know how to respond. I should hope that both these assertions are true even though irrelevant.

06 July 2010

On the road today. First, Powshiek County, Montezuma. ORed the client so she could be transferred out of county. Mike Mahaffey made me an offer we will probably take, but not at the moment. After Powshiek, drove to Newton for a Jasper County probation revocation. Not much to argue about. The fellow was placed on probation in November 2007 and promptly disappeared until recaptured in eastern Iowa on new charges. We stipulated to the violation and to revocation. Judge Gamble happened to be in Jasper County. Hadn't seen him in some time. He always seemed to like getting on the road once in a while.

From Jasper County drove to Marion County, Knoxville where I had two cases scheduled for pretrial. The prosecutors offered my clients quite good deals both of which were rejected and trials set. I'm always a little amused and how pissy prosecutors become when you say no deal, let's try it. If defense attorneys would begin trying cases, the system would break down. Maybe the prosecutors would show some balls when dealing with their officers. The two cases are set out to September and the clients have a decent chance of folding before trial.

At the moment I have trials scheduled, that may actually go, in Jasper, Marion, and Guthrie. Not quite sure how to deal with the case in Powshiek that is set for trial. My guy wants to plead, but he Court won't take the plea because he says he doesn't remember anything until waking up in the jail. I do have two more public intoxications set in Jasper County. It's time the local police who file these things should begin spending their days waiting in the halls of the courthouse.