If I lived in Scottsdale and paid city taxes, I’d be picketing the city attorney’s office right now. Some of their policies waste public money like it’s going out of style. I’ve complained before about prosecutors offering pleas with no benefit and defense attorneys enabling them by letting their clients plead, but Scottsdale elevates the non-bargain to an art. They’ve institutionalized extreme ignorance about the concept of bargaining altogether, and the results are amazing.
If you’re charged with regular DUI and your blood alcohol falls in the uppermost part of the range, they offer you a plea to 3 days of jail. You’d get 1 day losing at trial. When they aren’t anti-negotiating, they typically offer you the same thing you’d get at trial. Across the board, it’s one the most wasteful, absurd things I see in any Arizona court. When the court gives you notice of what they call a “trial readiness conference,” it says trial will be set within 45 days. They’re setting trials in late February and March right now. I doubt anyone wonders why the city’s courts are so clogged.
I spent most of the afternoon last Thursday in a motion hearing there. It’s a no-real-plea case, and I filed three motions to suppress. The prosecutor was irritated with me, almost as if he didn’t realize that it was his own office’s fault for not making a meaningful offer. However, his irritation was nothing compared to the officer’s. That poor officer couldn’t have made it clearer that he didn’t want to be there, and I don’t know who irritated him more, me or the prosecutor.
I honestly felt bad for the cop. He could be out patrolling the streets. He could also be getting some shuteye or mowing the lawn or spending some time with family. Instead, he’s spending an afternoon in a courtroom. He’ll spend more time there when the next round of motions comes along. He’ll devote yet more time in the future to depositions and complying with new discovery requests. He’ll kill a whole day or two in court when trial rolls around.
I felt even worse for the poor people of Scottsdale. That cop won’t be doing anything useful for them during all those hours he ends up spending on the case. It’s all because someone in the prosecutor’s office thought it would be a good idea to institute a ridiculously wasteful tough-on-crime policy that’s more tough-on-logic than anything else. If the zealots at MADD are right and enforcement is the key to stopping drunk-driving, I wouldn’t be surprised if Scottsdale soon becomes the DUI capital of the world. All of their DUI cops are going to be sitting in court because mayhem on the streets is apparently not too high a price to pay to avoid shaving off a little time from DUI defendants’ sentences.
It should go without saying that I don’t feel bad enough about any of this to do one iota less of work on any of my cases there. The constitution sets a high bar if we insist on it. All the government waste in the world is justified in my mind if that’s what it takes for one defendant to get his fair shake. Of course, my interests are my clients’ interests. The people who create wasteful policies have different responsibilities. They should be thinking about justice. They should be thinking about the broader consequences of their actions.
The objective of the representation in a case with no plea is still to do the best I can for my client. I have to make the system do its job, and the wheels of justice turn slowly. My clients and I win little by little with each passing moment the state has to devote to the case. Every second we spend means that some issue is being litigated and preserved. Holding the state to its burden is time-consuming. It should be. The questions the prosecutor finds objectionable and the issues that make the prosecutor roll his eyes are each little victories simply by virtue of the fact we are arguing them. The state never seems to get that. They never ask themselves if a Pyrrhic victory is really a victory at all if the person they’re fighting doesn’t suffer anything because of the loss.
There are plenty of bright people working at the City of Scottsdale. They have some great prosecutors, but sadly, they don’t seem to be the one crafting the policies. Whoever is in charge doesn’t have any clue what they’re doing, and the end result is an epic disaster where wasting resources and keeping police from policing are the norm. If more residents knew how their tax dollars were being wasted to make them all a little less safe, there’d probably be an occupy movement at the city attorney already. Maybe people will wake up sooner or later. Better yet, maybe the city will rethink its policies.