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» Courts

Wasting Scottsdale’s Resources

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 … Read entire article »

Filed under: Courts, Prosecutors

Looking Foolish

There’s an experienced judge in a nearby jurisdiction who won’t rule in advance on whether he will allow the parties to ask their proposed voir dire questions. His position, which he makes very clear, is that he will rule on the questions when they’re actually asked. He isn’t kidding. If the state objects after you ask it, he rules. The opposite is also true. Otherwise, you can ask whatever you want. No ruling. It makes submitting your questions pointless, though every other judge in the jurisdiction orders you to do it in advance. I once asked him in chambers why he does it that way, and he said it was because he thought the parties should be bright enough to know what they can … Read entire article »

Filed under: Courts, Trial

Better Safe Than Sorry

As a society, we lack the ability to deal with our problems without resorting to the blunt instrument of the criminal justice system. We must be failures as parents and as human beings in general, because we can’t seem to trust each other with even a little bit of freedom. We’re even suspicious of relatives, friends, and neighbors. Often, we’re especially suspicious of them. The only people we trust with our well-being are members of the fabulously wealthy, power hungry ruling class. When we get scared, they draft up oppressive, dangerous placebos we think we can’t live without. Nowhere is it worse than with sex crimes. We’ve criminalized everything, and we’ve ratcheted up the punishments. The system now hands out life sentences like it’s … Read entire article »

Filed under: Courts, Government Rants, Sex Crimes

Picking Issues

I saw this post on FourthAmendment.com over the weekend. The synopsis, for people who don’t like clicking on links, is that a federal court in Nebraska discussed how a defense lawyer doesn’t have a constitutional duty to raise every non-frivolous issue on appeal. The court quoted the Supreme Court of the United States about how experienced advocates trim weaker arguments on appeal and focus on the best issue instead. As far as the art of persuasion goes, it’s not bad advice. A shotgun-style approach is rarely the best way to approach trial advocacy. It dilutes the best points. It’s hiding a needle in a haystack for seekers who aren’t terribly inclined to search very hard and who don’t know they’re looking for a needle in the … Read entire article »

Filed under: Courts

Understanding the System

The criminal justice system excels at creating frustrating situations. It might be the only thing it does well. I recently ran up against a situation that was not only frustrating, but also a perfect example of a Catch-22. To get a client released from custody, I needed to get her accepted into an approved rehab facility. She could only get into the approved rehab facilities by doing an intake appointment. The facilities only set intake appointments for people who are out of custody. Initially, I would encounter similar situations and become angry. I assumed they were caused by incompetence and thought the people in charge would fix it if they knew what they’d done. Although my anger began to diminish as I encountered those situations over … Read entire article »

Filed under: Clients, Courts, Government Rants, jail


I have no problem with the idea of a court ordering someone pay restitution to a victim. Making an aggrieved party whole seems like exactly the kind of stuff a decent justice system should try to do. Probation also makes sense to me as a sentencing option. If we care about rehabilitation, services and some sort of supervision seem essential. I even understand the need for incarceration as part of the sentence in some cases. Although jail and prison terms are routinely and unfairly ordered to excess, I can see the logic in removing a dangerous person from society. I understand retribution and the idea that there may be a deterrent effect in taking away someone’s liberty. Also, when it comes to time, … Read entire article »

Filed under: Courts, DUI, Government Rants

How to Explain Relapse (Or Not)

I can’t count how many times I’ve stood next to someone being sentenced for personal drug possession. Some are just unlucky, ocassional users, but many more are addicts. They’ve tried to stop using meth or heroine or whatever other drug has them in its grip, but they can’t. They have periods of sobriety. They get their lives together, only to relapse when the next big tragedy comes along. When they’re at their worst, they always seem to find themselves on the wrong side of the law. I’ve noticed recovering addicts like to stress the importance of living one day at a time, of not letting setbacks cause them to give up and ruin all of their progress. Tomorrow’s a new day. Learn from today’s … Read entire article »

Filed under: Clients, Courts

This Ain’t Texas

D.A. Confidential put up a post yesterday about the role of a judge and the widely held belief among criminal defendants that speaking to the judge might somehow help their case. The judge he appears in front of apparently gives a speech instead of taking a side in plea negotiations. D.A. Confidential concludes his post with these words: A long docket this morning, and I bet at least one inmate will ask to speak to the judge, hoping he’ll sweeten the deal and take the defendant’s side in plea negotiations. The judge won’t, of course, he’ll give his usual speech. But think about it the other way around. Imagine if the judge weighed in on our side, pressured the defendant to take our deal. That possibility, I trust, makes it … Read entire article »

Filed under: Clients, Courts, Prosecutors


When I was a little kid, one of my teachers loved to say this to the class: “to be early is to be on time, to be on time is to be late, to be late is to be dead.” Awfully melodramatic, especially for someone talking to a room full of ten-year-olds, but it must have sunk in for me at some point. I still remember it, obviously, and I’m compulsively early for anything work-related. Starting out in law, a mentor told me one secret to success in criminal defense was showing up on time. Making it to every hearing before it’s supposed to start, he said, would already put me one big step ahead of all but a select few of my colleagues. He told me … Read entire article »

Filed under: Clients, Courts

“We’re All Victims of the System”

I wrote once before about Maricopa County’s policy regarding the benches in the gallery of each courtroom. They put prosecutors and victims on one side and defendants and their families on the other. They enforce the rules with an iron fist. This morning, I got to see a defendant challenge the system. It must’ve been a heavy docket, as the defendants’ side was absolutely packed. There were so many people waiting for court that the benches outside of the courtroom door were full too. You couldn’t squeeze another person on the defense side. There wasn’t a single person sitting on the other side. One defendant walked in and proudly took a seat on the empty side. He was one of those guys I can only … Read entire article »

Filed under: Courts

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