Tuesday, January 12, 2010

A fine piece of lawyering

I'm starting a new and occasional segment that acknowledges a particular piece of fine work by someone in the criminal justice arena.

Now, be clear that we all expect high standards from our ADAs, judges, and criminal defense lawyers and by highlighting individual moments of excellence I am not suggesting, implying, or indicating that the person featured or his colleagues customarily engage in sub-standard work or blah blah blah... insert disclaimer here.... blah blah blah

Disclaimer over.

Okay, I'm starting with me, because I am awesome.

Right then, moving on to the next instance of excellence, we have The Case of the Screwed-Up Scram.

It began with an individual being arrested for felony DWI. He bonded out of jail but one of the conditions of his release was that he wear a Scram device. As explained by Austin law firm Sumpter and Gonzalez:

"A SCRAM device is a tool used by courts, probation departments, and sometimes defense attorneys to monitor a client’s blood alcohol content level. It is worn around one’s ankle and takes samples of perspiration every 30 minutes to monitor and report blood alcohol levels. Data from the device is transmitted to the SCRAM company at least once a day. If alcohol consumption is indicated, the data is forwarded to SCRAM technicians who verify the drinking event before alerting court officials."

(Here is the full page on the device, and here is the firm's homepage in case you find yourself wanting one or wearing one. :))

Where was I? Ah yes, the gentleman wearing a Scram. I'll call him Mr. Smith. So his bond was revoked and he was put back in jail when his Scram showed he'd been drinking just before Christmas. He told his lawyer (a young man I checked with today, and who was too modest to allow me to use his name, so I'll call him Mr. Jones*) that he'd not been drinking. Insisted, in fact, that he'd not been drinking. So, doing his duty, Mr. Jones went before the judge and tried to explain that there'd been a mistake. So the judge, wanting to be fair, had the people responsible for the Scram come into court.

They showed him their proof, a print out of a black-and-white graph.

On that graph were two lines, one showing whether the Scram had been tampered with, one showing whether Mr. Smith had been drinking. Both lines spiked. Thank you Scram people, Mr. Smith stays in jail.

But Mr. Jones wasn't satisfied. Presumably because his client was less than satisfied and, oddly in the face of technical and scientific evidence, still claimed to have been at work and not drinking.

So Mr. Jones went back to the Scram office and obtained another copy of the graph. But he made to sure to get a print out in color, not just a photocopy. Lo and behold, the color graph contained three lines (as opposed to two), each a different color:
  • one showing whether Mr. Smith used alcohol
  • one showing whether Mr. Smith tampered with the Scram
  • one showing Mr. Smith's body temperature
The spikes were in the bottom two lines, the ones showing body temp and tampering. The line showing his alcohol use was a flat-line at the bottom of the graph, and had been mistaken by everyone as the baseline, the line you'd draw at the bottom of every graph.

Ooops. Mr. Smith had not, it was now clear, used alcohol.

But that still left the tampering spike. Well, the ever-diligent Mr. Jones obtained the second page of the Scram report, which showed examples of spikes when the Scram had aluminum shoved under it, a wet cloth stuck under it, and when a sock got stuck under it.

Guess which it was? Right, the sock.

Finally, Mr. Jones obtained proof from Mr. Smith's employer that he'd been at work when he said he had. Even better, the hours he'd been at work were almost exactly the hours his sock had messed with the Scram.

Result: the judge commended the defense lawyer on his excellent work and politely requested the presence of the Scram people. I was not privy to all of what he said to them but I do know that they accepted responsibility for the mistake and it, hopefully, won't happen again.

So, Mr. Jones (if that is your real name) as I told you in court, and as the judge said:

Good work, sir.

* 1/12: I just got permission to identify today's hero: Matt Dorsen, who works for lawyer Steve Lee.

1 comment:

  1. I am going through the EXACT same thing. I am hoping my lawyer is as diligent in obtaining reports from Scram on various types of tampers.


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