Thursday, May 27, 2010

Rush to judgment

Trial lawyers, good ones, adopt "trial themes" to help convey the essence of their case to jurors. It's a way of framing the evidence so that it paints a clearer picture. Or, some might say, a way of distorting the evidence to make an unclear picture.

One of the most common criminal defense themes is "rush to judgment." The theme is repeated and reinforced through questioning of the witnesses, especially cops, to indicate that the police quickly decided who was guilty and didn't bother looking for the "real" perpetrator.

Now, if you're a reader of this blog it may be that you read defense lawyer blogs, too. And if so, you'll know there are 100 of those for every prosecutor blog. And most of them are excellent, I've linked to a few here.

One of the best is by a DC lawyer called Jamison Koehler, who is an intelligent, thoughtful, and unusually articulate blogger.

But today I'm gonna beat him up. :)

You see, I've noticed a rush to judgment on the part of defense lawyers and other bloggers who are just too dashed keen to criticize cops. Heaven knows there are cops who deserve criticism and always require close scrutiny. But what I'm seeing is either an extrapolation of one event to suggest all cops are corrupt/violent/lazy or, as with Jamison's post, an extrapolation from an event that may not even have happened to criticize cops in general, and then to circle back and end with the assumption that an event occurred.

Read this post. Basically, some dude got drunk at a baseball game, threw up on a cop and his daughter, and got arrested. In his mugshot he has a black eye. Jamison states up front, like any honest blogger, that he doesn't know the facts. He doesn't know how the guy got a black eye.

Here are some possibilities:
-- he had a black eye when he went into the ball park
-- he got whacked by a baseball while in the park
-- a nearby spectator gave it to him for being a drunk jerk
-- while being arrested he fought the police and got the black eye while being subdued
-- the cop/father punched him for throwing up on his daughter
-- the cops decided to beat him up for revenge/fun.

Six options. Two of them are not okay, with me or (I'm sure) Jamison: the last two.

In his blog post, though, he goes straight to the last one, then talks about how so many of his clients and other people in mug shots sport physical injuries on their faces. But again, the options don't start and end with "The cops did it gratuitously."

So here's why I care:

1. There are very few blogs out there supporting the cops, telling people what a tough job they have. In contrast, there are hundreds of defense lawyer blogs slamming cops and prosecutors. I don't like that the view is so one-sided, that there are so many voices on one side of the debate, and I like it less when so many good cops are tarred with the sweep of a single brush. I feel like the public's view of officers lies in the hands of people who are looking for reasons to get 'em.

2. Police officers are not being extended the same benefits being offered the people who are so often actually guilty. I can imagine, for example, someone reading my protestation that the cops didn't beat this guy up, and saying "Oh, come on." But those who would say that would be horrified if I, or the cops, accused someone of a crime with flimsy evidence and said, "Oh, come on. He was there, of course he did it."

Now, I'm not saying cops don't deserve more scrutiny in their actions, I'm just saying let's not assume their guilt when we wouldn't for anyone else.

Finally, I want to say that Jamison's blog is one of the first I read in the morning for all the reasons I've mentioned. And I encourage you to do so, too. I don't want this to seem like I'm attacking him personally (perish the thought!), I'm not. His blog entry just happened to catch me when the issue was on my mind.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Jury trial verdicts

Ooops, I forgot to update with a couple of verdicts from the week of May 17. Here they are:


Defendants: Charles Lott
Offense: Aggravated robbery
Prosecutors: Amy Meredith and Marianne Powers
Defense attorney: Rick Reed
Disposition: Jury found guilty; jury assessed punishment at 30 years TDC.


Defendants: Willie Marshall
Offense: Sexual assault of a child
Prosecutors: Beverly Matthews and Joe Frederick
Defense attorney: Lucio del Toro
Disposition: Jury found guilty; jury assessed punishment at 26 years TDC.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Some courthouse myths exposed

Looking through past blogs and encountering questions from friends who don't enjoy the criminal lifestyle, I often come across questions or comments that make me think, "Huh, don't people know that . . .?"

Here are a few random answers to questions that no one has asked in recent days. But they have in the past, and they will in the future.

1. Trial Transcripts. This comes up mostly from jurors during trial, actually. "Can we see the transcript please?" Or, if they aren't feeling greedy, "Can we see the part of the transcript dealing with Witness X's testimony?"

No. No, you may not.

There is, in fact, no such thing as a transcript. Oh sure, there's a gifted court reporter taking down everything word for word, but it all gets sucked into her (hi Joni!) little machine and stays there, a million tiny words all jostling together nonsensically and in no way accessible to jurors or anyone else.

A trial transcript is a typed document that said court reporter (hi again Joni!) puts together Lordy-knows-how in the weeks after trial, so the defense and prosecution can have it for the appeals process. She can't just hit a button and have it all spew out for immediate consumption, her stenotypinggraphicalrecordinator just doesn't work that way.

2. Appeals. Here's the question I get: "So, if you lose a case, do you handle the appeal or does someone else do that?"

First of all, I don't lose.

Very much.

Second of all, no. Nope. Non. Nein. Niet. If the prosecution loses at trial, it's over. We do not get to appeal a not-guilty verdict, no how, no way.

Heaven knows, I've tried.

3. Public defenders. And the question this time: "Is it true that the public defenders are all overworked and hopeless?"

The misconception here is that we have a public defenders' office at all. We don't. Fifteen counties in Texas have one version or another and they operate like the flip side of the DA's office - housed in the courthouse and paid by the county, on a salary.

What we have in Austin (Travis and Williamson counties, technically) is a system whereby private defense attorneys get appointed to cases by the courts. So local defense lawyer Jamie Spencer (for example) may be in court representing a fee-paying client, the Prince of Thieves, and a court-appointed one, the Pauper, at the same time.

I've not studied the fee forms, but I think they get paid on a set schedule according to what they do - so a plea would be so much, a trial so much more. I am pretty sure that no one gets rich this way. Right Jamie?!

4. Trial duration. I surprise people with this one a lot because many often think or assume that a jury trial automatically lasts several weeks. They also think that jury selection is a days-long process.

Now, I guarantee that listening to windbag lawyers as they try and assess a jury panel feels like it lasts days but, except for capital murder cases, jury selection usually lasts just one afternoon.

As for trials, the vast majority are over in one week. In fact, the vast vast majority are over in two or three days. A DWI trial, for example, might consist of a single police officer witness, and that's it. Even murder cases tend to last a week or less -- very often people kill people at night, in the dark, away from witnesses. Which makes calling hundreds of witnesses rather hard.

Any other burning questions / conceptions you want answered / challenged?!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Jury trials this week


Defendants: Albert Rivera
Offense: Aggravated kidnapping
Prosecutors: Erika Sipiora and John Hunt
Defense attorney: Tom Weber

Friday, May 21, 2010

Verdict update

Congratulations to Monica Flores and Beverly Matthews on a well-tried case and a great disposition for the victim.


Defendants: Jose Alejo
Offense: Aggravated sexual assault of a child
Prosecutors: Monica Flores and Beverly Matthews
Defense attorney: Eloisa Ontiveros and Brad Urrutia
Disposition: Jury found guilty on all ten counts.

*NEW*: Jury assessed punishment at 75 years TDC.

Come here, my pretties . . .

Twice in the past week I've seen the same issue pop up - the alleged disparity in the criminal justice system based on whether someone is good looking or not.

First, fellow Texas blogger Grits for Breakfast addressed the issue on Wednesday, quoting a CBS story that cited a Cornell University study claiming that: "unattractive defendants are 22 percent more likely to be convicted than good-looking ones. And the unattractive also get slapped with harsher sentences - an average of 22 months longer in prison."

A lot of 22s there, friends, and that's a real specific number for something so imprecise.

I saw it again, reading a book review of The Beauty Bias (written by an ugly person, apparently) in the Christian Science Monitor.

Grits rightly questions the use of undergrads in the Cornell study but says, "one imagines it might be possible to devise a study that tested this finding empirically."

I doubt it, myself, but he's a smarter man than I am, so I read on. He suggests this:

"Take a subset of cases that went all the way to a jury. Rank defendant mug shots by attractiveness (perhaps using focus groups). Then chart the outcomes, grouping similar types of cases, for the homely and handsome alike, following up with juror interviews to round out the dataset with oral accounts."

Sounds like a decent idea, to me, in principle. Certainly it would be fascinating to know how much attractiveness plays a role in jury trials.

But here's the thing. Just because we (a) want to know something, and (b) live in a scientific world, that doesn't make knowing that thing a scientific possibility.

And here's why not, in this particular instance.

First, you have the problem of nailing down what is "attractive." Without knowing what that means, an answer is impossible. I suppose, on the left and right of the bell curve it's easy enough (Lyle Lovett v. Brad Pitt, for example) but it gets very hard from there on in. Grits makes a decent enough suggestion ("Rank defendant mug shots by attractiveness (perhaps using focus groups")) but at the end of the day you are left with a puddle of subjective opinions that forms a shape on the floor, and calling it immutable doesn't make it so. I mean, anyone ever pick a mate using a focus group? Remember that in a focus group you can have twenty people thinking a dude is hot, and one who doesn't. But in a jury it only takes one person to spoil the party. Just one.

You next have the larger problem of comparing cases, and this I would suggest (and have mentioned before in posts) is impossible. Within one "case" the following things are never identical:

-- the victim's role (provocateur, total innocent, etc)
-- the impact on the victim (sensitive soul, tough guy, etc)
-- the degree of harm (broken bone, snapped spine, amputated leg, etc)
-- the degree of intent to cause the harm (reckless, knowing, intentional, etc)
-- the defendant's criminal history (dude is always breaking people's spines, or did it just once, etc.)
-- the degree to which the defendant takes responsibility (pleads guilty but goes to jury for punishment, pleads not guilty, pleads not guilty and testifies to blame victim, etc)
-- likelihood of rehabilitation for defendant (smart guy with family support, not that, etc.)
-- the whiteness of the defendant's teeth (just kidding! Some don't even have teeth.)

See, with all these jelly-like variables being used to assess the impact of a jelly-like variable called "attractiveness" you are simply wasting time.

And please, feel free to waste time. Yours, of course, not mine.

Look, I wouldn't dispute the claim that in general attractive people often have an advantage over ugly mugs. But I don't think that means it's true in the criminal justice system -- the jurors I have always spoken to have taken their roles very, very seriously, looking at the evidence and not injecting their opinions as to irrelevancies like the size of someone's boobs or how nice their hair is. They don't do that for the women, either.

I suppose my point is that there are some absolute, unarguable, definitive problems with our justice system that could be studied and addressed. The quality of defense lawyers appointed to represent the indigent. The dearth of treatment and education programs for offenders. Low pay for dedicated (and very handsome) prosecutors. ADAs forced to look out the window at jail cells all day. The dearth of on-site, free massages for county employees.

You know, that kind of stuff.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

New cases this week

Seems like a while since I've had a batch of new cases (crime must be down in Austin, yay!) and I know it's been some time since I've shared them.

Here's what came in yesterday and today:

Eight new cases for seven new defendants (although one defendant already has four pending cases). Here are a few details (ages are approximate).

1. Possession of controlled substance by fraud -- 3rd degree felony -- defendant is a mid-40s female
2. Burglary of a habitation -- 2nd degree felony -- defendant is a 30 yo male (has the four pending cases, all theft-related)
3. Possession of controlled substance -- state jail felony -- defendant is a 30 yo female
4. Failure to comply with sex offender registration -- 3rd degree -- defendant is a 60 yo male
5. Agg assault causing serious bodily injury -- 2nd degree -- defendant is a 50 yo male
6. Agg assault with a deadly weapon -- second degree -- defendant is a 35 yo male
7. Possession of controlled substance -- state jail felony -- defendant is a 35 yo male
8. Possession of controlled substance -- 2nd degree -- defendant is a 35 yo male

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

What's on our docket?

I thought I might give you a rundown of the cases that appeared on Monday's docket, to give you an idea of what a typical day in court looks like.

Overall, there were 32 defendants on the docket, with a total of 40 cases between them.
Of these, five defendants were mine (so to speak), with nine cases between them.

Oh, wait, I should let you know that Mondays we see a lot of cases that are in the grand jury division, they appear on the docket even though they are still unindicted (i.e., not yet presented to the grand jury, and therefore not assigned to any of the ADAs in our court). There were 18 cases for 16 defendants in this category.

So that leaves us with: 19 defendants with 23 cases.

Here's a list of all cases (including unindicted ones) to give you an idea of the range, divided up into the felony categories. My cases will be the green ones:

First degree felonies:
Agg sex assault of a child
Possession of Controlled Substance (POCS)

Second degree felonies:
Burglary of habitation (5 cases) -- one of these is mine
Agg assault with deadly weapon (4 cases) -- two of these are mine
Sexual assault
Sexual assault of a child
Possession of Controlled Substance (POCS)
Agg assault causing serious bodily injury

Third degree felonies:
Execution of document by fraud
Possession of Controlled Substance (POCS) (3 cases)
Assault family violence
Bail jumping
Theft (between $20k and $100k)
Injury to a child
DWI 3rd or more

State jail felonies:
Credit card abuse
Possession of Controlled Substance (POCS)
Cruelty to animal (stabbing a dog!)
Burglary of a building
DWI with child passenger
Attempt to obtain prescription drugs by fraud (2 cases) -- both of these are mine
Forgery of financial instrument
Criminal mischief
Theft from a corpse (yes, you read that right!)

Monday, May 17, 2010

Jury trials this week, and one result from last

Just two this week, and look below for a verdict from last week . . .


Defendants: Charles Lott
Offense: Aggravated robbery
Prosecutors: Amy Meredith and Marianne Powers
Defense attorney: Rick Reed


Defendants: Willie Marshall
Offense: Sexual assault of a child
Prosecutors: Beverly Matthews and Joe Frederick
Defense attorney: Lucio del Toro

The result from last week:


Defendants: Jose Alejo
Offense: Aggravated sexual assault of a child
Prosecutors: Monica Flores and Beverly Matthews
Defense attorney: Eloisa Ontiveros and Brad Urrutia
Disposition: Jury found guilty on all ten counts; Punishment phase begins tomorrow (Tuesday).

A quick bear-related update

Last week I posted about my bro, the police chief in Aspen. I included a chart of bear sightings (that's the kind of action the cops up there get to deal with).

Just for fun, here's the chart again:

Annual Bear Complaints2007200820092010
Monthly Bear Complaints

I was very curious about the lower level of bear complaints in 2008, so asked El Jefe de Policia and the answer, of course, is simple once you know it.

Apparently in 2007 and 2009, the area had hard spring frosts, which killed off many of the berries that the bears like to dine on. This forced them to look further afield for food: Aspen city. 2008, though, had no such late frosts so the bears could hang tight in the mountains.

Just in case you want to know more about Aspen bears, they have their own website.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Media coverage

So I had a spot of media coverage this week after pleading out a relatively high-profile case. The story was covered by the L.A. Times as well as the local paper, The Statesman. A couple of people also heard me on the radio, KLBJ (no link 'cos I can't find the story online).

I'm normally wary of reporters, as we are all here. The assumption seems to be that if the best story involves drama and someone looking bad, well, don't let it be us! And it's true to a degree - the more dramatic and controversial something is, the better the story.

But being a former reporter I feel a little hypocritical if I turn my back on the media. After all, when I covered the court in England I felt like I always reported as accurately as I could, and accurate reporting is easiest when those involved actually speak to you.

So my policy is to think carefully about what I want to say before talking to a reporter. I'm lucky in that my experience with our local man, Steven Kreytak of the Statesman, has been good. It's crucial to be able to trust a reporter, to know that when you say "This is off the record," it doesn't sneak in somehow. And so far (thank you Mr. Kreytak!) he's been 100 percent accurate and trustworthy in all our dealings.

I do think it's important to talk to the press. We handle so many cases, do so much hard work on behalf of the community, but so much of it goes unnoticed. That's a shame because not only do you, the tax payer, deserve to know what we're doing for you, but there are some dashed interesting stories / cases / people circulating the building, every single day.

I was thinking about my first experience with the media, on the receiving end so to speak, and was reminded of it by my brother who shared this clip with me.

That's me in the lion shirt. It was reflective, very very cool. Funny that my brother, now a cop, was wearing a tin star, isn't it? Anyway, the man in the middle was Bob Helmle, my uncle. He grew up a friend of Hemingway, made himself a millionaire by dabbling in stocks from home, and was perhaps the most interesting and intelligent man I've ever met. Knew a lot about butterflies, for some reason.

But the important thing is, and I remember my youthful outrage at the time: I never said anything about having a "jolly good time." Neither of us did. The reporter, clearly, could take a lesson from Mr. Kreytak.

Although it's true, riding that fire engine was amazing. Maybe even more amazing than my super-cool lion shirt.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Author interview: Alan Furst

Meet Alan Furst.

For my money, he's simply the best writer out there at the moment. I have a penchant for Eric Ambler, Graham Greene, and the old-fashioned spy writers that Mr. Furst also favors, so I'm predisposed to liking his work.

But for setting, mood, complex and interesting characters, he really is superb. In fact, he was the second novelist I recommended when I began Thriller Thursday, lo these many months.

So if you like Europe, the pre-WW II era, spy novels, or just reading, I beg you to try him. You will become addicted. Even my wife, who only reads non-fiction, makes an exception for him. And luckily for us addicts he has a new novel coming out soon, SPIES OF THE BALKANS.

His interview:

Why do you think the pre-War years (and WWII itself) are still so fascinating - to you and your readers?
I think it's a combination of good versus evil,heroism and honor versus villainy. WWII replays every night on various tv stations and the right side always wins.

Will you continue to write in this era, or are you tempted to try something more contemporary as a setting?
No, a contemporary novel would be awful--cranky and overly sharp, all romantic notions gone. I'll stay 30s/40s.

Have you considered having a German be one of your heroes?
See Dr. Lapp of the Abwehr, a recurring character. And I will surely use a German hero one of these days.

Do you find your books more popular in Europe, compared to the States?
In the beginning, more popular in the UK, now by far selling more in the US.

Do you spend much time in Europe while working on a book?
That varies, I wrote the first three in Paris, conceived and read for two others there.

How long does it take to complete a novel, start to finish?
About 3/4 months for research and 9 months for production writing. (2 pages a day)

What is your writing process? Do you set yourself a target number of words per day?
As above, and all the Hemingway rules (600 words per day, stop when you know what's coming next) apply. Amazing, he's always right, at least for me. And you have to make progress every day, have to.

How did you get to feature in that Absolut Vodka ad?
They called me--one of the creative directors on the account is a serious fan. I suggested that
I write the copy instead of having my photograph.

Your central characters are fairly ordinary people fighting to survive in extraordinary times - is this the most compelling literary theme to you?
Not only me--though I hesitate to say everybody.

Do you have an opinion on the evolution of e-readers and the technological changes facing writers and publishers? Good or bad for readers? Writers?
I don't yet know--I like the book as a technical triumph, but I'm selling about 5% e-editions. The people who seem in love with e-readers are those who spend a lot of time traveling--e-books means you always have something to read.

If you could pass on one piece of advice to an aspiring author, what would you say?
What I would say to aspiring authors is NEVER permit any relative or love interest to read your work before publication. Believe in yourself, and then there's always the Michener gospel: "Never complain, never explain, never disdain." Before I was a successful writer, I had determined that to be a failed writer was a life I would live if I had to. I just wouldn't quit.

Do you enjoy the sales/marketing aspect of being a 21st century novelist, or are you the stereotypical introvert?
I do the sales and marketing with full attention and determination, but being in public is not the easiest thing I do.

Who are you favorite authors, in terms of those you read for pleasure, and those who inspire you?
I read a lot in the 40s, so like Ambler, Greene, Anthony Powell, I like British authors of the 40s as a general rule.

Will we see Brasserie Heininger [go to slide 4] in your new novel, Spies of the Balkans?
Every novel has a scene set at the Heininger, it's a signature.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Jury verdicts

Here are some jury verdicts from last week:


Defendant: Clarence Foy
Offense: Attempted burglary of a habitation
Prosecutors: Chris Baugh and Sandra Avila
Defense attorney: Bristol Myers
Disposition: Jury found Defendant guilty; Judge sentenced him to 7 years TDC.


Defendant: Joseph Melendez
Offense: Aggravated robbery
Prosecutors: Amy Meredith and J.D. Castro
Defense attorney: Rick Reed
Disposition: Defendant pled guilty at jury selection; jury sentenced to 22.5 years TDC.


Defendant: Timothy Dolan
Offense: Sexual Assault
Prosecutors: Judy Shipway and Mona Shea
Defense attorneys: Paul Morin and David Reynolds
Disposition: Hung jury.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Jury trials this week


Defendants: Jose Alejo
Offense: Aggravated sexual assault of a child
Prosecutors: Monica Flores and Beverly Matthews
Defense attorney: Eloisa Ontiveros and Brad Urrutia

Keeping it in the family

I grew up on a farm just north of London, hundreds of acres of barley, wheat, and rolling green pastures. I was never much of a farm-boy, though, more interested in playing sports and taking pot shots at the wild life with an array of weaponry that grew larger as I did.

My brother, on the other hand, was a quiet soul who listened to heavy metal and knew the difference between a rake and a hoe long before I did. He was always going to be the farmer in the family, the grubby-handed tractor-driving kid with one eye on the furrow in front of him and the other on the weather.

But life's funny, isn't it? Weird enough that I am a prosecutor in Texas -- you should see where my brother ended up.

Not a farm, but perhaps the coolest city in America: Aspen, Colorado.
Not a bejeaned farmer high up on a tractor, but an officer of the law wearing a uniform and driving . . . well, last time I looked it was a Volvo. Before that a police Saab.
He is in charge, though. A straight-arrow, law-abiding white guy by the name of Richard Pryor.

I was on the Aspen Police website this morning (the least I could do, after all he remembered my birthday this past weekend), just poking around. I wondered what kind of issues they have up there and came across this:

Bear Activity

These numbers represent all bear-related calls-for-service, including bears being bears, trash violations, and bear intrusions. The below chart reflects bear related calls-for-service for the Aspen Police. These numbers were updated on April 29, 2010.

Annual Bear Complaints2007200820092010

Monthly Bear Complaints


Bears. For some reason, this seems like a cool law enforcement/public safety problem to have. I mean, they don't have prostitutes or gangs roaming the streets, they have bears.

But I do want to know what happened in 2008 to bring the numbers down. Given that these numbers represent complaints, not sightings, maybe the bears got smart and ate the potential complainants?

I know, I'll ask my bro.

Friday, May 7, 2010

The DA - defense lawyer interaction

Following on from Friday's discussion . . . that somehow turned into one about changing light bulbs. . . I thought I might use the metaphor to show how prosecutors and defense lawyers typically interact.

Imagine a plea negotiation taking place in court, fierce whispers by counsel table. (About the light bulb, remember.)

ADA: So, I looked at everything, I know all the facts.
Defense Lawyer: Good, so you'll agree that the case should be dismissed.
ADA: Dismissed? Dude, the light bulb clearly needs changing, beyond a reasonable doubt.
DL: That's not what my client says.
Big surprise. Lemme guess, he says he's innocent and the light bulb works fine.
Right, and you can't prove otherwise.
I have two cops who responded to the 911 call. They saw the bulb was out.
Maybe it was just off.
They checked the filament. Burnt out.
Oh, right, like they're experts.
They bagged it as evidence and our forensics people looked at it.
Burnt out.
Needed changing?
Needed changing.
Maybe it burnt itself out.
Fingerprints on the light switch.
My client's?
You know it. His light, his bulb, his switch.
Maybe he was just trying the switch, you know, after it burnt out. Maybe he couldn't figure out why the bulb wouldn't work.
Oh, so now you're saying he's mentally incompetent?
No, but you should cut him a break because he is kinda slow.
I thought you said he was innocent?
He is. But if he's not, you should cut him a break.
Okay, but he has to pay for a new light bulb. Environmentally-friendly one.
Jeez, for real? He's not made of money.
He's paying your fee, he can afford a light bulb.
That's why he can't afford a light bulb.
Fine, then he gets probation and has to do community service.
How many hours?
How long will it take him to change a light bulb?
Just one?
A dozen at least. At my house.
He'll need a ladder. But that's cool, he knows where to get those cheap.
Cheap? Wait, he's not going to use stolen . . . .
No, no, not stolen. They fell off the back of a truck.
Well, that's okay then.

How many cops does it take?

So I'm getting ready for a murder trial, my first as first chair, which is set in July. As far as these things go, it's probably one of the most straightforward trials, not one of those complex millionaire-wife-kills-rich-old-husband deals, nothing like that.

And in a more straightforward case, where you have a lead detective chasing down clues and leads and suspects, the image we get from TV is that the homicide detective is doggedly working on his own, or maybe with a partner, to solve the case.

Well, kinda. No doubt my lead detective worked hard, no question about that at all. But I'm thinking about this because yesterday I drafted my subpoena for the cops I may call at trial.

How many cops? I hear you ask.

Twenty six.

No DNA or fingerprint people, either. And that doesn't include the lay witnesses.

Seems like a lot, doesn't it? Now, a lot of those won't be needed at trial but I tell you this to point out what a thorough and in-depth job these guys do, and how many of them it takes.

And you should see them screwing in light bulbs, they are awesome.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

It's magic!

About time I recommended a book - I've been so busy tweaking my own novel these past weeks that I've not done much reading. But I'm about to wrap up the first thriller/suspense novel in a while to satisfy me.

The author is Jeffrey Deaver, who I believe lives in my old home town of Chapel Hill, NC. He's best known for his book (thanks to the movie) The Bone Collector. Frankly, I thought the movie awful, which may be why it took me a while to get to one of his novels. I'm glad I did, though, and the novel I heartily recommend is THE VANISHED MAN.

One of the interesting aspects to me is the magic, illusionism and prestidigitation, that reoccurs throughout the novel. Fun and fascinating, and good tale.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

New crime on the books

As a prosecutor, I don't get to decide which laws to apply, and which to ignore. I don't get to write new laws, to invent crimes, or pick and choose defendants to hammer.

As a prosecutor, I can't do those things legally or ethically.

But as a blogger, oh boy. . . this is my world and if you run afoul of its laws, I get to decide whether to apply the thumb screws, boiling oil, or put cockroaches in your panties.

So here's a new law, aimed at a noble and ancient profession (no, not that one!): doctors. The law is:

If a person makes an appointment for a specific time, it shall be a felony to make that person wait more than half an hour.

-- a state jail felony for between 30 and 45 mins;
-- a third degree felony for between 45 mins and 1 hour;
-- a second degree felony for between any time over 1 hour.

The following shall not be defenses to this crime:
  • apologetic looks from the receptionist
  • comments from any member of staff about how busy they are
  • that the person is placed in a holding cell (aka examination room), if the waiting is done there instead of the reception area
Now, doctors are productive members of society so I don't think they should necessarily be jailed for this crime. Probation would be more appropriate and here are some conditions I would apply:

-- community service : providing free, on-time, and cheerful service to the indigent and homeless.
-- drug / alcohol / anger management treatment : it wouldn't matter if the doctor suffered from any of these. After all, needless treatments are already part of their world.
-- fifty minutes a day, every day for a week, on a hard plastic chair with only a poster of AIDS symptoms and a 1997 copy of Time magazine to look at.
-- at least one bodily invasive procedure, chosen by the victim. If a second degree, performed by the victim.

For repeat offenders . . . hmmm, I'll take suggestions.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Verdict from last week

One case pled the day of trial (as previously reported) and the other is ongoing, so the only result from last week is:


Defendant: Ruben Avila
Offense: Aggravated Assault with a Deadly Weapon
Prosecutors: Kathryn Scales and Laurie Drymalla
Def. attorney: Bristol Myers
DISPOSITION: Guilty, jury assessed punishment at 6 years TDC.

Trials this week

Another full week of jury trials, and one verdict from last week posted above.


Defendant: Clarence Foy
Offense: Attempted burglary of a habitation
Prosecutors: Chris Baugh and Sandra Avila
Defense attorney: Bristol Myers


Defendant: Joseph Melendez
Offense: Aggravated robbery
Prosecutors: Amy Meredith and J.D. Castro
Defense attorney: Rick Reed


Defendant: Timothy Dolan
Offense: Sexual Assault
Prosecutors: Judy Shipway and Mona Shea
Defense attorneys: Paul Morin and David Reynolds


* ongoing trial from last week

Defendants: Joseph Foley and Michael Cooper
Offense: Aggravated robbery
Prosecutors: Jason Knutson and Mary Farrington
Defense attorney: Berkley Bettis and Jon Evans