Friday, May 7, 2010

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.


  1. As far as watching them screwing in light bulbs, does that take 26, too?

    "How many cops does it take to screw in a light bulb?" is an old question to which I've heard numerous answers. Most commonly, "Just one, but he is never around when you need him."

    Others say, "Two - one to change the bulb and one to give you a ticket for having a light out."

    In Los Angeles the answer is "Five: One to screw in a new bulb, and four to beat the crap out of the old one."

    26 for a murder case at least gives us a baseline! ;)

  2. Hey, this is serious business. The real answer depends on the situation, and here are some common ones:

    If it's a regular bulb, patrol officers can do it, if supervised by a sergeant. However, if it's an environmentally-friendly bulb, the Environmental Protection Team will be called.

    Similarly, if the bulb is still hot there's a good chance fire investigators will be needed. They burn themselves less.

    Naturally, if the bulb is dropped and shatters we'll need the crime scene folks.

    I wonder how many ADAs is takes...? I think this may be the subject of an entire post. Stay tuned.

  3. It’s probably not such a good idea to comment on details while a trial is pending or in progress if DAC is to be a participant of record in the proceedings, but unless the incident occurred during a riot or such it is hard to imagine that there would be 26 “cops” (i.e., constables on patrol as sworn peace officers) directly involved with the apprehension or taking of a suspect into custody. I would guess that the vast majority of the 26 are not cops at all but rather investigators, detectives, analysts, statisticians, and other degreed professionals with specialized technical expertise of one sort or another whose involvement in the case commenced long after the actual commission of the crime.

    It is a mystery to me why every single potential prosecution witness who is an officer or police department employee needs to be coerced with a subpoena in order to compel a court appearance. Are there really that many out there who are so lazy or indifferent that they are likely to ignore a request or a testimony assignment if it is an inconvenience or conflicts with vacation plans? I know that may be common for traffic tickets, but for a serious felony?

  4. Anon: you are right, I was vague for a reason, I don't like to give too many details of an ongoing matter. But the reason for a subpoena to the cops isn't to compel their attendance as much as it is an administrative necessity.
    These guys are busy, work odd shifts, and (in July especially) have vacations booked. In theory I could get on the phone to all of them but in practice it makes more sense to give my APD liaison a subpoena with all names on it. Now they can let their superiors know and people can plan schedules accordingly.
    There's also a procedural matter involved: if for some reason I need to move for a continuance, I think technically I need to have subpoenaed witnesses. I'm not sure of the details of that rule though...
    And finally, with a copy of the subpoena, the officers can know which case they are required for, it has info on it that allows them to go over their report(s) and see what role they played.


Comments posted to this blog are NOT the opinion of the Travis County D.A.'s office, under any circumstances. They are only the personal, non-representative opinion of D.A. Confidential if posted under his name.
I welcome all comments, as long as they are expressed with politeness and respect. I will delete all comments that I deem to be personal attacks, or that are posted merely to antagonize or insult.