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.
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?!