Monday, April 14, 2014

In the Line of Duty

There have been some stark realities recently about what it means to be in law enforcement. 

NYPD Officer Dennis Guerra was killed while running into an apartment building to save lives after the call of a fire, which was set by a 16 year old arsonist.

Officer Guerra left behind four children and a wife after making the ultimate sacrifice. Head over to Huff Post for some incredible pictures of how the NYPD mourns one of their own.

The suspect, Marcell Dockery, is 16 years old, and in New York State that means he will automatically be tried in supreme court. He is currently charged with murder in the second degree.

In North Carolina, the father of an Assistant District Attorney was kidnapped and beaten over the course of four days until the FBI tracked his location and rescued him. Five people were implicated in the kidnapping, including an inmate convicted by the ADA. The inmate apparently smuggled a cell phone into his prison and was able to orchestrate the kidnapping using it.

The murder trial for one suspect accused of killing two prosecutors is in the beginning process of jury selection in Texas.

Even in my own office, there have been two times in the last month when prosecutors have been threatened over the phone. Also, a defendant on trial tried to strike the ADA trying him with his car.

The further I move along in my career as a prosecutor, the more serious the cases become. The more serious and far-reaching the investigation, the more dramatic the consequences for the accused and usually the more violent the targets. It's reality. Most days I don't think about it, but there are definitely times I look over my shoulder a few times when I'm leaving work late at night while I'm on trial with a murder case.

It's no secret that the police and prosecutors follow social media, listen to phone calls, and have other investigative means. My name is mentioned frequently by defendants I'm prosecuting. It's always disconcerting, but there have never been legitimate threats. Usually, it's just jokes to their friends.

It's a reality of choosing to fight for victims in court. Intimidation is one of the biggest problems I face in  persuading witnesses to testify. Unfortunately, it seems to be spreading to the public servants themselves. This isn't to say defense attorneys and judges are immune from the intimidation. There are many cases we investigate where defendants are stalking or harassing their attorneys, or a defendant obtains the cell phone number for a judge somehow and leaves horrible messages. Technology has made intimidation easy and anonymous.

This last month has served as a reminder of the dangers we all face in trying to do the right thing. The intimidation doesn't drive me away. It just strengthens my resolve to find justice. The suspects that have the means and choose to carry out their threats are the ones we need to focus on. Their level of intimidation is pervasive on the streets and will make life better for the citizens who have to put up with it every day.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

My Weakness

We have been interviewing candidates at my office for a few positions. The screening and selection of candidates is interesting as are the truly unbelievable interviews (both good and bad). One of my colleagues always asks for the candidate to explain their perceived weaknesses.

I'm currently on vacation with my family. It was much needed after the brutal Winter and long trial. As I sit here reading and writing while my son naps, I thought of my weakness. I find it difficult to relax. To unwind. To just be in the moment and let the beautiful world overwhelm me.

No matter where I am or what I'm doing I'm always thinking of other projects. I am trying to be better about it, especially while hanging in the sun with my family. Relaxation for me isn't TV. It usually is a good book and a quiet place, or writing stories. But I need to get better at living in the moment.

So now if you will excuse me, sunshine and family are calling my name and there are moments I'm missing. See you next week.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Never Ask Me How Long the Jury Was Out

I'm just as guilty of it as the next lawyer. We see our colleagues in their office biting their nails or aimlessly looking through files. The lawyer had just finished their closing statements and the court had instructed the jury on the legal charges, sending the jury to perform their sworn duty.

Every few minutes a well-intentioned co-worker pops their head in and asks, "What time did the jury get the case?" or "How long have they been out?"

When asked, I answer quickly and tersely, hoping to cut off further conversation. During my last trial, someone even asked me how I felt about the length of deliberations. My answer, "Worse every minute they are out." The questions are meant to be supportive or to strike up a conversation so that we can discuss the case. But it is the last topic I want to engage in while the jury is deliberating. Talk to me about anything else--sports, the weather, the stock market, a crazy conspiracy theory about the JFK assassination. I'll take anything other than the questions about the length of deliberations or what a note from the jury means.

The jury deliberated for seven hours over two days during my most recent trial. Considering there were two defendants and ten counts in the indictment, that does not seem like a long time. In another recent case in my office, where a 21 year old man admitted to murdering and raping a 13 year old girl and his DNA corroborated this confession, the jury deliberated for nine hours over three days. 

We can all posit theories about why it takes the time it did. I'm sure the defendants wonder why it took such a short time. The truth is we pick persons to serve on juries based on gut reactions and then pray they can play nice with others and reach a decision. We ask twelve strangers to decide the fate of a person and then we question what took them so long?

If I ever serve on a jury, especially in a murder trial, I would spend as much time as it took to make sure the decision was correct. The attorneys who try cases usually understand this much better than the ones who don't. 

We can save the theories about what jury notes mean and why it took the time it did to reach a decision after the case is completely over. There will be plenty of time for war stories then. While the jury is out? Just tell me a funny story.

Friday, March 7, 2014

A Published Writer

Yours truly here at Prosecutor's Discretion has his first short story published! I am extremely excited to be a part of Winter's Regret, by The Elephant's Bookshelf Press.

It's a much different feeling than being published in legal journals. In those journals you already have a conclusion and show everyone how to get to that conclusion through a legal analysis. In fiction, the characters make decisions that lead to an ending that they chose. I'm proud that my work was selected for the anthology, and also thrilled that it is alongside one of my writing buddies, Jeff O'Handley.

My identity in this blog is a loosely guarded secret, so if you purchase it you get the chance to figure out which story is mine. Where do I get my copy, you ask? Check out these links:


Amazon for the Kindle


Happy reading.

Monday, March 3, 2014

The Verdict

Twenty days of actual testimony. 65 witnesses presented by the prosecution. 260 exhibits admitted into evidence. Too many straight days at the office to count. A diet of pretzels and Pepsi for most of the month. Two defense attorneys clocking in their closing arguments at 1 hour and 45 combined. My closing argument coming in at 1 hour and 40 minutes (which is too long, but this was an exceptionally long and complicated case).

Seven hours of deliberation culminated in a verdict Friday afternoon after two days of jury deliberation. The first two defendants on trial (out of 5) were found guilty on all 14 counts.

The cold I'd been running from caught up with me this weekend and the sleep I'd been missing has finally exhausted me. There's so many posts to come out of this trial and I'll begin this week. Sorry to those of you that have emailed and found no response and sorry to my fellow bloggers for not checking in. Talk to you all very soon.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Hostile Witness

The trial will be ending soon. I cannot wait to get back to my family and some down time. A coming post will definitely be on the handling of hostile witnesses, which I had to do for the first time during this trial. Twice.

See you all in a week.