Monday, January 30, 2012

Night in the Life of an ADA

Disclaimer:  the following is a composite of many different facts and cases.  It is not the story of one case.  It is used for example purposes only.  I have changed any names and places.

At 4:45 p.m., I still hadn't heard back from my witness.  At 9:30 the next morning, we were scheduled to run a felony hearing.  If you recall, that's a hearing to determine whether there is probable cause to hold a defendant for grand jury action.

Without a victim at 9:30 a.m., the defendant who had committed a series of gun point robberies and assaults would be back on the streets.  We had been hunting him for weeks and could not be sure if we would find him again or when he would strike again.  But the judge would have no choice.  Legally, if we are not prepared to run a felony hearing within five days of the defendant's arrest, the court must release the defendant.

Time ticked away and I began to get nervous.  Would this man slip through our fingers again?

The police have a difficult job.  They must respond to an emergency with only sparse information.  They must assess a situation quickly to protect life and property.  In today's society, everyone wants the police to come immediately.  Many of those people think their duty ends with dialing three digits and an arrest.

Unfortunately, there is a long process that follows and it involves many difficult tasks.  The first of which is testifying in a crowded open courtroom at a felony hearing against the person that just threatened to kill you only five days earlier.

At 5:00 p.m., with still no word from the victim, I called for back-up.  I called the police officers who worked the overnight shift from 8:00 p.m. through 6:00 a.m. and would return for the felony hearing just three hours after their shift ended.  I asked them to find our victim and make sure he arrived to court the next morning.

5:00 turned into 10:00 without a word from the officers.  An hour later, I turned in for the night unsure what would happen in the morning.

3:30 a.m. the sound of a ringing phone entered my dreams.  My eyes bolted open and I stared at the illuminated screen on my cell phone bearing a police officer's name.  At that hour, the phone's glow was as bright as the sun.

This can't be good news.  I tried to blink the sleep away.

     "We've got a problem," the officer said.  At 3:30 in the morning you dispense with the formalities and get to the point.
     "What is it?"  I replied.
     "He's not comin'."
     "He's not comin' tomorrow.  He says he won't testify."
     "Why not?"  My brain is beginning to comprehend the situation.
     "They got to him.  He says someone came by the house and threatened to kill him if he showed tomorrow.  They said they were gonna be packin' the courtroom so that all the boys could get a good look at him."
     What would I do if I were him?  I thought.
     "Just get him to my office.  Make sure he shows up there at nine.  I'll talk to him then."
     "Got it."
     The sound disappeared and my wife stirred next to me wondering which of our loved ones had been hurt.  After all, that's the only reason you get a phone call that early in the morning.  I told her everything was fine and scuttled to the couch.  Sleep didn't return.

     I arrived at the office by 7:30 that morning.  There was no word from the police and no word from the victim.  I returned emails and checked voice mails.  The clock on the computer zoomed forward like there was a race to win. 9:00 a.m. arrived.

     The office phone rang.
     "Sean Young is here.  Says he has an appointment," the receptionist said.
     "I'll be right down."  The victim came.  That's step one.  Now, we had to figure out a way to get him inside a courtroom.

     Sean Young waited with his mother.  Both of their eyes' narrowed as I introduce myself.  They were suspicious of what is expected of them.  They had no idea why they were there.  Sean did his duty by calling the cops after the defendant put a gun in his face.  Why is he missing school and his mother missing work?

     "He ain't testifyin'," his mother said before she sat down in my office chair.  The past twenty-four hours were devoid of customary social norms.
     "Let's talk about this," I responded.
     "He gave his statement already.  What more do you need?  He already told the cops what happened."
     "Well, you've seen tv.  Everyone's got a right to see the witnesses against them.  If any of us were arrested, we would have the same right."
     "Well, why he gotta testify in front of everyone?  Can't he just do it with no one there?"
     "Everyone has rights.  He's got the right to a public trial.  We can't close the courtroom."
     "(expletive) everyone's got rights, 'cept us."
     I decided to take a different track.
     "Ma'am.  If Sean doesn't testify today, this guy walks out the door.  This time he didn't use the gun.  Next time he will.  Maybe it will be on a little girl or boy walkin' to school.  Maybe he'll shoot up a club. One thing I can promise, is that he can't hurt you or anyone else if we keep him in jail.  If he gets out, I can't guarantee anythin'."
     Sean and his mom looked at each other.
     "They said they was gonna kill me," Sean said.
     "We've got court officers in the court room and I've got cops who will escort you in and out of the building.  Plus, these cops will beef up patrols by your house.  They don't get your address, just your name."
     They thought about what to do.  It was better than I hoped when I awoke that morning.
     "I can't do anything without witnesses.  You don't testify, he walks and I can't do anythin' about it.  We need people to stand up to these guys.  That's how they stop."

     I didn't speak again.  I walked over to court with the victim and his mother in tow.  We placed them in a secluded office in the building.  I informed the officers to watch out for any suspicious behavior.

     9:30 slipped towards 10:30 and the case has not been called.  The defense attorney approached and asked if I was going to run the hearing.  I informed him that I was.  At that time, I had no idea if my victim will say anything when he took the stand.
     At 11:15, the case is called.
     "Now calling, 11F12345, People vs. Will Rogers, on for a felony hearing," the clerk called into the crowed space.
     "People are you ready for the hearing?"  The judge asked.
     "We are," I responded.  The moment of truth approached.
     The defense attorney consulted with his client.  They had been speaking for the last ten minutes while they waited for the court to call the case.  "Judge, after consulting with my client, we wish to waive the hearing and consent to hold the case for the grand jury."
     "Very well, the case is held on the charges of robbery in the first degree."

     I walked out of the courtroom and didn't look back.  I wanted to be clear of that room and that building if the defendant changed his mind.

     Sean Young stared at me as I opened the door to his room.
     "You don't have to testify.  He waived the hearing."
     Sean and his mother remained silent for a moment.
     "So, we can go now?"  His mother asked.
     "Yes," I said.
     They left.  I never knew if he would have testified when I called him to the stand.  But, I would find out in a few weeks when I bring him to the grand jury.


  1. Yet another great post. Keep up the good work!

  2. very cool thanks for the post

  3. Any thoughts on why they decided to waive the hearing and go straight to grand jury? Or is that part of the continuing story?

  4. They usually waive the hearing when they don't believe there is anything to gain from it or they want to try and work out a plea deal. Some attorneys believe it goes a long way towards looking cooperative in front of the judge at the time of sentence.