Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Big City / Small Town

The previous series gave you a glimpse into how a big city ADA operates.  Even as I was writing it, I saw the need for a post about the differences between a prosecutor's office employing over a thousand people and one employing just under one forty.

When I left NYC for greener pastures (seriously there are greener pastures here), I thought I'd see smaller case loads and shorter hours.  How wrong that was.

As the number of people in a county decrease, so do the number of ADAs.  Instead of 400 ADAs covering cases for over two million people, I am now in a jurisdiction with 90 ADAs and one million people.  If you do the math, that means more people with less ADAs.  The caseloads were the same, if not bigger.

In many counties throughout New York State, there is only an elected District Attorney and maybe one or two full-time ADAs.  That is two or three people to cover an entire county and handle every violation, misdemeanor, and felony.  Their caseloads are in the hundreds, including day court, night court, grand jury, and trials.  The caseloads are the same.

One major difference was the defense bar.  It was not better or worse, just different.  In a smaller community, everyone knows each other.  Reputation and personal interaction means much more than it does in a bigger jurisdiction.  The same defense attorneys appear on all my files.  Trust is a necessary component to negotiation.  Once an ADA burns or lies to a defense attorney, the ADA will not get any future favors from most other defense attorneys.  And once a defense attorney is dishonest with an ADA that attorney's reputation is dirt in the DAs office.

All it takes is one mistake or one bad day.

In a large city, there are a huge number of attorneys and ADAs.  Courts are constantly putting pressure on both sides to move their calendars.  It leads to a lot of game playing on both sides.  Also, since there are so many people the lawyers run in different social circles.  You never get to know a person is outside of court.  In a smaller community, the bar is more collegial, even spending time together at different social events.

Another major difference is the judiciary.  In New York City, every plea we offered came with strings attached.  If we offered a plea to a lower charge we would also say what the sentence is.  In upstate NY, we simply offer a plea and leave all thoughts of sentencing to the judge.  Judges in smaller counties have more time to be thoughtful with a sentence on individual cases.

There's a huge difference in how cases are tried.  In New York City, defense attorneys relished jury trials because they had a better chance of an acquittal with a jury than with a judge.  In smaller communities, defendants routinely waive their right to a jury trial and have a judge try the case because they perceive a better chance of  an acquittal with a judge.

Finally, it's easier to get things done in a smaller county.  Less bureaucracy.  I can make one phone call and get necessary records within an hour that would have taken me weeks of subpoenas and motions in New York.  Also, you get to know the investigating officers better because you work with the same ones all the time.  I'm able to call them directly to get something done on a case without going through their command.

This has some drawbacks though.  The NYPD has a very strong leadership and hierarchy, almost like the military.  That means accountability.  If I needed to speak with a lieutenant about an issue, that issue would be resolved immediately.  In smaller departments, officers of every rank mix with each other.  The line between officers and lieutenants often becomes blurred. 

1 comment:

  1. That's really interesting. I never even thought about the math of being an ADA in a smaller community. Also pretty interesting about the dynamics with defense attorneys and judges. Great post!