Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Ups and Downs

I'm on trial this week, which means that my emotions change every hour. They shift from feeling like I hit a home run to win a World Series to feeling like my dog just died and I lost my home. It's the nature of trial. One witness pushes the case forward and another moves it backward. They key is to act like every piece of evidence and word uttered is expected. Don't show the exultation or fear.

After Monday's testimony, I turned to my co-counsel and said, "Well, we can put today in the win column for the good guys." What was I thinking? Who am I to tempt the trial gods like that? As the witnesses continued through Tuesday and today, that creeping fear seeped in. That fear that the case is slipping away, no matter what we do about it. Witnesses were pushing us backwards instead of towards the goal.

We haven't won any of the other days' testimony since my remark. When will I learn to not celebrate the high points before the verdict is in? Stay tuned for how this shakes out.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Another Prosecutor Joins the Fray

An anonymous prosecutor who bills him or herself out as a "young prosecutor trying to do what's right" has a tumblr blog providing much needed humor into our criminal world.

Check it out at

And the blog that provided the inspiration for it:

Have a good start to the summer!

Friday, June 14, 2013

A Role Reversal

Who makes the world's worst witness? Murderer? Rapist? Perjurer?

Wrong on all counts. The correct answer is a lawyer.

A case required my testimony this week, which meant I had to hop from behind the podium to facing it. It was the third time I have had to testify in my career. The reason for this testimony was  that I accidentally witnessed a confession to a crime (a story for another time when the case is over).

My presence was requested at 11 am and so I dutifully went to the courthouse at 10:50 a.m. with a lengthy book I hadn't found the time to delve into. I was the second witness for the hearing. Noon rolled around and my progress in the book was incredible. At 12:15, they broke for lunch. I returned at 1:15 and waited. And waited some more after that. I read my book, picking it up and putting it down about a hundred times. Even when I was reading my thoughts still wandered. I wondered what was happening in there. How bad was it for the other witness? It was taking so long it had to be a bad sign. What if the other witness and I didn't say the right things? Would I tank the case?

At 3:00 I was called to the stand, ready to match wits with the defense attorney, but thoroughly worn down by a long day of waiting and worrying. The attorney is a friend of mine, which made it more difficult than a stranger cross-examining me. The one thing I noticed is how bad the lawyer's questions were. My main goal was to tell the truth, but so many questions were vague and there is plenty of room for interpretation. I asked for clarification or outright corrected the attorney asking me questions. I slipped up once, using the wrong word and that caused me some grief.

I emerged from the witness stand an hour later, battered and carrying an immense appreciation for what it is like to be a witness before they testify.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Fifteen Defense Attorneys and One Lowly Prosecutor

Yesterday was a day you dread. It's the cloud that hangs over what should be a relaxing weekend because you know that Monday will be busy and unpredictable.

The reason is that defendants lately are traveling in packs and preying on victims together. What that means for a prosecutor is that there are multiple defendants charged in the same crime and, therefore, multiple defense attorneys to deal with.

The morning session involved a felony hearing where 10 young men were charged in a gang assault that was captured on a high definition cell phone video. All 10 were identified from the video and arrested, which required the need for us to show the court evidence the defendants committed the crime or they would be released from jail. 10 defendants! 10 attorneys cross-examining my two witnesses! And yes it was just as brutal as it sounds.

The successful morning hearing wrapped up at 2:10, which meant I was only 10 minutes late for my 5 defendant suppression hearing for the afternoon. 5 defendants and 5 defense attorneys cross-examining my four witnesses about a different robbery and assault. This successful hearing wrapped up at 4:45. If it had pushed any longer I probably would have collapsed. There was a point where my brain was wandering so much that the judge was staring at me during some of the questioning, until I realized I should be objecting.

After all this, I dropped in front of the TV at home for awhile, something I rarely do. I'm the type of person that keeps busy, but the 15 different prizefights I felt like I was in had sapped all of my strength.

This is what it means lately to be the juvenile crimes prosecutor-young kids traveling in groups and picking off vulnerable targets.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Nothing Nice to Say? Try This

It was a nasty case, complete with two armed home invasions where children were duct taped, a shooting, a kidnapping, an attempted murder of a police officer, and lots of resisting arrest. It's the type of case that usually garners a long prison sentence due to the severity of the many crimes.

Once I finished my spiel at sentencing, discussing the heinousness of the crimes and the utter lack of remorse from the defendant, what else can a defense attorney say?

He's a good guy who made a mistake?
He's kicked his drug habit?
He is very sorry?

Nah. The attorney knew none of them would be true or likely to mitigate the sentence. Like any good attorney who has the facts stacked against them, this attorney ignored them. He argued that the defendant's sentence should be lower because of the significant piece of legal precedent this defendant had set. The case was reversed by the Appellate Division because the police used excessive force to obtain his DNA sample and this was his second sentencing on the same case. This, the attorney argued, has been a landmark decision and will affect the collection of DNA samples by law enforcement in the future. Isnt' the fact he was used as a guinea pig the first time around enough to warrant a minimum sentence?

Turns out it wasn't.