Monday, July 28, 2014

A Little Help from My Friends

I return to the office this week after a two and a half week leave for the birth of my child. I did my best to leave all of July open from court appearances so that no one would have to cover any cases for me.

Even those with the best intentions and planning fail sometimes though. Inevitably, courts schedule cases when I was not available and new cases come in all the time. What that means for the ADA who wants to take time off from work is that we need to rely on our colleagues.

The people are one the great advantages to working in a District Attorney's Office. Everyone is willing to help each other when the need arises. My colleagues made it easy to take the time off and rarely called or emailed for advice or questions. Whenever anyone asks what I love most about my job, I answer the people I work with.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

You be the Judge

Another installment where you get to decide the sentence of a person who committed a crime.

Ready for the facts?

Three 25 year old defendants get together and form a plan to make some money. They decide to break into stores after they are closed and steal cash and property. They wear hooded sweatshirts, masks, and gloves, then throw a brick through a window. Once the window is down, they pilfer the interior and steal everything that's not bolted down.

The devastation to these stores gets so bad that the police put a detail on this crew and they are finally stopped because they are caught in the act of a burglary. We can tie about twenty store burglaries to this crew, but we are not sure which of the group are responsible for most of them. They use different combinations of persons every time and with the masks, lack of prints, and lack of DNA it is hard to prove. We have solid video evidence of their faces at some of the locations, and have other videos of these gentlemen cashing in winning lottery tickets that they stole (no one ever said criminals were smart).

We know they did more, but feel confident we can prove three burglaries for each defendant. They plead guilty before indictment to two of the burglaries. So the sentence range for all three of them is anywhere from probation to 15 years in jail.

Here's the break down. Defendant 1 has a prior felony conviction for a burglary. Defendant 2 has a pending case for the same type of crime, but it is in a different county. Defendant 3 has no prior record.

What should happen to them? The same sentence? Different sentences? No one is hurt in any of these crimes, but the store owners' business is affected due to the damage and stolen property. Leave comments or send emails with your thoughts and I'll post what the judge does after all three men are sentenced.

More like this:

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Do I Gotta Come?

This is the most frequent question I hear. It comes from victims, witnesses, and yes police officers. It's on my voicemail, it's over the phone, and it's in person.

This question is especially pervasive in the teenage population, which has become my specialty in recent years. Here's how it normally goes after I answer the phone:

Me: District Attorney's Office

Witness: Someone dropped some paper at my house, telling me to call [the name of the big boss because his name appears on the subpoena].

Me: What's your name?

W: I ain't comin' to court.

Me: Okay, but what's your name?

W: I'm not testifyin' against no one.

Me: Okay, but who are you?

W: Why you want to know?

Me: I need to know who I'm speaking with so I can tell you what is going on.

A long pause.

W: John Smith. I ain't comin to no court.

Me: John Smith. What you have in your hands is called a subpoena. It is the court telling you that you must come. If you don't show up when it tells you, the court will issue a warrant for your arrest.


Me: You still there.

W: Why do I gotta come? Don't you have my statement?

Me: Yes.

W: Why can't you use that? Why did I give that statement?

Me: Why don't you want to come?

W: I've got school (or work, or childcare, or they inform me I don't know what it's like on the streets).

Me: Okay. Well, tell you what. Why don't you come down and see me tomorrow. There won't be any testifying. You're just going to meet me in my office and we'll talk about the entire process. You can tell me what I can do to help you then.

W: Tomorrow. What time? I've got school (or work, childcare, etc.)

Me: Whatever time works for you.

W: Okay. I'll be there tomorrow at 2.

I've found that there are two keys to convincing someone to testify: 1) Face to face conversations, and 2) listening to their problems and finding solutions. It is the social work part of the job, and one that becomes more necessary every year. Attorneys must be able to ask questions, but we must be able to listen too.