Friday, July 17, 2009

The Importance Of An Advanced Degree

When I was a baby lawyer, fresh from law school and was eager and even enthusiastic, I lived in rural South Georgia. As the youngest attorney in my county I was appointed to defend every felon who could not afford an attorney. This brief excursion has left me with a rich storehouse of criminal law stories.

Typically, I would be appointed at arraignment, after the judge heard the accused's plea. The plea was almost always 'not guilty'. I'd then jot down my new client's name and make arrangements with the Sheriff to interview him at the jail. I'd also fill in the blanks on a bunch of defense counsel motions that I would hand to the assistant DA before I left for lunch. Generally he had what I filed for already and simply gave me a copy.

After lunch, I'd sign out of the office and walk the two blocks to the jail. A deputy would bring my clients to me one at a time and lock them in a cell with me. Armed with the documents the ADA gave me, I'd interview the client. I always let them tell me what they thought happened. That gave me a good feel for how credible my client was as a witness.

Nine out of ten times I would hear a cock and bull story that usually ran along the lines of my client was just sitting in his friend's car when his friend, Red, went into the convenience store and emerged five minutes later with a bunch of money. Red then drove away at high speed, but bailed out right before the police pulled the car over. My client then had to switch to the driver's seat to stop the car. I heard this story or one very similar a lot.

I used to joke with the Sheriff as to how bad a job he was doing, what with Red staying on the loose and all.

Now what made this exercise particularly awful was that I would usually have my client's signed confession, in his own handwriting, right below where he had copied out his Miranda warning in longhand. You see, the DA had to give me copies of any statements my client made to the police. That was part of the documents the ADA handed to me.

One time, my client grabbed the confession from me and ripped it into shreds. I then had to explain to him that all he had done was tear up my copy. The DA still had the original.

My criminal clients would get arrested, confess and then stew in jail for days or even weeks because they couldn't make bail. That gave them plenty of time to work on a more palatable version of events. The longer they simmered, the more passionate they became about their personal fairytale.

When I left South Georgia to be a big city tax attorney, I thought I would never hear such spin again. Until today, I was right. The Most Reverend Katharine Jefferts Schori and Bonnie Anderson have topped even the most fantastical of my rural felons.

I guess it pays to have a graduate degree, even in fantasy.

1 comment:

Andrew said...

There seems to be a LOT of institutional 'fairyland' out there today. In addition to TEC believing that those in an openly sinful relationship should be encouraged, you have our President and his supporters believing against all evidence that THEY can make socialism work, and the Republicans believing that THEY have grass-roots support without having to actually be different than the Democrats.