Monday, May 18, 2009

A red letter PD day.

So, I had two cases on calendar today that I was a little worried about dealing with.
One was a guy charged with shoplifting and store burglary. He had gotten himself high on drugs, and stole a ton of booze from a supermarket. He had a old strike offense and had been to prison twice in the past 7 years. So, the offer for him was 32 months in prison. He wanted probation and a drug program. When I first arraigned him 7 weeks ago, I told him I felt that he was being unrealistic about his request for probation; with his record, he was almost certainly going to prison. He argued that he had never, ever gotten a drug treatment program. I told him that was because he never got arrested for drug possession; he always got arrested for stealing shit. It's always easier to get a drug program when you're charged with a drug offense. He suggested that if I couldn't help him, he would represent himself. I told him it was his choice; but my job was to advise him of all likely possibilities, not just humor him and tell him a fairy tale.
When he came in for pretrial 3 weeks ago, my judge wasn't in; she had called in sick. So, I told him that I would set the case for trial. On the next court date, I would ask the judge to eliminate the strike prior, and give him either probation and a drug program, or a reduced prison sentence. He agreed. Last week, he called to ask me what I was doing for him. I told him that I had written my motion, asking the judge to eliminate the strike prior, and we'd just have to wait for her decision.
I figured that my judge wouldn't give my guy probation, but instead send him to prison, albeit for less than the 32 months that the DA's wanted. But, I figured that my client would balk at a reduced prison offer, and refuse it. That would mean I'd have to do his trial, and he'd end up doing probably 4 years in prison afterward.
So, in court this morning, I let the judge know that I'd filed the motion, and told her what I wanted. She read my motion, and told me my guy could have probation and a drug program. A total shock; didn't see that one coming. When I went downstairs to let him know, he was pretty stoked. So was his family; I had prepped them for the fact that my client was probably doing some prison time, based on my assessment of the case.
The second case was even better. This guy was charged with carjacking, robbery, and alleged to have used a gun during the crimes, along with being alleged to be a member of a gang. He was also alleged to have a prior strike offense. So, he was looking at consecutive life counts. I'd had this case last year, but when I kept telling him that his defense was pretty hokey and wouldn't get past a jury, he decided to represent himself. After being on his own for a couple of months, he decided to take me back. The first thing I tried to do was convince him to try and settle the case. He was still in his 20's and I thought I could get the DA to offer me around 20 years. Not great, but better than getting a double life sentence. He said he wouldn't take anything that high.
So, I got his case ready for trial. There were some things I could argue, but the bottom line was that I figured a jury wouldn't buy my theory. Today was the day we would set a start date next week for the trial. I went to see my client last Friday to go over what we were going to do. He realized that winning the trial was unlikely, but couldn't wrap his head around the fact that any possible offer would be to high for him to accept. He said that he'd take 13 years. I told him the DA would have to eliminate all sorts of allegations to get that low, and that wasn't likely. But I'd ask, and see where the bidding went.
This morning, I went to the DA. I told him that I was making a defense offer of 13 years in prison for the carjacking and the gun use allegation. The DA asked about the gang enhancement; I told him that I thought I could prove that my client wasn't a gang member, and if the jury bought that, I'd beat the life sentence. He said he'd talk to his boss. 20 minutes later, I had my 13 year offer.
What worked for me here is my reputation; the DA's all know that I don't bullshit them, and I don't go crazy asking for all sorts of unreasonable things for my clients. They know that I'm an an effective trial lawyer, and they all respect me. So, when I told the DA that I was going to try to beat the life allegations, and told him my theory, he knew I might be able to pull it off. That's why I got that offer.
And with offer in hand, I went to my client, and told him he needs to take the offer before the DA's realize that they just gave away the courthouse. My guy wasn't the sharpest tool in the shed, but he agreed to take the offer, after I had to tell him about 50 times that he shouldn't take the case to trial.
So, I got probation and a drug program when the client wasn't charged with drug possession, and I settled a double life case for 13 years. That was a pretty good day's work for any PD.
Some days, I think that I am pretty good at this job. And this day was one of them.

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