Wednesday, September 22, 2010


In August, I posted "But The House Isn't There Anymore". I wanted to let you know that since then, the charges against my client have been dismissed. The State was never able to locate the victim. I'm still wondering what the purpose of resetting the case in August was...

A High Can Last More Than A Day

Someone made a comment to me today about a client I was representing. The comment was "We should just put a bullet in her head".
What precipitated this comment was the fact that my client had gotten 2 DUIs within 2 days (along with a slew of other charges).
What the person who made the comment failed to understand is that when you have shot yourself up with morphine, drank Benadryl & Nyquil, & had a few drinks, that 'high' can last more than 24 hours.
I know it is easy to get skeptical, especially in the world of criminal law but I hope that I always have some sense of respect for others.
My client will be going to in-patient treatment after a brief stay in the county jail.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

But The House Isn't There Anymore...

I was appointed to a case where my client was charged with a felony. After reading the affidavit, I determined that the officer had not done much investigation as there was another person that should have been charged but the officer didn't bother to locate him. A subpoena had been issued for the victim but the officer's return stated that the subpoena could not be served because the house had been damaged by the flood & was torn down. The victim was not in court & had not contacted the court or DA's office to inquire about the case.
I argued with the DA to dismiss the case. The DA wanted the subpoena reissued. Reissued to where??? The house was's not there anymore. Hello!!! What is the point of reissuing the subpoena to the same address? The DA would not agree to dismiss the case without reissuing the subpoena. The DA said that if the subpoena comes back unable to be issued, he would dismiss the case then. So, my client has to come back to court because the DA thinks the Sheriff's Office can achieve the impossible & serve the victim in this case at an address that no longer exists.
The Clerk didn't get it either but the Judge came to my rescue by saying that it is the State's responsibility to see that the subpoena is served.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Civil v. Criminal is Frustrating

As most of you know, I handle only criminal cases. So, when I get appointed to a case & read the affidavit of complaint only to determine that the case is actually civil in nature it is quite frustrating for me. For example, I was appointed to a case where my client was charged with vandalism. The affidavit described a landlord-tenant situation. The landlord was the person who had sworn out the warrant, alleging that my client had damaged the house before he had moved out. My client had signed a lease & put up a security deposit, which was not returned to him. The landlord gave no reason for withholding the security deposit & did not contact my client regarding the damage to the residence. The landlord went to the clerk's office & swore out a warrant for vandalism. My client said that the damage the landlord was alleging was not done by him or his fiance; that they were instructed to leave the key to the house on the stove & leave the front door unlocked. The landlord did not inspect the property until 2-4 days after my client had moved out.

I argued with the District Attorney all morning that this case was not a criminal case; that the criminal warrant should be dismissed & that the landlord should be instructed to swear out a civil warrant if he wanted to pursue his claim for damages above the security deposit. The DA would not agree. We had a preliminary hearing. The landlord & his son, who helps him manage his rental properties testified that the damage amounted to $2,000 - $2,500. They even had pictures of this damage. My client's fiance testified as well. She was shown the pictures of the damage & testified that she had never seen damage the landlord was pointing out & that the house was in bad shape when they moved in. She also testified that her & my client worked on the property (painting & such). This was verified by the landlord.

After all of this, the Judge agreed with me that this was a civil matter but (in the same breath) said that because the burden of proof for probable cause is so low that he bound the case over to the grand jury. I can only hope that the grand jury will not indict my client. If they do, then we're on to Circuit Court, where the burden of proof is much higher & we are entitled to discovery.

Monday, July 5, 2010

It's Just One of Those Things

I had a case where my client was charged with public intoxication. My client was the passenger in a car that had been pulled over because the driver was suspected of driving under the influence. The driver & my client were both arrested.
I wanted the charge dropped. After all, my client wasn't in public - he was in a privately owned car. The officer didn't have to arrest my client. The officer could have called one of my client's (sober) buddies to come & get him. The DA disagreed, saying the officer had no such duty to do that & that the charge was valid. The charge was dropped due to my client having other more serious charges but when I got back to the office, I did some research hoping to be able to prove the DA wrong. What I found was case law to support the DA's position that the charge was valid, the rationale being that the car being on a public roadway was enough for the charge of public intoxication to stand.
The moral of the story: if you're going to get drunk, stay on private property!!! (Though it'll be tough for you to get home for a while)...

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Oh, The Logic

I had a client who was facing 4-6 years in the Tennessee Dept. of Correction if he bound his case over to Circuit Court. The DA offered 11 months & 29 days suspended after serving 6 months on all 3 charges if he pled guilty. My client didn't want to accept the offer. Why? He didn't want to go to jail on that particular day because he would miss his daughter's birthday. I asked him if he realized that he would miss 4-6 birthdays if he decided to bind his case over to Circuit Court. He said that he did but he would take his chances & deal with that in Circuit Court.
After a short pause, I proceeded to further explain what he was looking at in Circuit Court, as he would be dealing with the same DA. He told me that he understood that it didn't make sense to me but he had to do what he had to do. (HUH?)
I went back & spoke with the DA, who agreed to let my client report to jail in 2 weeks & I was able to keep his case out of Circuit Court.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Easy Button?

So, I was conferring with a client in the hallway of the courthouse one day when I heard some kind of commotion in the courtroom. Someone comes busting out of the courtroom, screaming that there was a bomb. My client & I look at each other like 'Yeah right." No one else is leaving the courtroom...

I told my client to stay put & that I'll be right back. I went in to investigate. There was no bomb. 2 inmates had gotten into a fight in the holding cell but these 2 inmates were at the very back of the holding cell & the court officers had to literally jump over about 10 other inmates to get to them.

While this entire scenario was unfolding, I kept hearing the squeal of a sound system. I couldn't figure out where it was coming from or why I was hearing it but all was revealed over lunch that day. It turns out that, in the midst of the fight the Judge was calling for help via his panic button, except that he kept hitting the wrong button and instead of hitting the panic button that is directly linked with the Sheriff's Office, he kept hitting the 'on' button for the sound system. When the Judge revealed this, someone asked him if he needed an Easy Button.

Why Did You Do That?

A Defendant in Court yesterday had an interesting explanation for why he stole a 6-pack of beer. He explained to the Judge: "You see, it was 8:00 o'clock on a Sunday morning & they don't sell beer that early on a Sunday & I was firsty. I was gonna go back & pay 'em for it later but they caught me."

Flood Relief Effort???

When caught breaking curfew, a Defendant decided to get creative with his explanation as to why he was selling ecstasy & marijuana. He told law enforcement that all proceeds were going to flood relief efforts. It didn't help his case any.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

No Matter What, It's Still Sad

Upon hearing of the outcome of my trial last week, a few people made a comment or two which ruffled my feathers, if you will.

For those of you that do not know, my client was on trial for 1st degree murder. After a week long trial & at the age of 20, he was convicted of 2nd degree murder. As I passed the news of the verdict on to some of my friends, I began to hear such comments as "Well, he'll have plenty of love in jail," and "He better watch his back." There were more but I won't get into them here & please keep in mind that I am not quoting word for word.

I only say this to make one point: not 1 but 2 families were torn apart by the events that lead up to that trial - the victim's and the defendant's. For those of you that think otherwise, I suggest that you find yourself a murder trial & go sit through it, beginning to end. As you do so, pay particular attention to the people sitting in the audience of that courtroom. I assure you - they would rather be anywhere else. There are no happy endings in murder trials, no matter the outcome. Even if the defendant is truly innocent & is found not guilty, there is still a victim & that victim had a family & that family is still grieving.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Is it the Court's job?

So, I want to know who out there thinks it is the Court's responsibility to advise a witness of their 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Just What Was I Supposed To Do?

I was in court Thursday, proceeding to enter my first plea when the Judge handed the court officer the affidavit of complaint for my client to sign the 3rd page, which has to be done no matter what is occurring in the case. What made this different is that the Judge required my client to sign in 2 different places. I knew this wasn't right so when the court officer handed the sheet of paper to my client, I glanced to see where the Judge had indicated for my client to sign & this is what the Judge had done: he had marked for my client to sign that she waived her right to a preliminary hearing & bound her case over the to the grand jury & that she was entering a plea of guilty. The problem is: you can't do both!!! This Judge is no spring chicken people - he should know how to fill out a judgment sheet.

So, I asked the Judge if my client should be signing in both places. The Judge responded by saying something to the effect of: "Of course she is. She's entering a plea & I'm going to find her guilty, so what exactly is your question Counselor?"

Uh-oh. This isn't good. You cannot enter a plea of guilty on the same day that you waive your right to a preliminary hearing & bind your case over to a grand jury (or have a preliminary hearing & bind your case over). But, this Judge has a beef with me. I just haven't figured out exactly what. I have a theory though - age & gender.

So, I respond to the Judge by saying: "If Your Honor indicates that is the correct way my client is to sign the Judgment sheet, then I don't have a question."

To which the Judge responds: "Well, it is."

Her plea is entered & we proceed to enter the rest of my pleas that I have ready & for all of those, the Judgment sheets are also filled out incorrectly. But, I had already called the Judge's attention to it & got nowhere so I let it go. Once I had my pleas entered, I left the courtroom & found a few other attorneys & told them what had happened. The consensus was that I had done the right thing in pointing it out to the Judge but once he 'overruled' me, there was nothing else I could do. I also let the DA know what had happened but the DA that I work the best with wasn't there. I will let him know what happened the next time I see him if he hadn't heard about it by then. I just want everyone to know (& I want to be sure) that I did what I was supposed to do.

And as if that wasn't enough -
It was 5:25 pm. The Judge had waited until 5:00 pm to call up the jail docket. I had 1 client left & he had to have a hearing. The only people left in the courtroom were pro-se litigants. I was standing beside the bench, which is where we attorneys stand to let the Judge know that we have something ready for disposition. Instead of acknowledging me & letting me dispose of my case, the Judge kept dealing with the pro-se litigants. Every time he would pause, I would move a little or stand up or sit down or something to call his attention to me (because I knew I needed to leave!!!). After about 5 minutes, the Judge looked at me and said: "Crystal, I will get to you in a minute, young lady."
I turned around & told Steve (the other Public Defender) that I had to leave for school, handed my last case to him, & left. By the time I got back to the office, unloaded my files from court & actually got to my car it was 5:45 pm. Thanks to traffic on I440, I made it with 5 minutes to spare.

I have to say, there is nothing like pissing off a Judge but knowing that you haven't done enough for him to hold you in contempt.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Apparently, I have time to waste

I was so mad at one of my clients yesterday that, had the hallway not been full of people I would have given him a earful. I picked up this client 3 weeks ago on a worthless check charge. First, he told me that he was in Metro jail on the date of the allegation. I made a few phone calls and 30 minutes later learned that he was a few days off regarding his intake date. After telling him that, he then said that he was not in Cheatham County on the date the check was written, had not been in Cheatham County in the last 5 years, had never met the victim, etc. The police officer or victim had not been subpoenaed and there was no copy of the check in the court file so I reset his case to yesterday and issued subpoenas.
Everyone showed up for court yesterday. Before I spoke with anyone else, I called my client out into the hall to speak with him. The case seemed odd to me. Normally, my clients will admit their guilt or admit that they were there but it wasn't them or something like that. This was the first time I got the amnesia story so I was suspicious. As soon as my client gets out into the hall he asks me what kind of deal I can get him. I asked him if he remembered what he had told me last time & he said yes but he just figured that there was enough proof to convict him. He now has an outstanding charge in Metro & this case is holding that one up so he just wants to get on with it & that he wrote the check.
So help me, if the hallway had not been full of people I would have told him more than he ever wanted to hear. Like I have all the time to just sit on my thumbs & think about his petty worthless check case. The Court has more important cases, the police officer has better & more important things to do & I have more pressing cases to work on. But no, we have to clog the Court's docket & take up every one's time to be a self-serving moron. What did he have to say for himself when I told him that I would have appreciated him being straight with me to begin with? A shrug of his shoulders. Gee, thanks. And what does my client get for all of this? Nothing, except payment of costs & restitution. And as his defense attorney I would not have cared had jail time been a part of his plea. Is that wrong of me? I can't help but think that it is, from a defense attorney standpoint.

Monday, March 29, 2010

A Feel-Good Story

Last week, I was appointed to the last case of the day in Court. It was a driving on revoked license (3rd offense), which is an A Misdemeanor & carries up to 11 months & 29 days jail time. I talked to the DA prior to speaking with my client to get an offer. The offer conveyed was 11/29 suspended after 10 days in jail & if my client had a job, he would allow her to serve her time on the weekends. This wasn't a bad offer considered it was my client's 3rd offense. I took my client out into the hall to speak to her & I asked her how close she was to being able to obtain her driver's license. Turns out, she has multiple driving offense-related cases pending in other jurisdictions in Middle Tennessee. But, she started to cry & her lawyer turned into her therapist for a brief period of time (at least to her).
It turns out that she was a single mother raising 2 very young sons & had gotten into very little legal trouble prior to her divorce a little over a year ago. The divorce had been the result of her husband running off with the babysitter. She had sole custody of their children & he was over $11,000 in arrears in child support. She had filed a petition to collect on it & when he found out, he had called the Sheriff's Office to report that 'a child was not buckled in properly'. That's why she got stopped on the day she was charged with her 3rd driving on revoked license. Of course, this was not the case & the office who stopped her noted on the affidavit that both children were properly restrained.
She had a job, no family in the area to help her, & was on her way home from picking her kids up from the babysitters on that day. Her ex is in Florida, where he 'can't be found', so child support is non-existent. She told me that there was no way she could do jail time because she couldn't afford to pay a babysitter that much, not even on weekends. She couldn't stand to be away from her kids that long & it just wasn't fair. All the while, she continued to cry.
After hearing her story, I decided to try something, so I told her to stay in the hall. I went back to the DA & asked him if we could substitute her jail time for public service work. I explained the situation to him & that she just didn't have any family in the area to help her at all. I never thought he would agree to it, but much to my surprise, he said that she could complete 100 hours of public service work in lieu of 10 days in jail.
I can't help her collect her child support or deal with the other charges she has in Middle Tennessee but when it comes to driving offenses & the Department of Safety, it's all about money & this single mother of 2 very young (& well-behaved boys) was doing what she had to do to provide for her kids & I'm glad that I was able to help her out at least a little.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

How Many Quarts?

I represented a guy in Court a couple of months ago who was charged with Public Intoxication. The affidavit of complaint stated the following (paraphrased of course):The Defendant showed up at booking belligerent, banging on the window, demanding to be allowed in. Upon questioning, it was found out that the Defendant had consumed 14 quarts of beer & had nowhere to go as he was homeless. When I read the affidavit, I assumed that the Defendant was too drunk to realize what he was saying. I went to speak with him & asked him how much he had to drink that night & he answered, "About 14 quarts." He made no excuses as to his actions & acted as though drinking that much beer was not unusual.

I tried to get his charged dismissed. After all, he did essentially turn himself in but my client is well-known and the DA would not agree. However, the DA did agree that he could be released on time served.

I called my client before the Judge to enter his plea. Greetings between the Judge and Defendant were exchanged and I informed the Court that my client was pleading guilty as charged and explained the agreed sentenced. The Judge read over the affidavit & asked the following question: "How much did you have to drink that night?" To which my client, without hesitation answered, "12 - 14 quarts".

There was no misunderstanding with my client & he was not to drunk to know how much he had to drink that night. I couldn't help but think of the Andy Griffith Show & a certain character by the name of Otis...