Our constitutional rights are easily and routinely manipulated both in and out of the courtroom. But among the few fundamental rights that seemed unassailable, I thought that the right to an open and public trial was high on the list. As a practical matter, attempts to close the courtroom during a trial are rare; in fact, I’ve only argued this issue in one trial, and the judge agreed with me and kept the courtroom open to all comers. And the published decisions that I’ve read on this issue, at least to my memory, have been equally protective of this incredibly basic and important right. But the recent case of State v. Carpenter demonstrates just how wrong I was.
Saturday, April 23, 2011
Tuesday, April 19, 2011
Attorney Dennis Melowski recently defended a female driver on a group of traffic cases, including a charge of operating while intoxicated, commonly known as drunk driving. The cases went to a bench trial, and the evidence showed that the arresting deputy had been “amorous” with the female defendant during the traffic stop. Also, it turned out that the deputy’s squad camera worked fine for every traffic stop he made that evening, except—you guessed it—this one. But in the middle of the Deputy’s testimony, the bench trial was adjourned for what turned out to be a two year delay. Here’s what happened when the case finally made it back to court:
Saturday, April 9, 2011
In November, 2010 I launched The Legal Watchdog specifically to criticize State v. DeVera, an unpublished case where a trial judge “created facts out of thin air (and contrary to the evidence) to justify sending an autistic defendant to prison.” I wrote about this case, here, because while I’ve seen and read about bizarre sentences before, this one was beyond the pale. And, as it turns out, The Legal Watchdog was actually on to something bigger.
Saturday, April 2, 2011
When I was in college, I thought the liberal-conservative dichotomy meant something. Back then, it was George H. W. Bush v. Michael Dukakis, and you pretty much knew where they stood—on everything. But, eventually, along came Bill Clinton—a democrat and supposed liberal—who took us through eight years of shrinking government, annual budget surpluses, and a declining national debt. To me, as a person with only a passing interest (if that) in government and politics, this whole liberal-conservative distinction didn’t really make much sense—at least with regard to fiscal matters. And today, as a criminal defense lawyer, I find this artificial distinction to be completely useless, particularly with regard to the topic that matters most: individual constitutional rights.