Saturday, October 27, 2012

The criminal defense lawyer: three jobs in one

The defense lawyer often has to do three jobs at once: the prosecutor’s job, the judge’s job, and his own job.  That is, when the prosecutor does something illegal at trial—whether intentionally or “accidentally”—the defense lawyer had better jump on it, bring it to the judge’s attention immediately and in exactly the preferred manner, and then ask for the proper remedy at precisely the right time.  If the overwhelmed defense lawyer missteps in any respect, and if the defendant loses at trial and appeals, the appellate court will blame the defense lawyer for not freezing time and correcting the prosecutor’s cheating (or ineptitude) at the time of trial.  But the law doesn’t just require that the defense lawyer keep one eye on the prosecutor while also doing his own job; the law requires that the defense lawyer do the judge’s job as well.

Socrates on politics: cancel the election

I had my fill of politics this season as soon as I tuned-in to one of the presidential debates.  First, I heard Romney claim—and I’m paraphrasing here from my flawed memory—that “President Obama raised taxes on the middle-class by $3,000 per household.”  Then, I waited just long enough to hear Obama’s response.  Again, paraphrasing: “I’ve cut taxes on the middle-class thirteen times during my term.”

I had just about enough by that point.  My interest in politics died nearly as quickly as it began.  Instead of making any effort to get to the bottom of their respective and mutually exclusive claims, the participants and the moderator moved swiftly forward, with each candidate trying to prove that he was more forceful, articulate, confident, and likable than his adversary.  It quickly became obvious that the so-called “debate” was nothing more than a live political advertisement for each party.  And, as Socrates knew, “Politicians are concerned only with making cheap rhetorical points” rather than getting to the underlying truth of the matters at hand. 

So what’s Socrates’ solution?  Skip the election.  Flip a coin instead.

Talk radio

The Tried and Convicted “radio tour” is now complete.  After visiting radio stations coast-to-coast (from the comfort of my office), I’ve managed to gather a few of my twenty-plus interviews and put them in a single place, which you can find here.  The book is available here.

Legal fees: You get what you pay for?

From a defense lawyer’s standpoint, the simplest cases to defend are non-domestic fights.  You know, the good old-fashioned fisticuffs, often taking place in a bar or related setting, and often involving a self-defense claim.  The reason they’re “simple” cases is that they don’t involve complex pretrial or trial issues.  Normally, you simply have some eyewitnesses who testify as to what happened, and each side cross-examines them about their biases, motives, ability to accurately recount what they saw (or what they think they saw), etc.  Then, each side argues about the strength of the evidence, burden of proof, etc.  Unlike other cases, these self-defense cases usually don’t involve lengthy motions to suppress evidence, or time-consuming preparation for expert witnesses, or witness recantations to muddy-up the waters, or complicated “other acts” motions, or complex hearsay issues that can confuse the judge.  In other words, the classic battery case with a self-defense claim is the ideal case for a second-year law student’s trial advocacy course, or even for the new attorney fresh out of law school.  So how did one attorney get $100,000-plus in fees to defend a client in a four-day battery trial stemming from a simple throw-down at a trendy New York bar?

Saturday, October 20, 2012

The college football halftime interview: a toxic, airborne event

Maybe I’m a little edgy today.  Maybe I’m still upset by the recent death of the great Beano Cook.  Maybe I’m irritated that Notre Dame will likely win again against BYU before suffering the first of its two inevitable losses next week.  But whatever the reason, it’s time to call-out college football and demand a change.  No, I’m not referring to putting the “student” back in “student-athlete”; I’m referring to the dreaded halftime interview.

The next bailout

Our government has a long, rich history of using taxpayer money to bailout the poor decision-makers among us.  Most recently, of course, we had a bailout of what seemed like the entire “financial system,” and even had to bailout the American auto industry.  But these days, we’re moving into a new “bubble,” and a new bailout is underway.  It turns out that when we blindly accept long-held beliefs—such as “more education is better”—bad things happen.  Today, there is more than $1 trillion in student loan debt outstanding, with many of these debtors unemployed and in default on their payments.  This, of course, has given rise to an education bubble, and has even spawned several books on the topic and a website of the same name.

Stop the medical studies already!

A recent study demonstrated that children and teenaged pedestrians who are distracted by their “mobile devices” are at greater risk of being hit by cars.  Seriously.  Someone or some group felt that a “study” was warranted to prove this.  Equally inexplicable, some organization felt that this study should actually be funded.  (I realize that it’s possible the study was designed for some other purpose, yet yielded this finding; if that is the case, the authors should have been too embarrassed to publish it.)  But most alarming is that the authors proclaim “their findings should prompt pediatricians to advise parents and children about pedestrian safety during routine check-ups.”  No.  Stop right there.  Medical doctors have better uses for their time.  I don’t want them advising children on how to cross city streets any more than I want Charles Barkley to serve as a role model.  And if this is the last frontier for medical knowledge, then our learning is done.  We now know all there is to know.  So please, stop the studies. 

Knightly sniffs out some legal goodness

The Legal Watchdog is pleased to introduce Popehat, “a group complaint about law, liberty, and leisure.”  Popehat covers topics that typically fall outside of the Dog’s reach, and does so without pulling any punches.  For example, Popehat exposes how the state of Minnesota intrudes into its citizens’ lives to control what they can learn and how they can learn it.  As another example—and this post is my favorite—Popehat illustrates the extreme dangers of limiting our free speech rights.  So check out Popehat, and learn what our numerous governments are doing to infringe on our rights in areas other than our criminal justice system. 

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Dear appellate court judges: prosecutors are laughing at you

When reading my weekly cases, I just saw that yet another prosecutorial misconduct decision was handed down by the appellate court.  Reading the decision reminded me how prosecutors are allowed tremendous leeway to blatantly violate the basic rules of trial practice—for example, by hiding evidence of innocence from the defendant or making improper comments to the jury—in order to win convictions.  And when defendants appeal their convictions, the appellate courts repeatedly decide that it’s not their job to deter prosecutorial misconduct, so they routinely tell the defendant: “yes, the prosecutor cheated, but too bad, your conviction stands.”  Now, that’s a big problem in itself, and I’ve written about it in the Seton Hall Law Review and the Marquette Law School Faculty Blog.  But it’s what happens next that really has our nation’s prosecutors holding their sides in laughter.