if you go into a retail store, such as walmart, and take something without paying for it, that is shoplifting. pretty obvious. you may serve a few days in jail before you plead or do a brief period of probation. however, if you are caught by a loss prevention officer/rent-a-cop at most major stores, they make you sign a trespass form where you agree not to come onto their property for a set period, usually several years. if you come back, thats a trespass. not really a big deal, another minor offense with similar consequences as a petty theft. if you come back and shoplift again, they call it a burglary. silly zzoner, a burglary is NOT breaking into someone's house at night to steal their shit. simply put, burglary = trespass + intent to commit some other crime.
so, my clients may go to walmart and steal something small, like a lighter, or some necessity, like diapers, food, or tide pods (my clients LOVE stealing tide pods for some reason) and end up facing 2-6 years in prison and a felony conviction on their record. now, i cant imagine a jury is going to find that that fact pattern is actually a burglary but ive honestly never tested it; most clients dont want to sit in jail for several months and risk going down on a felony. the way it usually plays out is this: client is charged with a petty or low-level misdemeanor theft and a mid-level felony burglary. the da "mercifully" offers them a plea to a misdemeanor theft, but a higher-level one. so client goes from facing 0-6 months in jail, likely serving a few days if any, to facing 6-18 months jail. they usually get probation, but many cant make it work and end up serving some jail time, and its gotta be at least 6 months, usually 9-12.
now thats what i call justice
theres also a bar in town that is well known as a spot to buy stolen stuff. if youre there on a saturday afternoon you can gets all sorts of shit dirt cheap. my clients are always surprised when i mention it because they dont realize that im actually something of a dirtbag myself
are my clients right to blame me for their troubles, at least on some level? dont worry about making me feel worse about myself or anything, and judging by the response to the thread yall dont think so, but its something ive struggled with for a while.
my ex, an ML, was a public defender in california for a while, before transitioning to private criminal defense. shed come home from 10 to 12 hour days 5 or 6 days a week, crying and exhausted about a third of them. whether it was the caseload (often over 150 active cases), or the particular facts of a clients case, or a judge, or a sentencing, it seemed to slowly grind her down. it also seemed to be most prevalent with the leftier people in the office, as the occasional conservative or, more commonly, the centrist, just didnt have that empathic connection with a client. they didnt do much face to face with their clients, they didnt much care for post-conviction relief, etc. anyway, as a lay person, i found recommending gideon's army very helpful for getting across the situation to other uneducated but sympathetic lay people. it opens with a PD getting the good news that a client is eligible for a pre-trial diversion program. if completed successfully, his charges will be dropped, and he can go home. she calls her client's partner, who informs her that she cant afford bail, meaning he cant get out of jail, meaning he cant attend the program, meaning hes going to trial or pleading out. the PD hangs up the phone. imagine this happening every day and thats basically the life of a public defender. i dont have much else to add, but thank you for your service to the people and for the thread.
Edited by JohnBeige ()
the job does grind you down; luckily i showed up pretty jaded to begin with. watching folks just cycle through the system is disheartening to say the least. the main thing i struggle with, though, is the folks struggling with addiction in the treatment court. ive had a handful die from overdoses and so many who get out of jail to inpatient treatment and run off. i know rehab has its problems but its a chance to avoid jail or prison. we often give folks 3, 4, or even 5 chances and its depressing how many dont take them
california just passed SB10, ending cash bail, bail bondsmen, dog the bounty hunters. but as an advanced settler state, the bail system was replaced with a questionnaire, to be evaluated by prosecutors, for pre-trial flight risk / defendant freedom. the questionnaire is itself structured to keep more people in jail. now you can't buy pre-trial freedom directly, your class position is still evaluated by the prison system (do you have a job? was the victim a drug addict? etc).
is it possible to game the questionaire?
looking for work in accounting, any job tied to the prison system (in this field) seems to pay significantly less than similar jobs outside of it, like almost half as much. is there a lot of turnaround among low-level clerical workers in the legal system or do the benefits of working for the state outweigh them?
i wouldnt be surprised if they churn through them pretty quick. prisons are by and large really depressing places to be. while im sure the office spaces are largely indistinguishable from most featureless cubicle-filled office spaces, they're usually in the middle of nowhere and there's the process of entering the facility through razor wire-covered fences and metal detectors. at least in my state, most prisons are in the middle of nowhere and are the main employers for the towns where they're built. its probably not hard to get folks to work for less cash than in an urban center because that's the only option and cost of living is so low. of course, that often means they move away after not too long. all that being said, you may have hit the nail on the head as far as benefits go. its a stable job with health care and a retirement option. with the gutting of industry in small towns, that's pretty attractive - at least in the beginning
i have a friend from high school who works as an accountant for a private prison company. i dont think he gets paid particularly well since he still lives with his parents but i dont like to talk about his work the once or twice a year i see him
America charges people with felony for committing.....attempted recycling
so my client was accused of stealing from a fast food restaurant where he was shift manager. he had been working there for a few years, started while he was on parole but he killed his number shortly into it. the franchise owner, who owns several stores and was briefly mentioned in fast food nation, runs his numbers and notices that money is missing. this being fast food, its probably just spillage/cost of doing business. maybe someone was stealing. who knows.
he decides it was my client stealing from him, and calls up a cop he knows - not calls the department like a normal citizen, but a specific detective that he *happens* to know. he sends him the books and gets him to write an affidavit for arrest for my client. there is also video footage of client...running the restaurant.
franchisee's argument is this: client didn't follow normal protocol with credit card receipts. instead of running the tab and putting the receipts under the till, he left the receipts in a stack next to the register (this is what the video shows). this must mean he's stealing. he thinks client is keeping the receipts outside the till and not running them through the POS system, taking cash equal to the receipts, and tossing them so that the money adds up. if he runs $20 on a credit card, that means there's $20 from the cc in the total, so if he takes a $20 and tosses the receipt, nobody is the wiser and the money adds up. except that the money doesn't add up, so the whole reasoning makes no sense. also, if he runs the cc, there is a record of that money being processed. also, there is no video of him later pocketing any money from the till, as there would be if he had
regardless, a judge decides that's enough probable cause to issue a warrant. client is adamant he hasn't stolen any money. i believe him because of the fact that the scheme makes no sense. it makes just as much sense to grab money from the till while closing up for the night, except the franchisee can't say that because there's no video evidence of it. even if he did take the money, there's no proof so nothing should have been charged
but it gets worse. franchisee, when talking to police, tells them that when he noticed the missing money he decided to run a background check and finds out that *gasp* my client has several felony convictions on his record. client insists this was done when he was hired and i believe him, because thats what you do when you hire someone. im convinced that franchisee hires people with criminal records so he can later toss them under the bus like he's doing now.
but it gets even worse. client files a complaint with the department of labor when he's fired, and the hearings officer decides in his favor. they find that he is owed several thousand dollars for, among other things: unpaid overtime, unpaid wages (being made to clock out when he's actually doing work), unpaid bonuses, and not actually giving him a raise as promised. the hearings officer goes so far as to say franchisee is not credible (ie, he's lying) because he claims to have video of client stealing. the dol guy says, that must not be true or else it would have been referenced in the police report. maybe something the judge should have considered when he found probable cause for arrest
because my client has three prior felonies, he is subject to what is essentially my state's three strikes statute. we call it habitual criminal charges. essentially, if you have three felony convictions at any point in your life, if you are found guilty of a fourth or greater, the sentence range quadruples. so what could be a 3 year prison sentence, with a chance at probation or other sentencing alternative, turns into 12 years prison, no questions asked.
im convinced the only reason the da is pursing habitual charges is because the franchisee is a well-known small business owner on the local boards of charitable organizations. big fish, little pond. he undoubtedly pulled some strings with the da's office, much like he did with the cops, to throw the book at client.
so, client is charged with felony theft because basically the franchisee subtracts what he thinks he should have made from what he actually made, and it turns into thousands of dollars. first a couple thousand, then about five, and finally he decides it's about $8,000 total
the icing on the cake: i talk to da into a plea to misdemeanor theft with an agreement to probation. of course, the da demands restitution. but instead of the $8k that was allegedly stolen, he wants to toss on the amount that client was awarded by the department of labor. thats right: franchisee was caught stealing and he wants client to give him the money back, and has the full force of law enforcement and the criminal processing system behind him.
the surprise ending: despite the threat of a decade + prison, client wants to take it to trial. i cant blame him because there is no evidence. we stand before the judge and tell him this. judge flips out. he tells client that he cant understand risking a felony conviction and ten + years prison when he could take a misdemeanor. he actually questions my client's sanity and threatens to raise the issue of competency (a different matter for a different post) and orders him to talk with me some more. ultimately, client ends up taking the plea and the money he didn't steal, plus the money that was stolen to him, will have to be paid to the franchisee. oh, and interest accrues, so it will turn into even more money as he pays the $10, $20, maybe $30 a month he can afford
rarely have i seen a more egregious example of the criminal legal system working at the beck and call of capital. even the shopliftings that they file as felony burglaries just give clients prison exposure. they dont funnel insane amounts of money directly into the pockets of the waltons, et al.
holy shit that is so fucked up. Questioning the client's sanity for wanting to go to trial?!? the whole story is Kafkaesque in the most literal way.
it's actually more ridiculous
first thing that it's important to know: the judge does not have access to all of the evidence. to start a case, cops write either an affidavit supporting a warrantless arrest or affidavit for arrest warrant. in the latter case, a prosecutor files the affidavit with a judge and the judge signs off on it, issuing the warrant. but affidavits are 2 or 3 pages, maybe up to 10 or 12 for complicated/serious cases. theyre a barebones recitation of facts that are obviously biased towards guilt. cops aren't seeking justice, theyre pursuing a conclusion theyve already arrived at. even a simple case results in 50 or so pages of discovery that the judge never sees. complicated cases can generate thousands of pages. this does not include investigation done by the defense attorney. so the judge is questioning my client's sanity while knowing absolutely nothing about the department of labor situation, for example. for much of the evidence in a case, the judge will likely hear it at the same time the jury does, or maybe during a pretrial hearing. so to call client insane ignores the fact that the judge doesn't see the whole picture
now, the issue of competency. its actually an area of the law that is intended to be progressive but falls woefully short. in order to plead either guilty or not guilty in a case, the client must make a knowing, willing, and voluntary decision. if the client suffers from a mental disease or defect (the actual statutory language) that interferes with their ability to understand the charges brought against them or assist their attorney in their defense, they cannot proceed forward with a plea either way. my client who, when i first met him, couldnt tell me where he was born, who his parents were, or if he'd ever been in my town before, is a great example
heres how it works: any of the three parties - da, judge, or defense attorney - can raise the issue. because we have the most contact with clients, its almost always the defense attorney who does it. when the issue is raised, the proceedings are put on hold. the client is brought to court and the judge advises them about the law, which is one of the more complicated areas of criminal law. its a farce, because if the client is in fact incompetent, they often can't understand simple concepts, let alone inscrutable statutes. the judge then orders an evaluation be performed by a psychologist working for the department of human services/state mental hospital to determine if the client is competent. the case is set out for 90 days. if the client is in custody, they will remain there if they cannot post bond
the evaluation is often a sham. the evaluator basically asks them simple questions about the legal system: who is your lawyer? what is his job? how would you resolve any potential conflicts with your lawyer? what does the prosecutor do? what does the judge do? what does it mean to plead guilty? not guilty? etc. these are questions which, if you've been arrested once, twice, three times before, are very easy to answer, regardless of whether you are mentally ill. if the client can be coaxed into answering them without too much help, they are competent to proceed.
if they are deemed competent, the proceedings resume and the client can have a trial or plead guilty (obviously the latter). if they are deemed incompetent, the judge orders that attempts be made to restore them to competency. if they are in custody, the judge orders that they be transported to the state mental hospital. recently, the aclu sued the state and won, so the state hospital, run by dhs, has 21 days to find a bed and transport them or they are in violation of a federal court order. in reality, because there is one hospital for the entire state, clients are regularly housed in jail for months waiting for a bed to open up.
in my experience, clients who are in custody are much more likely to be found competent to proceed. i believe that doctors working for dhs are under pressure to find clients competent so they do not contribute to the backlog at the state hospital.
if the clients are lucky enough to be out of custody, they can remain so on bond. if they violate the bond conditions (which happens frequently with mentally ill people), they are arrested and placed in jail
the next step is restoration to competency. restoration consists of coaching the clients until they are able to answer those basic questions. if the client is lucky, they get to meet with a medication prescriber and actually receive some help, but this is not actually the goal of the "treatment". if the client is able to echo the proper answers back, they are deemed competent and returned to the jail. as defense counsel, we are able to request a second opinion from a doctor of our choice at state expense, which is great, but this takes another 90 days, during which they are almost always back in jail
more often than not, clients decompensate once theyre returned to jail. this can start the whole process over again. usually at that point, its several months since the date of alleged offense. by statute, a client cannot be held in custody longer than the maximum sentence of the crimes for which theyre accused. for felonies, that can be several years. its also up for debate on whether that is the maximum sentence for the most serious charge, or consecutive for each charge. bear in mind that virtually nobody serves their full sentence unless it is life without parole. even if someone is sentenced to 36 years on an attempted murder, they are generally parole eligible around 27 years in. but if they are incompetent, they can be held for a full 48 years
the district attorney has the authority to dismiss a case at any point. if the psychologist doing a competency evaluation opines that the client is unlikely to be restored to competency in the foreseeable future, prosecutors occasionally do that. however, they usually contact the county attorney and arrange to have the client involuntarily committed before they do this
i dont want to ignore the difficult situation lawmakers and judges face. these folks can be quite dangerous, and it is very difficult to ensure that someone who is severely mentally ill is taking their meds or engaging in treatment. basically, society is ill-equipped to address their needs and the impact their behavior has on society. for somewhat understandable reasons, they tend to err on the side of protecting society's interests instead of my clients'
but that is essentially what the judge was threatening my client with. at best, it would be a 90 day delay in his case and an unnecessary evaluation where the psychologist would be baffled that they were involved at all. at worst, it could involve the judge deeming my client to be a danger to the community, a revocation of bond, and a remand to custody for 12 years. thats why it was so shocking and upsetting that he said that
when a client pleads guilty, one of the standard questions the judge asks is, "do you feel that anyone is forcing you to plead guilty, coercing you, or promising anything outside of the written plea agreement?" if they say yes, it's not a voluntary plea and it is rejected. if they say no, its often a lie, such as in this case. could my client have insisted on his innocence and set a trial? yes, but he would have faced an openly antagonistic judge and the idea of a fair trial at that point is even more of a joke than it normally is