Author Archives: SHG

The Integrity To Walk Away (and the guts to do so) (Update)

No one likes to think of themselves as incapable of doing that for which they went to school, were trained, dedicated their career.  This is especially true of lawyers, who sometimes view their ticket to practice law as a bullet-proof shield that allows them to take on the responsibility of another person’s life with impunity.  Modesto, California lawyer Steven O’Connor saw it differently.

From the Modesto Bee:

Defense attorney Steven O’Connor said in court that he was not competent and wanted off the case.

“I’m not going to proceed in this case,” O’Connor told the judge. “You can find me in contempt. You can notify the State Bar.”

Read more here: http://www.modbee.com/2014/07/08/3429539/defense-attorney-threatens-to.html?sp=/99/1571/&ihp=1#storylink=cpy

O’Conner was defending Nicholas Harris in a murder case, and lost in the guilt phase.  It would have been far better had he realized that he wasn’t up to the task before trial, but he didn’t. Better late then never. Continue reading

Frustration, Hopelessness and a Whole Lot of ‘Vettes

The connection between the world of insanity and a world that comes far closer to criminal defense turned out to be Copwatch, a site dedicated to police accountability.  It was a tenuous connection at best.

Jerad Miller — who along with his wife, Amanda, gunned down the Vegas police officers before dying during a shootout with police — was one of Cop Block’s 780,000-plus Facebook fans.

But after the killing of two officers, the ugliness beneath the surface quickly appeared:

The celebrating began before the coroner could collect the bodies of Alyn Beck and Igor Soldo, the Las Vegas patrol officers ambushed and executed while eating at a pizzeria last month.

“The good news is, there are two less police in the world,” read an entry on the Facebook page for CopBlock.org.

The post was visible for less than a day, but it attracted at least 6,300 likes and comments by the time the page’s administrators removed it.

Continue reading

Who’s The Boss, Albuquerque Edition

Albuquerque is a pretty cool name for a city, provided your name isn’t James Boyd.  The APD has been under the spotlight for rampant violence, which has been attributed not to a culture of evil, but piss-poor training.  It didn’t help that Jack Jones was in total control of training, given his view that:

“Evil has come to the state of New Mexico, evil has come to the Southwest, evil has come to the United States,”

But the culture that allows, that encourages violence and police abuse can be cured, if only the right people are put in positions of leadership, so they may serve as shining beacons of propriety and integrity for all cops to follow.  So the Albuquerque Police Department chose to promote Commander Timothy Gonterman to Major Timothy Gonterman. Continue reading

The Pendulum and the Mule

Why does it seem as if the pendulum swings one way far faster than the other?  Wasn’t it just the other day when judges were calling for the Smarter Sentencing Act, decrying the harsh excesses of the Sentencing Guidelines and calling for the end of mandatory minimums?

The New York Times notes that judges in the Eastern District of New York, which happens to include JFK Airport, are coming to the conclusion that drug mules are getting away too easy.  They’re now having “second thoughts” about the Guidelines sentences:

To avoid clogging up the court, the United States attorney’s office in Brooklyn has embraced a strategic approach that allows couriers to plead guilty and offer information in return for lighter sentences. The policy reflected a view among many prosecutors that the mandatory minimum sentences for drug-related offenses — which require prison terms of five years and higher in these smuggling cases — were too harsh on defendants who were typically nonviolent and disadvantaged. Continue reading

Come Home Dirty and Bruised

Babies smell wonderful.  And they have the added virtue of being there, right where you put them down, when you’re ready to pick them up again and take another whiff.  But eventually, babies grow up. They have to, no matter how much you wish they didn’t.

In a New York Times op-ed, John Beckman, an English prof at Annapolis, writes that all children should be delinquents.

By making things, breaking things and taking real risks, by becoming citizens in our ad hoc community, we used the fallow days of summer to put our Catholic-school education, and our parents’ parenting, to the test. Trial and error often proved that they were right. But in discovering what we enjoyed most — not what we were taught to enjoy — we also discovered new parts of ourselves: artists, engineers, combatants, daredevils, explorers, criminals, comedians and more. Our summer fun was a field study in life, which is the last thing we would have thought at the time.

We were typical of our era. Throughout the 1970s in America, much of the adult world was losing its grip — economically, politically, socially. But that didn’t stop kids from having fun in groundbreaking ways. If anything, it left kids freer to experiment and reboot a moribund popular culture; this was the decade that spawned hip-hop, skaters and punks.

Continue reading

New Smartphone Day: Be Afraid (Update)

For years, I was able to trade up my cellphone for a new one within three months of the end of my Verizon contract.  The trick was to keep me as a customer, as acquisition costs were steep and it was worth the loss of a few months to keep me loyal.  Plus, the cellphones were always free.  It was the Schick Razor approach to technology: Give them the razor and they’ll buy the blades.

Ironically, I had a phone called a razor for much of the time.  The old Star Tac and flip phone were history, and there was a new “G” always tempting me.  When I took the dive to my first smartphone, it was a shock.  Verizon must have assumed they had me in a vise grip, as the  smartphone was no longer free, plus they dumped an activation fee on me.  I wasn’t as put out by the cost of the phone as I was outraged by the fee.  It was pure, unadulterated greed, a fee for nothing. Sure, they gave a nonsensical excuse, but everyone knew it was a lie. The reason for the fee was that they wanted more money.

Still, I had to get new phones for everyone, and with my kids in need of reliable smartphones now, I pushed forward.  It’s two years later, and the once-shiny smartphones have dulled. The batteries are dying. The camera has issues. The connection, once strong and fast, is now gasping for breath.  Smartphones truly are smart. After a year and a half, they start to die in almost perfect coordination with the need for a new phone and contract. It’s genius in precision obsolescence. Continue reading

Gaming The Record (And Welcome Back, Kopf)

Shortly after Judge Richard Kopf used the cyber-fashionable acronym “stfu,” revisisted the efficacy of judicial blogging, and made the proper decision to stay the course, with perhaps a lighter step, a post of some metacognitive significance slid in between that hasn’t received the attention it deserved.  This is why Hercules and the Umpire is such a valuable asset, regardless of whether the lingua franca doesn’t meet with the approval of every person with a keyboard.*

The under-appreciated post, stuck in the middle of a firestorm, noted that “once in a while this blog may do some good.”  Naïve as this may seem, some of us, even an Article III judge, hope to do some good once in a while.  This post discussed Sawaf v. United States, unpublished Sixth Circuit decision regarding prejudice under the Lafler and Frye decisions, that made it onto Doug Berman’s radar at Sentencing Law & Policy.

[W]e are compelled to conclude that Sawaf’s continued insistence as to his innocence does not foreclose the possibility that he would have been willing to enter a guilty plea in exchange for a 41-month sentence, despite his proclaimed innocence, if he had known about the risk that he might otherwise receive a 20-year sentence. Put simply, Sawaf’s claim that he is innocent does not conclusively establish that there is no “reasonable probability” that his decision would have been different if he had been adequately informed about its consequences.

Continue reading

Round ‘Em All Up And Sort It Out Whenever

To those unfamiliar with the methods used by police to make absolutely certain that no possible criminal gets away, the story of Gregory Drummond’s arrest might seem incredible.  There is nothing incredible about it.  Indeed, it’s so ordinary as to evoke little more than a passing “tsk” from the casual reader.

Via RT.com:

Gregory Drummond and his dog were at the apartment building his girlfriend owns in the Bushwick neighborhood of the borough last September when police were called to the location for a domestic disturbance between two downstairs tenants.

When the police officers arrived, they talked to the second-floor tenant through a gate. “They then grabbed the second floor tenant through the gate and put their hands in his pocket, retrieved keys for the gate and the property, and entered the apartment,” the lawsuit said.

Once inside, they proceeded to search the other two apartments in the building, even though the disturbance was limited to the second-floor apartment. In that apartment, they discovered a gun and drugs. The tenant was arrested.

But so was Drummond.

Continue reading

There Is No Need Greater Than Evidence

The irony of what police in Manassas, Virginia did, and plan to do, in inducing an erection in a teenaged boy by injecting him with drugs so that they can photograph his penis for evidence to prove that the image the boy took of himself was child porn, is beyond belief.  In fact, everything about this matter is beyond belief.

The prosecution of this teenager is wrong. The disparity of treatment between the boy and girl, who was first to sext an image of herself to the boy, is wrong. The forced photography of a teenager’s flaccid penis by police is bizarrely wrong. But what’s coming up makes all this pale in comparison.

For anyone who feels that badly written, poorly conceived, knee-jerk criminal laws will be sorted out by the good graces of police and prosecutors, this story should put the nail in the coffin of that ill-conceived nonsense. But there is nothing about this case that is more wrong, more disgustingly wrong, than what the police want to do to create evidence to nail down their conviction.

As much as I appreciate the dozen or more emails and twits about this story, Rick Horowitz has already written a post that captures the depth of all this wrongfulness.  There’s no need for me to pile on, as Rick has said what needs to be said. Go read Rick’s post.

 

Who Is More Deserving Than The District Attorney?

Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman has sought to bring the spirit of helping others to New York lawyers by his creation of a pro bono requirement for admission to the New York bar in the hope of instilling a lifelong desire to help those who are truly worthy of pro bono publico.  Can there be anyone more worthy than Nassau County District Attorney cum United States Congressperson, Kathleen Rice?

When suit was brought against Rice for making false allegations against Jesse Friedman to thwart his effort to prove his innocence, a law firm stepped up to the plate to defend the poor, the downtrodden prosecutrix, Debovoise & Plimpton.  At first, Friedman attorney Ron Kuby, assumed the obvious, that this defense could prove both expensive and unhelpful for the county footing her bill.

But Debovoise’s Andrew Levine was deeply hurt by the suggestion that the firm’s interest was in filthy lucre, and requested that Kuby make clear that the firm would not be charging the County for its services. Oh no, these services would be pro bono.  After all, this was Kathleen Rice.

Sure, there are some who would think that Biglaw’s pro bono efforts would be better directed toward the wrongfully convicted facing imminent execution, perhaps children facing deportation, or even to fill the gaping holes in underfunded representation of the indigent.*  But do they not appreciate the worthiness of Kathleen Rice? What about her need for a million dollar defense on the cuff? Continue reading

It Takes A Narco-Saint Expert

For anyone who hasn’t had the pleasure of defending against narcotics charges, the “indicia” of drug-dealing has always been a bizarre offer of proof.  The defendant had $324 in cash in his pocket?  Proof he’s a drug dealer, because drug dealers transact business in cash.  If he has no cash in his pocket, it’s proof he’s a major drug dealer, because major drug dealers have people who do the dirty transactions for them so they don’t get their hands dirty. See how that works?

It used to be the beeper that proved someone was a drug dealer, because drug dealers used beepers. Then it became cellphones. Same reason. What, you say?  Everybody used beepers and cellphones?  Ah, you don’t understand because you aren’t an expert in drug dealing.

For that purpose, you need a cop to testify.  The prosecution will put a cop on the stand, who the judge will invariably qualify as an expert based upon his “education and experience,” because he’s got tons of experience dealing drugs and learned all about it from the drug dealers teaching at the police academy, to explain to the ignorant groundlings on a jury why that cash in the defendant’s pocket is so fundamentally different than the cash in their pockets.  (Hint: It’s because he’s a criminal.) Continue reading