Author Archives: Chris Seaton

Seaton: Ten Questions Every Criminal Defense Lawyer Should Ask On The First Date

Dating is really hard, especially when you’re a criminal defense lawyer. We’re usually busy saving lives and keeping people out of jail, so there’s precious little time to find the man/woman/non-binary-gender-fluid person of your dreams.

People outside the trenches are having problems with dating too. It’s such a problem that people are writing advice articles about it from all perspectives. Don’t fret! It’s time criminal defense lawyers got their own dating tips. After all, we’re called counselors for a reason.

1) Do you pay your bills on time or up front and in full? Continue reading

Debate: People Power! Non-Lawyers Can And Should Be Judges

Ed. Note: Following a so-very-Tennessee story about the decisions made by a non-lawyer “judicial commissioner,” the question was posed for debate between Chris Seaton and David Meyer-Lindenberg: Should non-lawyers hold judicial positions? This is Chris’ argument.

People charged with crimes or sued civilly have to go before a judge who will hear their case. Because these are legal matters, involving laws, the average person might expect the person wearing the black robe had trainng and experience as a lawyer. In fourteen states, that idea doesn’t hold up, as non-lawyer judges preside over many cases, including criminal trials.

Take a deep breath before you start impersonating a blue-haired gender-studies major and screech “Sixth Amendment! Due Process! Fundamental Fairness!” Having non-lawyer judges is a good thing, and the judiciary doesn’t need only lawyers in its ranks.

First, the idea of a non-lawyer judge is an American ideal almost as old as the nation. In 1831, Alexis de Tocqueville* praised the American “justice of the peace.” Continue reading

Seaton: When Public Defenders Call Bullshit

If you are a State Supreme Court Justice issuing a press release on which areas of indigent representation reform the state’s highest court intends to back, it’s easy to shrug off calls of “bullshit” from the private bar. When the Public Defenders, the first line of defense for the poor in the state call bullshit, you might want to rethink your stance.

“The devil’s in the details,” Tennessee District Public Defenders Conference Executive Patrick Frogge said in an interview last week. “I’m glad the Supreme Court is taking some actions. The recommendations they’ve made in their press release share a common theme of steering more cases to public defenders. I’m not sure the recommendations carry with them a commiserate increase in the number of public defenders.” (Emphasis added.)

Frogge is correct in his analysis. The Tennessee Supremes want the public defenders’ offices to take on more cases. They don’t want to actually fund those offices or adequately staff them. They want the public defenders to take every case possible.

Mark Stephens, the head of Knox County’s public defender office, cut Chief Justice Bivins’ press release, and the work of the task force, straight to the bone. Continue reading

Seaton: Tennessee Supreme Court Fails The Public On Indigent Representation

Tennessee has an indigent representation problem. No less an authority than Justice Sharon Lee knows this. That’s why untold sums of taxpayer dollars were thrown at an “Indigent Representation Task Force,” which rambled across the state listening to aggrieved attorneys and citizens.

That task force, after nearly two years’ work, issued a series of recommendations on how to fix the indigent representation problem. When the recommendations were formally announced, attorneys across the state rejoiced. They were solid, responsible reforms to the current system that would fulfill the mandate of Gideon v. Wainwright. The justice system wouldn’t be a drawn out Tennessee Waltz, it would actually resemble justice.

Current Chief Justice Jeff Bivins understands there are major problems with the current system. He was happy enough to tell the world in a press release on October 3.

The task force confirmed what many of us already suspected: The system needs major [reforms.]

Continue reading

Debate: Stingrays Aren’t Third Parties; Get A Warrant

Ed. Note: Following the District of Columbia Court of Appeals decision in Jones v. United States, holding that the use of a “Stingray” cellsite simulator required a warrant under the Fourth Amendment, Chris Seaton and Andrew King were challenged to debate whether the Third-Party Doctrine or the Supreme Court’s Riley v. California decision should control. This is Chris’ argument.

On June 25, 2014, the United States Supreme Court issued a ruling that made every red-blooded, patriotic American heart swell with pride. Chief Justice Roberts’ words screamed the very essence of “rock flag eagle”:

Our answer to the question of what police must do before searching a cell phone seized incident to an arrest is accordingly simple— get a warrant.

This emphatic affirmation of our Fourth Amendment rights caused a certain Admiral to channel his inner Jesse Pinkman* on reading Riley v. California. Unfortunately the ink wasn’t even dry on the opinion before cops and legislators started to try and figure out ways around Riley. Continue reading

Debate: Just Say No To Legislating Hate Speech on Campus

Ed. Note: In light of United States Rep. Anthony Brown’s (D-MD) proposed bill to prohibit “hate speech” on campus, Chris Seaton and Andrew King have agreed to debate whether Congress should craft “hate speech” prohibitions for colleges. This is Chris’ argument:

Before taking the law school plunge, I briefly toyed with the notion of becoming a psychologist. An elective class in sociology at the University of Tennessee introduced me to an atheist African-American professor who openly mocked me in class, claimed the attacks on September 11, 2001 were a “white man’s conspiracy,” and proudly professed a love of Fidel Castro.

At the course’s conclusion, this professor sent me an email with my grade and expressed her deep concern that I thought my classmates and the course material were “a load of crap.”

If the lunatics running the asylum students and faculty of today had their way, that professor could be punished for “hate speech.” We must stand boldly against people like Maryland’s Representative Anthony Brown and firmly say “Fuck you, we stand for the free exchange of all ideas.” Congress has no business regulating speech on college campuses, much less crafting bills to punish “hate speech.”* Continue reading

Debate: Crazy Joe’s Pardon Slaps Law And Order in the Face

Ed. Note: Like the old Fault Lines days, Chris Seaton and Mario Machado will duke it out over whether the pardon of former Maricopa County, Arizona, Sheriff Joe Arpaio was the worst pardon ever. This is Chris’ argument.

Maricopa County, Arizona put their trust in a man named Joe Arpaio back in 1993. They gave him a badge, a gun, the state-sanctioned license to kill and an entire Sheriff’s department. A man tasked with upholding the law would then repeatedly violate the law and abuse the power of his office for twenty-four years. Pardoning “Crazy” Joe Arpaio, the self-styled “America’s Toughest Sheriff,” is undoubtedly the worst pardon in Presidential history.

Let’s look at the offense Arpaio committed: criminal contempt of court. At face value, it seems harmless compared to other offenses wiped clean by presidential pardon. Arpaio defied a federal judge’s order to stop detaining undocumented immigrants. That’s a far cry from jury tampering, robbing a bank or tax fraud. Contempt is the mechanism by which the courts enforce their orders. Essentially, a judge told an old man to not do something, and the old man said “no.”

What makes Arpaio’s defiance so odious is his insistence on enforcing a certain aspect of Arizona’s human-smuggling law. Specifically, this section of the law: Continue reading

Seaton: Mountain Anger Conceals Doctored Prosecution Agreement

When a defendant walks on criminal charges following a horrendous crime or tragedy, the outrage mob heads to the streets or social media crying foul play and the lack of fairness in the courts. This anger, seething in the Smoky Mountains, conceals a troubling revelation. Someone doctored a prosecution agreement giving Sevier County DA’s the authority to prosecute crimes in federal parks, and no one’s talking about it.

Aggravated arson charges against the boys, ages 17 and 15, were dropped Friday in part because 4th Judicial District Attorney General Jimmy Dunn did not have authority under a 1997 agreement between the state and federal government to prosecute crimes committed in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The park was left out of the 1997 agreement, which granted both state and federal authorities the power to prosecute crimes committed on federal lands within Tennessee. That meant only federal authorities could level charges for crimes committed in the park. That omission was discovered during Dunn’s attempt to prosecute the boys.

 National parks are federal land. That means absent an agreement like the one former Governor Don Sundquist reached with the Feds giving local law enforcement power to prosecute crimes in national parks, the US Attorney’s office is left with the job. Continue reading

Seaton: Senator Beavers Goes To War With Porn

Tennessee formally recognized a serious public health hazard in April. It’s not the opioid abuse epidemic that has a stranglehold on the state’s poorest citizens. That’s wishful thinking. According to the state legislature, the major public health crisis is pornography.

The Tennessee General Assembly approved a joint resolution that “recognizes pornography as a public health hazard leading to a broad spectrum of individual and public health impacts and society harms.”

SJR 0035, introduced by Senator Mae Beavers* of Mount Juliet, swept the state Senate unanimously. The state House of Representatives was nearly unanimous. Governor Bill Haslam signed the joint resolution on April 24.

With such widespread, bipartisan support, one wonders what makes pornography such a public health hazard** that the General Assembly could cross party lines and get this ridiculous bill on the Governor’s desk in record time. A read-through of the resolution gives you an answer: propaganda lines nearly curated from “Reefer Madness” and tailored to porn. Continue reading