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  #1  
Old 03-13-2016, 10:14 PM
PPretender PPretender is offline
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Default How to Help the Public Defender Help Your Loved One

I'm a public defender. I'm glad sites like this exist as a support group for people dealing with incarceration issues, which I understand are stressful and difficult to navigate. I thought I'd give back to the community by letting y'all know, from the perspective of a public defender, what you guys can do to help get the best legal outcome for your loved one.

1) Be there for your loved one. Being arrested is stressful and overwhelming. If they're not out on bond, prisoners can't do much, and it's really helpful to have a present and supportive family member. I think defendants also make better decisions about their cases when their focus is on their case and not on whether their family will stand by them if they take a plea/don't take a plea/etc.

2) Stop calling me. Unless you were a witness to the alleged crime or otherwise have personal knowledge of facts relevant to the alleged crime, there's probably no reason I ever need to speak to you. That may sound harsh, but it's really in your loved one's best interests. At any given time, I have approximately 40 clients. If every one of those clients has a family member (and many of them have more than one!) who wants to speak to me just 20 minutes a week, that's 13.3 hours a week I'm on the phone with family members. That's 13.3 hours a week (1/3 of a full 40-hour work week!) that I'm not working on your loved ones' cases. I'm not a monster, and if you're calling me because you want to know when your loved one's next court date is or because you need directions to the courthouse, I will try to return your call within a few days to let you know this information, but realize that literally every minute I'm on the phone with you is a minute I'm not spending working on someone's case, and that someone may be your loved one. If you have ANY OTHER WAY of getting the information you want to call me about, please use that instead.

3) I'm a criminal defense lawyer, not a counselor, psychologist, personal assistant, or Google substitute. Please don't call me to ask me what the visiting hours are at the jail, to ask how you can put money on your loved one's commissary account, to tell me that your loved one doesn't like the food at the prison, or to ask why the money you sent hasn't been deposited to his account. Again, because I'm not a monster, if I am at all able I will probably take your call and give you as much information as I can provided it's not the 10th time you've called this week asking a similar question outside the scope of my job responsibilities, but see above re: every minute I spend giving you commissary instructions is a minute I'm not working on your loved one's case. Please also don't ask me for legal advice outside my fiend of expertise. I don't know, for example, how your loved one is supposed to file his taxes when he's behind bars--I didn't even take tax in law school, have never done my own taxes, have no earthly idea, and don't have 5 hours to spend finding out.

4) Please don't ask me details related to the facts of your loved one's case. When a client gives me permission, I generally do my best to keep family members generally informed about general scheduling issues, whether a plea offer has been extended, etc., but you and I don't have a confidential relationship and, if your loved one's case were to go to trial, literally everything I have ever said to you could end up being disclosed to the prosecution. Please don't ask me to discuss the evidence with you or to tell you my defense strategy. I can't. It's a bad idea. It's a violation of client confidentiality, an example of really bad lawyering, and potentially harmful to your loved one. Also, if your loved one is trying to discuss any of that with you over a (recorded!!!) jail call, it's a good time to remind him to stop, too. I know you want to know what's going on. But you're not the one who has been arrested for a crime, and you're going to have to trust your loved one to make his own decisions.

5) Don't ask me if you should hire a "real lawyer." It's pretty insulting, and the answer is that I honestly don't care. I get paid a flat salary. My income does not depend on the number of hours I work or the number of clients I have. If you want to hire private counsel for your loved one's case, it doesn't affect me at all, and I wish you all the best. But I am, in fact, a real lawyer. I graduated from law school and spent a number of years in private practice (where those "real lawyers" you want to hire work) before voluntarily taking a 50% pay cut to become a public defender because I honestly care about the rights of criminal defendants, and I think that people who can't afford lawyers deserve high quality representation. Could I make more money in private practice? Sure. I'm not in it for the money. Are there bad public defenders? Sure. But there are bad private counsel, too. In 2009 when the financial crisis hit, my office laid off a ton of lawyers because of budget cuts. With only a few exceptions, my office took this as an opportunity to get rid of the "dead weight" around the office. Where did this "dead weight" go? A few retired but most set up their own shops and are now serving as private counsel.

6) Don't expect miracles. In 99% of all cases, there are only two ways out: 1) plead guilty, or 2) go to trial. I'm happy to take any case to trial if a client wants to go. I've won a lot of cases at trial. I've also occasionally gotten cases dismissed without ever having to go to trial, either by threatening trial in a case where the evidence was very weak or by filing motions that have gotten key evidence thrown out. But this is an exceptional situation and not the norm. I do the very best I can for every one of my clients and am ALWAYS looking for ways to make cases go away entirely. I have NEVER pushed anyone to plead guilty if they were telling me they didn't do it, and I have NEVER tried to get out of trying a case because I don't want to do the work. But if your loved one is, in fact, guilty and there is overwhelming evidence of his guilt (and this is the case for a large percentage of my clients, though obviously not all of them), his options are pretty limited. "I don't like my plea deal; I think it's too much time" is not a defense at trial. And if your loved one is on video tape robbing a bank while holding a gun, I don't have a ton of leverage to demand that the prosecutor give him a better offer.
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Old 03-14-2016, 08:17 AM
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Welcome to Prison Talk, and thank you for your informative information.
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Old 03-14-2016, 09:36 PM
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Hello & welcome to PTO Thank You for standing up for PD's everywhere....what you've posted is a needed reference for some of our newer members
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Old 03-15-2016, 06:41 AM
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Thank you for posting this information from your own point of view. It is invaluable to those starting this process.
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Old 03-15-2016, 10:14 AM
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Thank you so much for posting this ! We've been waiting for trial since October , so this was really helpful to me because i had been stressing out wondering why his public defender wouldn't talk to me , or keep me in the loop (or my boyfriend for that matter) . But now it's a little bit more understandable
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Old 03-15-2016, 10:49 AM
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Thank you for this post! And thank you to the moderator who made it a sticky! I am sure that this will help a lot of people.

I salute you for your efforts, both in the courtroom and in taking the initiative to come here and provide help in a public forum.


R. Mc.
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Old 03-15-2016, 01:51 PM
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I would add - vote.

Seriously, if you want better public defender representation, you need to vote in favor of increasing the office, mandating caseload caps, and anything else that will increase the representation you get from the PD. Cook County is unionized in the PDs office - their starting salary is higher than the State's Attorney's office.

Vote to allow the PD to actually have an even playing field. Right now, nationwide, it's highly skewed in favor of the prosecutor. So, VOTE. Vote for increases in the PD office, caps on caseloads, and anything else that will help the PD offer zealous representation.
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Old 03-18-2016, 08:15 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by emperatriz View Post
Thank you so much for posting this ! We've been waiting for trial since October , so this was really helpful to me because i had been stressing out wondering why his public defender wouldn't talk to me , or keep me in the loop (or my boyfriend for that matter) . But now it's a little bit more understandable
No problem. Something else people should be aware of: criminal cases take time. The amount of time varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction and also based on the complexity of the case, but in my jurisdiction I tell people to expect 6-12 months. The absolute fastest I have ever seen a felony case go is 4 months (misdemeanors can move faster), and when they move that fast it's almost always because the client has already decided he wants to plead guilty before I've even met him.

If the clients want to plead guilty quickly and take the first deal he's offered without me doing any investigation, then I can make his case go fast. If he wants ANYTHING ELSE, it's going to take time.

If the client is saying he's not guilty--or at least not guilty of the specific and exact thing he's charged with--expect at least 2-4 months just for the investigation alone (that is, before plea negotiations, before trial prep or sentencing prep). I need to review the discovery, I need to go over the discovery with the client to find out exactly what he disagrees with, need to conduct witness interviews, probably need to request and receive additional discovery from the government to support our version of events, etc.

Note that the only part of this process that really involves the client directly is getting the client's side of the story, which may only take 1-2 hours near the beginning of the case. Everything else is on me.

Now, clients--unlike their loved ones--have a right to know what's going on with their case. I don't mind a call from a client once every couple of weeks asking where things stand if they don't mind that sometimes the answer is going to be "I'm still waiting for the government to respond to those additional discovery requests I sent two weeks ago" or "the prosecutor is at trial for the next two weeks, so I'm waiting for the trial to be over so I can go see the gun/knife/drugs the police collected." I'd prefer a client call and ask what's going on--as long as it's not every day--than sit in jail fuming that his lawyer "has forgotten about him" or "isn't working on his case," when really I'm just out doing stuff I don't need his help for.

I at least always try to give clients a timeline so they know WHY they are waiting (for example: "I'm going to interview these three people. I think it will probably take about three weeks to get them all done, and I'll come see you when they're all finished so we can talk about them." or "I am going to ask the government for the following documents that we need for trial and it may take them a month to get them to me."). But don't expect me to have an update on the case every day or even every week.

I do realize it's tough for clients and their families. I also realize that for many people, their criminal case is the most important thing going on in their lives, and they may be spending all day every day thinking about it. And it's probably frustrating that I'm not also spending all day every day working on their case, but there is a lot of sitting around and waiting in criminal cases. Waiting for discovery, waiting for a plea, waiting for an investigator to go talk to a witness. Sometimes there's just nothing going on and nothing I can be doing to move the ball forward.
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Old 03-20-2016, 03:23 PM
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Thank you for this post...Enormously helpful as I begin this journey of learning with my 18 year old daughter...I had no idea about most of any of this but yes, she will have a public defender and I'm grateful..thanks for the post!
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Old 06-05-2016, 08:06 PM
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Default A "real lawyer"

I think the general public does not have a clue what attorney can or cannot do for them. I have worked as a legal assistant for court appointed attorney's and those hired through private means. I have noticed that due to the difference in pay hire vs court appointed that you get what you pay for. Many attorney's getting paid to be a public defendant do not get the pay they would say through a public hire from an individual. I have seen first hand how much and how little effort an attorney will or will not put into a case. Example is an attorney i worked for who took court appointment did as little as possible and hardly read the case before heading into the court room. On the other hand the attorney for hire went further to assist his clients. Yes it is true: You get what you pay for in the case of a public defense attorney, you get what tax payers pay for. Which ultimately is NOT free as these attorney fees are also applied to the defendant to pay court cost, attorney fees, etc. So no, a public defense attorney is NOT free to the defendant but they also do not get paid as much either for being a public defense appointment and therefore many do not do as much as they could do for their client due to the "low pay"
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Old 06-05-2016, 09:35 PM
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Quote:
many do not do as much as they could do for their client due to the "low pay"

Well, there goes their job reference for a promotion or a jump into "private" defense attorney.....word of mouth among their defendants will hurt them in the long run.

And I do have to disagree with the above quote. There may be small minority that the above statement applies to, but I doubt its as high as "many." Most PD's that My Mr has had have done a fine job, given his record & reputation.

If a PD doesn't do all he/she can due to their "low pay," its time to find another occupation because they are in the wrong profession and for all the wrong reasons.....
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Old 06-05-2016, 11:46 PM
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PPretender, I like the way you get people involved. I throw my Harley Hat your way. I give you my respect to you for your honesty. Not that I will always agree w/you, but certainly thank you for your service.

I have to throw this Frisbee back to you from Page #1; "So, VOTE. Vote for increases in the PD office, caps on caseloads, and anything else that will help the PD offer zealous representation.".

Look, w/all due respect, I am here in the State of Massachusetts and you in Up-State New York.

Question to you (and remember I ask this with all due respect), though MA and NY are in the Northeast region, are not the laws different in every State? You bring up a very good discussion which brings up a very good point. I ask this because of my being a "political junky".

Over-all, we have a constitutional right under the Sixth Amendment; Criminal Prosecutions - Jury Trial, Right to Confront and to Counsel.
But under State Laws, each State is different.

I have to admit, it can be some-what confusing at times. I wonder if you could help explain...Thanx~

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Old 06-06-2016, 09:41 AM
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UniQ, let's be clear - there are three "types" of lawyers working with defendants.

1. Public Defenders: these are people paid a salary to handle indigent caseloads. Their salary comes from your tax dollars. If their case load goes down, their electric bill will still get paid by your tax dollar.

2. Court Appointed Attorneys: these are people who have volunteered to be on the list (CenTex calls it the wheel). When the PD's office is conflicted out for any reason (most typically because there are two or more defendants, each needing an attorney without a conflict of interests and having an associate/boss/or other attorney in your same office working for the other defendant is a conflict of interests). Court Appointeds get paid an hourly rate that's greatly reduced compared to their private hourly rate, must have their bill approved by the judge (sometimes a state commission), must get approval from the judge to go above a set amount, must get approval to hire experts and the like, and other onerous tasks. A Court Appointed has his own office, pays his own bills, and if he doesn't work, he doesn't eat. The pay for Court Appointeds comes from your tax dollars.

3. Private Attorney: You hire and pay for this attorney. You hire and pay for all aspects of the defense side of the case, generally up front (called a retainer with the hourly work charged against your retainer that otherwise sits in the Client Trust Account). If an expert is needed, you pay for it. Simple.

Now, let's get into the court costs and fees and attorney's fees charged to defendants found guilty by plea or trial (defendants who aren't found guilty don't have any fees, including fees for attorneys - they just go free). You assert that these cover the actual attorney fees, so that they are paying for their attorney anyway. Are you fucking kidding me? I get $400 an hour private. I get maybe $100 an hour Court Appointed (it varies by court - felony court pays the best, juvenile court comes in second in my jurisdictions, misdemeanor comes in third, mental health court comes in fourth, and Father's Day (when non custodial parents have to come to court to explain why they aren't paying child support) comes in last). Further, what I charge as a billable hour may be disputed and rejected by those approving my bill.

You all are going $100 an hour? Fuck, what's any Court Appointed attorney complaining about? People are trying to get $15 an hour, and you're bitching about $100 an hour? Here's the differences: hourly workers are not getting paid billable hours. Example: hourly wage earner shows up for work, s/he gets paid for all hours s/he's at work. Wind up waiting for a delivery before you can do your thing? You're paid the for your waiting time. We're not. So, judge in your courtroom is running 2 hours late and you're in the hallway those two hours with your client - you're not getting paid for those two hours. So, 1 hour work in front of the judge, 2 hours waiting - you're getting paid $100 dollars (about half that for juveniles - so you do the math).

Now, let's also look at PD systems. Some PD systems are so overburdened that the PD's feel like they are on a sinking ship. They have caseloads that are 4-5-10 times the caseloads of private and court appointed attorneys yet the courts expect them to do their job. It's so bad the ABA is in the process of stepping in with standards and maximum caseloads, not that the ABA is anything but advisory. Other places are swank for PDS. Chicago, for instance, has PDs who are paid more than State's Attorneys, have collective bargaining, and while they have something of the caseload problem of PDs in say Atlanta, they have nowhere near the problem.

You're saying - if PD offices are so overburdened, then prosecution offices should be overburdened. Nope. Doesn't work that way. The Prosecutor is an elected official. The PD isn't. The "tough on crime" generations have seen to it that the prosecutor's offices have more than enough resources, usually at least 25% if not 50% more than the PDs office. They want tests done on something, they go directly to the state lab. They need an expert, they turn to their rolodex (okay, dated, but you young people look it up). They don't have to get everything they want to do approved, down to the name of the person rendering service, y the judge in open court. Huge, huge advantage.

But, there are private clients out there and court appointeds - that should be reason enough for the (much) smaller workforce in the PD's office compared with the prosecutor's, right? No. A very small percentage of cases are handled privately. A much larger percentage are handled by Court Appointeds, but still, the vast majority are handled by PDs. Pas who do not have the support - the paralegals, the secretaries, and even the desk space that prosecutors have.

So, with all of this in mind - do we render the same service to clients? Fuck no. If my client cannot pay for 6 mental health experts to testify, get a gun powder analysis separate from the State's, and can't come up with a half dozen experts to explain to a jury why my client confessed to everything on video before bothering to hire me, I cannot render the same service to that client insisting on trial that I can with somebody who can pay for it. Does this mean that I'm rendering bad/lazy/half-assed services to my client? Fuck no. When there are financial constraints that would prevent me from using a time honored strategy, I have to be more creative in my thinking, creative in my motion and evidentiary practices. Do I spend less time caring, thinking about, researching, investigating? Fuck no. It just means instead of researching the names of the people doing the cutting edge research on a technical topic and putting them on the stand at trial, I'm hitting the books, talking with other attorneys, and coming up with a way to do the same thing without all the bells and whistles, and frequently without the flash. When was the last time you talked a psychiatrist into evaluating your clients, writing a report, and testifying in mental health hearing FOR FREE? We're talking about 30 hours of work on the shrink's part, and he did it FOR FREE. He even came to my house for a "strategy meeting" he got so vested in my client. And that's just one of my more recent examples.

As anybody who's ever worked with a tight budget knows, you get creative, but you manage to do the same things (or nearly), prioritize, and get it done.

So, same services? Fuck no. Same time and energy and quality of services? Hell yes. We don't skimp just because the client is not a private pay. We just get creative about how we use what we have available to us. Even then, we're not going to get paid for a bunch of the work we do because it's not considered a "billable hour" or one of the six minute increments.

And, let's look at it critically for a moment: most confessions to the police on video are not going to be thrown out barring constitutional grounds that are obvious. Getting half a dozen experts in to state that the confession was coerced because of a mental condition/youth/intoxication/whatever rarely works in front of a jury no matter how much money you have to throw at it. You have the money, we sure will try, but don't get your expectations up.

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Old 06-19-2016, 12:08 AM
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Yourself is right. And I do agree with what some have pointed out on this thread, that laws and circumstances differ from state to state. There are some states where PD caseloads are so high that it's literally impossible to do a good job no matter how smart, dedicated, and hardworking a PD might be. I'm fortunate not to work in one of those jurisdictions. Hats off to people who can handle it, but I couldn't do it--I'd quit my job if I didn't feel like I had the resources to do it adquately.

With respect to the example of the court-appointed lawyer who craps on his court-appointed clients and tries much harder on his paying ones.... well.... like I said, there are plenty of bad lawyers out there. Personally, I would find that kind of behavior to be a violation of the ethical rules, but I understand there are folks who take the ethical rules less seriously than I do. There are, of course, many who operate much like I do. There are good and bad folks in almost every line of work, and criminal defense is no exception. We're definitely not supposed to try harder for clients who pay than clients who don't.

Another thing to bear in mind: Yes, resource constraints are real. No, I don't have 1000 hours to spend on your case. But unless you're OJ Simpson, you don't have the money to pay someone to spend 1000 hours on it, either. If you have serious money you're able to put on the table (like, $50,000+) to hire a private lawyer then, yes, you can probably hire someone to give your case more time and resources than you'll get from the PD. Go for it, and God bless you. What concerns me is when I see families of limited means scrapping and struggling and taking advances on their credit cards to put together, say, $5,000 to pay a private attorney because they assume that the private attorney is automatically better than the PD. Here's what you get for $5,000: no investigation, no experts/consultants, no pretrial motions, no trial, no sentencing memorandum--just a guilty plea to probably the first deal that gets offered. And if you wanted to plead to the first deal that got offered, your PD was already more than capable of handling that for you.

Now, I'm not saying it's never a good idea to hire a private lawyer. Maybe you are someone who did get stuck with a really terrible PD (it happens). Maybe you have a prior relationship with a particular private lawyer and feel his prior knowledge will be a benefit in the current case. Maybe you just really like a particular private lawyer (though be careful with this one--good client relations is not the same thing as good lawyering, and there are tons of private counsel out there running successful practices by being good at answering phone calls and holding clients' hands while being utterly shit lawyers who get terrible outcomes for their clients). But the reality is that most people can't afford to pay a private counsel to do significantly more than the PD can do, and many people can only afford to pay for less than the PD is going to do.

I DO have access to resources if I need them. I have investigators. I hire experts. I get psychological evaluations. I file suppression motions. I go to trial. I write sentencing memos. Now, I don't do all of the above in every case. If you got pulled over in a car carrying a kilo of heroine and admitted to the police that the heroin belonged to you, there's not much to investigate. If you seem to understand what's going on, and neither you nor your family report any past mental health issues, there's probably no reason to do a psychological evaluation. But I can do these things, and I do do them when I feel it's necessary. Psych evals cost $3,000 in my area. No lawyer you paid $5,000 is going to hire someone to do a $3,000 psych eval.

If your case is really complicated, you're probably better off sticking with your PD unless you're one of the lucky few who can afford to pay a lawyer fees worthy of a very complicated case.
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  #15  
Old 06-19-2016, 01:15 PM
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UniQ, let's be clear - there are three "types" of lawyers working with defendants.

1. Public Defenders: these are people paid a salary to handle indigent caseloads. Their salary comes from your tax dollars. If their case load goes down, their electric bill will still get paid by your tax dollar.

2. Court Appointed Attorneys: these are people who have volunteered to be on the list (CenTex calls it the wheel). When the PD's office is conflicted out for any reason (most typically because there are two or more defendants, each needing an attorney without a conflict of interests and having an associate/boss/or other attorney in your same office working for the other defendant is a conflict of interests). Court Appointeds get paid an hourly rate that's greatly reduced compared to their private hourly rate, must have their bill approved by the judge (sometimes a state commission), must get approval from the judge to go above a set amount, must get approval to hire experts and the like, and other onerous tasks. A Court Appointed has his own office, pays his own bills, and if he doesn't work, he doesn't eat. The pay for Court Appointeds comes from your tax dollars.

3. Private Attorney: You hire and pay for this attorney. You hire and pay for all aspects of the defense side of the case, generally up front (called a retainer with the hourly work charged against your retainer that otherwise sits in the Client Trust Account). If an expert is needed, you pay for it. Simple.

Now, let's get into the court costs and fees and attorney's fees charged to defendants found guilty by plea or trial (defendants who aren't found guilty don't have any fees, including fees for attorneys - they just go free). You assert that these cover the actual attorney fees, so that they are paying for their attorney anyway. Are you fucking kidding me? I get $400 an hour private. I get maybe $100 an hour Court Appointed (it varies by court - felony court pays the best, juvenile court comes in second in my jurisdictions, misdemeanor comes in third, mental health court comes in fourth, and Father's Day (when non custodial parents have to come to court to explain why they aren't paying child support) comes in last). Further, what I charge as a billable hour may be disputed and rejected by those approving my bill.

You all are going $100 an hour? Fuck, what's any Court Appointed attorney complaining about? People are trying to get $15 an hour, and you're bitching about $100 an hour? Here's the differences: hourly workers are not getting paid billable hours. Example: hourly wage earner shows up for work, s/he gets paid for all hours s/he's at work. Wind up waiting for a delivery before you can do your thing? You're paid the for your waiting time. We're not. So, judge in your courtroom is running 2 hours late and you're in the hallway those two hours with your client - you're not getting paid for those two hours. So, 1 hour work in front of the judge, 2 hours waiting - you're getting paid $100 dollars (about half that for juveniles - so you do the math).

Now, let's also look at PD systems. Some PD systems are so overburdened that the PD's feel like they are on a sinking ship. They have caseloads that are 4-5-10 times the caseloads of private and court appointed attorneys yet the courts expect them to do their job. It's so bad the ABA is in the process of stepping in with standards and maximum caseloads, not that the ABA is anything but advisory. Other places are swank for PDS. Chicago, for instance, has PDs who are paid more than State's Attorneys, have collective bargaining, and while they have something of the caseload problem of PDs in say Atlanta, they have nowhere near the problem.

You're saying - if PD offices are so overburdened, then prosecution offices should be overburdened. Nope. Doesn't work that way. The Prosecutor is an elected official. The PD isn't. The "tough on crime" generations have seen to it that the prosecutor's offices have more than enough resources, usually at least 25% if not 50% more than the PDs office. They want tests done on something, they go directly to the state lab. They need an expert, they turn to their rolodex (okay, dated, but you young people look it up). They don't have to get everything they want to do approved, down to the name of the person rendering service, y the judge in open court. Huge, huge advantage.

But, there are private clients out there and court appointeds - that should be reason enough for the (much) smaller workforce in the PD's office compared with the prosecutor's, right? No. A very small percentage of cases are handled privately. A much larger percentage are handled by Court Appointeds, but still, the vast majority are handled by PDs. Pas who do not have the support - the paralegals, the secretaries, and even the desk space that prosecutors have.

So, with all of this in mind - do we render the same service to clients? Fuck no. If my client cannot pay for 6 mental health experts to testify, get a gun powder analysis separate from the State's, and can't come up with a half dozen experts to explain to a jury why my client confessed to everything on video before bothering to hire me, I cannot render the same service to that client insisting on trial that I can with somebody who can pay for it. Does this mean that I'm rendering bad/lazy/half-assed services to my client? Fuck no. When there are financial constraints that would prevent me from using a time honored strategy, I have to be more creative in my thinking, creative in my motion and evidentiary practices. Do I spend less time caring, thinking about, researching, investigating? Fuck no. It just means instead of researching the names of the people doing the cutting edge research on a technical topic and putting them on the stand at trial, I'm hitting the books, talking with other attorneys, and coming up with a way to do the same thing without all the bells and whistles, and frequently without the flash. When was the last time you talked a psychiatrist into evaluating your clients, writing a report, and testifying in mental health hearing FOR FREE? We're talking about 30 hours of work on the shrink's part, and he did it FOR FREE. He even came to my house for a "strategy meeting" he got so vested in my client. And that's just one of my more recent examples.

As anybody who's ever worked with a tight budget knows, you get creative, but you manage to do the same things (or nearly), prioritize, and get it done.

So, same services? Fuck no. Same time and energy and quality of services? Hell yes. We don't skimp just because the client is not a private pay. We just get creative about how we use what we have available to us. Even then, we're not going to get paid for a bunch of the work we do because it's not considered a "billable hour" or one of the six minute increments.

And, let's look at it critically for a moment: most confessions to the police on video are not going to be thrown out barring constitutional grounds that are obvious. Getting half a dozen experts in to state that the confession was coerced because of a mental condition/youth/intoxication/whatever rarely works in front of a jury no matter how much money you have to throw at it. You have the money, we sure will try, but don't get your expectations up.
Good post I always knew public defenders were understaffed and have too many case loads.However like always it is no excuse not to provide the best legal representation.I believe criminal defense attorneys espically the PA's need to speak to their local politicians about how we have too many people entering our overcrowded prison system granted probation/parole violators should instead be sent to halfway houses and not prison but thats a whole different story.I think the reason why the prosecution has more of a way on the PA's is simple the citizens and "tough on crime"mentality.
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Old 06-19-2016, 06:54 PM
trauma4us trauma4us is offline
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My son's case is long since settled (he's been in prison for 2+ years now). We did opt for a private attorney and yes, it was at great expense to us (parents). However, our son was accused of a class X felony and was facing some extremely serious time.

In the rural county where this occurred, the Public Defender admitted there had not been a class X offense in 20+ years.

My question:

How important is it for the private attorney to have a good solid knowledge of the judge handling the case as well as knowing the state's attorney?

And if you KNOW you are doing a plea from the beginning, do you stand a better chance of a lower sentence with the public defender because they know the judge and state's attorney?

Because of the circumstances of the offenses (ie witnesses and our son's admissions) there was NO private attorney (even the ones wanting $100k+) who would consider anything but plea bargain.
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Old 06-19-2016, 07:49 PM
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okay, in small counties, everybody knows everything. Hell, my secretary knew that I was leaving the firm and going out on my own before I did (turned out to be a real help as a result). We all know each other. The same judge who sits a civil case one moment is onto criminal cases the next. Small, rural counties get judges who are versed across a wide variety of law.

The only people the judge doesn't know are people who never appear before him/her - transactional lawyer, real estate and the like. Even then, they'll golf with them at the summer bar outing.

How important is it to know the judge? If you're hiring counsel from say Chicago for a class x in Carroll County, that counsel is going to have what's called "local counsel" so that Big Shot Chicago Lawyer doesn't have to come in every other day for something. Big Shot Chicago Lawyer then has entry into who knows what about whom. Very few Big Shot Chicago Lawyers are so big for their britches that they don't listen and follow local counsel for various things.

Kinda a round about way of answering your question.

Fwiw, in my state, there are a variety of drug crimes that are Class X, and while people face fierce sentences, if the client wants a trial, we go to trial. The result may not be what they want, but....

Sometimes trial is best for trying to get a jury to see that the case was overcharged. Sometimes not. Attorneys give the best advice they can based on facts and circumstances, but if your son insisted on going to trial, and you had the money - trial it is. Sometimes, however, it's better to put the time and effort into sentencing, and try to get things knocked down in the sentencing range.
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  #18  
Old 06-20-2016, 06:06 AM
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My son's case is long since settled (he's been in prison for 2+ years now). We did opt for a private attorney and yes, it was at great expense to us (parents). However, our son was accused of a class X felony and was facing some extremely serious time.

In the rural county where this occurred, the Public Defender admitted there had not been a class X offense in 20+ years.

My question:

How important is it for the private attorney to have a good solid knowledge of the judge handling the case as well as knowing the state's attorney?

And if you KNOW you are doing a plea from the beginning, do you stand a better chance of a lower sentence with the public defender because they know the judge and state's attorney?

Because of the circumstances of the offenses (ie witnesses and our son's admissions) there was NO private attorney (even the ones wanting $100k+) who would consider anything but plea bargain.
Based on your statements it means the state has a good case on your son if all attorneys both paid and public defenders are suggesting a plea bargain im assuming they dont have a case to argue for your son's case.Then again I dont know your son's charge,criminal history(if he has one)if I was your son I would tell him to go to the law libary.
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Old 06-20-2016, 08:51 AM
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Based on your statements it means the state has a good case on your son if all attorneys both paid and public defenders are suggesting a plea bargain im assuming they dont have a case to argue for your son's case.Then again I dont know your son's charge,criminal history(if he has one)if I was your son I would tell him to go to the law libary.
because this would do exactly what for him?

We have no idea what his level of education is, what his current understanding of 4,5,6th Amendment issues is.

You're really expressing self representation? You do know that you waive an "ineffective assistance of counsel" based appeal when you represent yourself, right? So if you miss something major, something that could have led to his confessions being thrown out or something that shouldn't be heard by the jury, or even jury picking itself - all of that's gone on a, "well my counsel should have known and I was screwed because of it" type of appeal.

Going to the law library when you don't regularly visit the public library and have no background in law is about the stupidest thing possible.
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Old 06-20-2016, 09:38 AM
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because this would do exactly what for him?

We have no idea what his level of education is, what his current understanding of 4,5,6th Amendment issues is.
Agree

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You're really expressing self representation?
What other choice does he have?Granted self representation espically in a felony criminal case normally doesn't work well for defendants and its quite a risk,but if the defendant is left with no other choice,what else can he do.

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You do know that you waive an "ineffective assistance of counsel" based appeal when you represent yourself, right?
the trial judge may deny has the authority can accept or deny the defendant for self representation even though the 6th Amendment guartnees the defendant the right to self representation.But however the trial judge can use his authority to not allow the defendant to self representation himself if the defendant simply lacks the competence to make a knowing or intelligent waiver of counsel.

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So if you miss something major, something that could have led to his confessions being thrown out or something that shouldn't be heard by the jury, or even jury picking itself - all of that's gone on a,
More grounds for appeal,and if he decides to hire an attorney even better.The attorney will have more grounds and motions to appeal and possibily win the case.

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"well my counsel should have known and I was screwed because of it" type of appeal.
Ineffective assistance of counsel is one of the hardest bases for a defendant to prove,so even for defendants who have attorneys many can say"Well my counsel wasnt very good or helping me"the burden is on defendant,so in the end the defendant with the attorney is still needing to prove the same as the defendant without the attorney who chose self representation.

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Going to the law library when you don't regularly visit the public library and have no background in law is about the stupidest thing possible.
Agree but its a start,not necessary suggesting someone becomes a law God going to law library depending on the person they can atleast pick some knowledge but granted it is still risky and not smart.
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Old 06-20-2016, 01:57 PM
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Between now and trial, the dude is not going to gain the basic competency to handle a parking ticket let alone become a law god necessary for handling a class x felony.

If you represent yourself, you do not even get the opportunity to raise ineffective assistance of counsel on any issue. The question cannot even be asked in a habeas proceeding.

Hitting the law library is about the worst thing this guy can do. If he cannot afford an attorney, the PD will be appointed. If he wants to go to trial despite the advice of his attorney, the attorney will take it to trial. He'll get screwed and have to live with it.

Hitting the law library and representing himself is the WORST idea that you could possibly give him. Shit I'm a fully qualified attorney and even I hired a divorce lawyer to handle my dissolution. I took family law, I studied family law for the bar, I've practiced basic family law and hate it, I could have very easily represented myself but for two issues:
1. I'm too vested in the outcome
2. We had some complicated jurisdictional issues

If he wants to take it to trial, his attorney will take it to trial. But, if it's against the better advice of his attorney, he's going to live with the results. If he's very, very lucky, he'll get a better outcome than the plea offer and the attorney will be happy for him. But, he'll probably get a much worse outcome than the plea deal and have to live with it. This is his choice.

Going to the law library and representing himself is the WORST thing he could do.
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Old 06-20-2016, 08:04 PM
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Just FYI: my son's crime was home invasion (x's and his home). This was a first offense - only offense. He has an associates degree and comes from an upper middle class family.

And nope...no lawyer would take it to trial - he was told he could get up to 60 years (2 counts) and if trial, he would probably get more than what plea bargain would get.

As we had five opinions from five different lawyers (five different firms) NOT to go to trial, we figured majority rules.
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Old 06-20-2016, 08:11 PM
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And if you KNOW you are doing a plea from the beginning, do you stand a better chance of a lower sentence with the public defender because they know the judge and state's attorney?

Because of the circumstances of the offenses (ie witnesses and our son's admissions) there was NO private attorney (even the ones wanting $100k+) who would consider anything but plea bargain.
Here's what a lot of people don't understand--if you KNOW you are going to take a plea bargain (likely because you know you're guilty, and you know there's a ton of evidence that you are guilty), there's no magic trick ("knowing the judge," "knowing the prosecutors") to getting a better deal. You generally get whatever the prosecutor wants to give you. There is NO REASON for the prosecutor to give you a better deal if he knows you're guilty, and he knows you can't win at trial.

Having a "good lawyer" is really only going to make a big difference if you have an actual defense to the crime. That defense might be that you are innocent, or it might be that the search that turned up the the evidence was illegal, or that you were insane at the time the offense was committed, etc. If you have a defense, a good lawyer (not necessarily only private attorneys) will be better than a bad lawyer at presenting that defense, filing motions and, if necessary, taking your case to trial.

If you do not have a defense, there is not much any lawyer is going to be able to do for you.

The following are examples of things that are not defenses:

1. I don't like my plea agreement; I think it's too much time.
2. I can't do that much time; I can't be away from my spouse/kids/parents that long.
3. That's too much time; what I did wasn't all that serious/didn't hurt anyone.
4. I'm guilty and I confessed, but I only confessed because the police told me telling the truth would be better for my case.

People seem to think lawyers are supposed to have some magical powers to get totally, absolutely, 100%, no-doubt-about-it guilty people better deals. We don't.

Here are things that get people better deals:

1. Weak enough evidence of guilt that the prosecutor is actually scared he might lose a trial
2. Defendants who have actual solid info (not vague rumors) about other people's crimes and are willing to cooperate with the police.
3. Having a basis to get important evidence thrown out.

That's really about it. One of the most frustrating things to me as a defense lawyer is clients who have no leverage demanding that I go get them a better deal. Like I'm supposed to be able to walk into the prosecutor's office and say "you know that guy who was videotaped robbing the liquor store and who was found 2 blocks away 5 minutes later with the marked bills in his pocket and who was IDed in a photo lineup by 4 separate witnesses? He only wants to do 6 months on that charge." It doesn't work that way.

The key word in plea bargain is BARGAIN. If the only thing you have to offer is not putting the prosecutor through the minor annoyance of convening a jury and spending 1-3 days proving you're guilty, then don't expect anyone to be able to get you an amazing offer because, e.g., they play golf with the judge.
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Old 06-20-2016, 08:43 PM
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Thanks for the info. Prior to 2.5 years ago, I never would have been worried or concerned about this. Unfortunately....now I wish I had gone to law school instead of becoming a nurse practitioner - lol.

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Here's what a lot of people don't understand--if you KNOW you are going to take a plea bargain (likely because you know you're guilty, and you know there's a ton of evidence that you are guilty), there's no magic trick ("knowing the judge," "knowing the prosecutors") to getting a better deal. You generally get whatever the prosecutor wants to give you. There is NO REASON for the prosecutor to give you a better deal if he knows you're guilty, and he knows you can't win at trial.

Having a "good lawyer" is really only going to make a big difference if you have an actual defense to the crime. That defense might be that you are innocent, or it might be that the search that turned up the the evidence was illegal, or that you were insane at the time the offense was committed, etc. If you have a defense, a good lawyer (not necessarily only private attorneys) will be better than a bad lawyer at presenting that defense, filing motions and, if necessary, taking your case to trial.

If you do not have a defense, there is not much any lawyer is going to be able to do for you.

The following are examples of things that are not defenses:

1. I don't like my plea agreement; I think it's too much time.
2. I can't do that much time; I can't be away from my spouse/kids/parents that long.
3. That's too much time; what I did wasn't all that serious/didn't hurt anyone.
4. I'm guilty and I confessed, but I only confessed because the police told me telling the truth would be better for my case.

People seem to think lawyers are supposed to have some magical powers to get totally, absolutely, 100%, no-doubt-about-it guilty people better deals. We don't.

Here are things that get people better deals:

1. Weak enough evidence of guilt that the prosecutor is actually scared he might lose a trial
2. Defendants who have actual solid info (not vague rumors) about other people's crimes and are willing to cooperate with the police.
3. Having a basis to get important evidence thrown out.

That's really about it. One of the most frustrating things to me as a defense lawyer is clients who have no leverage demanding that I go get them a better deal. Like I'm supposed to be able to walk into the prosecutor's office and say "you know that guy who was videotaped robbing the liquor store and who was found 2 blocks away 5 minutes later with the marked bills in his pocket and who was IDed in a photo lineup by 4 separate witnesses? He only wants to do 6 months on that charge." It doesn't work that way.

The key word in plea bargain is BARGAIN. If the only thing you have to offer is not putting the prosecutor through the minor annoyance of convening a jury and spending 1-3 days proving you're guilty, then don't expect anyone to be able to get you an amazing offer because, e.g., they play golf with the judge.
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Old 06-20-2016, 09:08 PM
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Thanks for the info. Prior to 2.5 years ago, I never would have been worried or concerned about this. Unfortunately....now I wish I had gone to law school instead of becoming a nurse practitioner - lol.
No problem. I think that the system seems a lot more confusing from the outside than it actually is. Most prosecutors' offices have a pretty standard formula. A is what they offer for people charged with B and with C number of priors. From those standard offers, they may tweak the basic formula a bit (both in your favor and not in your favor) to account for unique facts of your case. For example, you might get a worse offer because there were children present when the crime was being committed, or because the victim was elderly/disabled/underage. Or you might get a slightly better offer than average because you're only 18 or because you immediately confessed when arrested and gave information that helped the police arrest someone else.

Unless you have actual defenses (bearing in mind "he's a really nice guy, he just made a stupid mistake, please give him a second chance" is not a defense), you're unlikely to get much movement on the standard offer.

Now, how the mechanics of the standard offer play out can vary a lot from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. In my jurisdiction, there's typically only one offer--take it or leave it. In some others, it's standard for prosecutors to make an opening offer, defense attorneys to counter, and prosecutors to make another offer in response. But however it plays out is really a matter of custom and all but a totally incompetent attorney will know the custom and be able to follow it.

It's hard for a lot of clients and families to understand, but the criminal justice system in general and prosecutors in particular are not looking at defendants as individual people. They don't know about their jobs, families, parents, or kids and don't really care. They're just going off the numbers.
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