Monday, September 13, 2004

What this blog is about

Every criminal defense lawyer I have ever met has some good stories about some cases they have been involved in, their clients, the judges presiding over the case, or the prosecutors. We also have stories about the effect clients' families and friends have on some of our cases.

There are also stories about that biggest of all criminal defense law firm - the one made up of all the jailhouse lawyers housed with our clients, and how our clients pay more attention (and often money) to them than the attention (and often money) they pay their own lawyers.

Then there are those "lawyers" who are always hustling cases by suggesting either directly or through third parties -other inmates, paralegals and chasers- that the inmate should switch lawyers because nobody who is Court-appointed or a federal public defender is going to look out for their interests the same as if the guy had retained "his own" attorney. There are very good reasons why criminal defendants time and again fall for this dishonest pitch. More often than not, at least as regards criminal defense lawyers who practice before the U.S. District Court in Puerto Rico, the representation provided by the Federal Public Defender is of very good quality, many times much better than the representation afforded by many attorneys in private practice. And as to attorneys in the Criminal Justice Act panel, I can only say that -by and large- they are very dedicated to their clients, and I have yet to meet one of these attorneys who pays more attention to their paying clients than to their appointed ones. The few that do, are probably irresponsible attorneys to begin with, and you would be better off with someone else.

Then there are the federal criminal laws, including the draconian (seems to be the "in" word for describing the guidelines) federal sentencing guidelines, and how these so-called guidelines have affected the practice of law, not to mention chilled defendants' exercise of their right to jury trial, and practically eviscerated the proof beyond a reasonable doubt standard in so many sentencing enhancing aspects, etc. In many cases, for example, the Government no longer needs to go through the complex Continuing Criminal Enterprise provisions to put someone away for life. It often suffices to charge the same person with a conspiracy involving sufficient amounts of drugs, and other adjustments that will increase the sentencing range to life can be taken care of at the time of sentencing by the judge using the preponderance of the evidence standard, hearsay, and what have you. This is also a corrupting influence in the criminal justice system. Blakely's aftermath may or may not assist in clearing this up, depending first on what the Supreme Court does in Booker and Fanfan, as well as in Shepard (possible death knell for Almendarez-Torres) does.

These and some more stories will form part of this blog, although the names will be altered to protect both the guilty, the not guilty and the innocent. Don't be confused, since "not guilty" is not the same as "innocent." All the "innocent" are "not guilty," but not all the "not guilty" are "innocent." See United States v. Mendoza-Acevedo, 950 F.2d 1 (1st Cir. 1991) (discussing jury instruction on guilt or innocence of the accused v. guilt or lack therof, and agreeing that difference between not guilty and innocent is more than semantics, as district court had labeled it).