Friday, February 17, 2012

Latest case

Ladies and gentlemen, I present.....

The Mysterious Case of the Last Minute Criminal

Welcome to the latest installment of "My Life as Trial Counsel".  Let me fill you in on my latest case.  I was assigned as assistant trial counsel in a case of US v. Senior Airman B, who was charged with possession of marijuana and cocaine with the intent to distribute. 

The facts were pretty simple.  B gets pulled over in Philly for having dice in the mirror (go ahead, sing the Fresh Prince theme song now) which apparently is a crime in Philly.  Brutal.  B hands over his military ID to the cop.  Smart move -  I do the same thing to get out of tickets.  It's cool to be a Soldier.  The cop assumed that every military person carries a weapon (don't we??) and asks if B has a weapon in the car.  Of course, he does, and he gestures down to the floor where the cop spies the handle of a pistol.  That's loaded.  And rolling around in the car.  Exactly how I keep my handgun when I travel.  Cop, a tad concerned for his safety, gets B out of the car, does a quick pat down and reaches in to retrieve the weapon (this is all lawful under several United States Supreme Court cases, like Terry v. Ohio and Michigan v. Long and it allowed me to actually use my crim pro from law school to argue).  While he's retrieving the weapon..what's that weird smell?  Why, that's MARIJUANA!  Cop opens up the center console (also legal for various reasons I won't bore you with, but I totally won this motion) and lookey here, there's marijuana and 15 little bags of cocaine in the car.  You guessed it - under arrest.

Then it gets interesting.  B tells the the cop that he loaned his car to someone he couldn't name for $250 and that guy left the drugs in there.  (That poor mystery guy is out $250 AND all those drugs?).  Later, he tells his Air Force leadership that the cops found the drugs in a gym bag in his car along with his friend's ID and his friend confessed.  Philly doesn't care about this crime because this is pretty standard for this part of Philly (sad, but true) so they give the Air Force jurisdiction.  Well, guess who takes this seriously?  Uncle Fucking Sam!

So, we prosecute.  Now, the week before and of trial is pretty exhausting.  Last minute witness interviews, getting the defense's motions to suppress everything their client did, trying to write intelligible responses to the motions - it's insane.  The night before trial, I was at work until nearly midnight.  Had I stayed ONE MINUTE later, I would have seen, you guessed it, ANOTHER MOTION from the defense counsel roll in my inbox at 12:00 on the dot.  Just like civilian court, we have timelines in which to turn things in, and although a defendant always gets the benefit for having bad counsel who can't turn in motions on time, it's still pretty poor lawyering to throw motions at the other side that late in the game.  

But believe it or not, that's not the most interesting thing that happened the night before trial.  Lo and behold, one of B's friends in Philly contacts the Air Force Investigators and says to them over the phone "Oh hey, those were my drugs that I left in the car."  What, what, WHAT?!  This is what we call a Law and Order moment - so ridiculous it never happens.  Except it totally did.  So, we let the defense know, assuming they are going to ask for a continuance (delay) because hey, their guy looks innocent.  Well, turns out the defense already knew about this, but for some reason were choosing not to call this new guy as a witness.  I still don't know why.  But, because the defense was woefully unprepared for trial, they ask for a continuance anyway.

The day of trial, the judge decides to rule on other motions first before dealing with this last minute criminal.  We argue about getting the drugs in (win for Ali!) and get them in.  We argue about getting in statements made to the cops (win for Ali!) and we get them in.  I got to interview one of the Philly cops on the stand, a big young hilarious cop that likes to talk A LOT.  He told me to give him "the look" when he was talking to much and after he was done, made me rate him on a scale from 1-10.  Luckily he was an 8.7 that day.  And during one of our late afternoon breaks, my boss comes into the courtroom to inform me and my co-counsel that last minute criminal not only told the Air Force he committed this crime (we can't do anything to civilians so it wasn't very credible information), he's now walked into the Philly police department and turned himself in and is currently being booked.  Holy crap.  

Can you say "acquittal"?  I sure can.  Now, we can continue to prosecute B.  If he knew the drugs were in there, he's guilty of possession.  And we know he knew they were in there.  It just becomes harder to convince a jury that he knew when someone else has already confessed.  Of course, THAT guy is being released in Philly because, again, Philly doesn't care about this minor little drug possession.  We delay trial for a day, argue more motions (more wins for the government) and have to sit through a very awkward chastising on the record of the defense counsel by the judge for turning in motions late.  It was pretty embarrassing.  For defense.  Not for me.  

We then agree to all delay trial for a month.  Over the next week, we find out some pretty interesting things, but the powers that be decide to withdraw charges, so the trial is over.  I got to get some great experience, interview a witness on the stand, argued motions, wrote responses to motions, and really felt like a team with my co-counsel.  

An exhausting experience, but never a dull moment!

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