Sunday, March 01, 2015

Life as a PD (Public Defender)

Kim Segal
Kim Segal worked for CNN for 25 years ... long enough to remember a time when the network covered real news.

Last August, in a farewell note to her colleagues, she wrote:
Dear CNN,

I loved you from the moment we met. It was a time when you cared more about coups than poop cruises, when people like Baby Doc would get more air time than a kid named Bieber and when news was the star. Oh how I long for that wonderful time when news was the star.
Segal was moving on to a new challenge.

Somehow, despite the demands of a full time job in news, she managed to go to law school and earn a law degree...and then get a job with the Broward County Public Defender's office.

Not long after reporting for work, Segal began writing about her new job and sharing her observations with friends on her Facebook page.

Her posts offer an insider's glimpse at criminal justice as it's practiced at the Broward County Courthouse.

Here are just four of those posts:

From March, 1, 2015:
LIFE AS A PD: After 5 months as a Public Defender I often find myself thinking, if I ever return to journalism I will never again read a police report as naively as I use to. After reading hundreds of police reports, or as we call them probable cause affidavits, you notice each crime has “buzz words” that are used by law enforcement to make sure the arrest sticks.

For example a Drunk Driving arrest usually has a driver who smelled of an “alcoholic beverage”, had “red glassy eyes” and “slurred speech.” My favorite is when these alcohol-smelling people go to the facility for the breathalyzer and they blow a 0.0!

Another example is Resisting Arrest Without Violence, which leads my list of stupid crimes. I shake my head every time I read that a client was charged with resisting arrest because he “tensed his arms” while being handcuffed. What does that even mean?

In too many of my cases a car is stopped for a traffic infraction and the officer smells the “odor of marijuana” coming from the car. Smelling marijuana is grounds to search a vehicle. In one case, two officers claimed they smelled marijuana through their air conditioner vent that was coming from the car they were driving behind.

Instead of reading a police report and immediately thinking I can’t believe what the arrestee did or what they allegedly said, one must remember these reports are intentionally written to make a person look guilty. If I was still in journalism I would read a police report with a much more critical eye and I would do a better job questioning not only what’s in the report but what was omitted.

I know this must sound like I am bashing police officers. I am not. I appreciate the difficult and dangerous job they have. Many people I love and respect work in law enforcement and thanks to them our communities are safer. 
Yet, just like journalism there are those in the profession that don’t practice good ethics. We must never forget what makes our justice system one of the best in the world: We are presumed innocent until proven guilty!

From Jan. 31, 2015:
LIFE AS A PD: I could be talking to a client or reviewing a file but whenever I hear the Judge say, “I am remanding you into the custody of the Broward Sheriff’s Office” my ears perk up and I immediately stop what I am doing. I know the odds are high that within minutes that person will become my newest client.

The last person I watched being handcuffed by the bailiff and put into the “box” (where the jury sits during a trial) was a 21 year-old girl who came to court with her mother. She was a “traffic criminal” she lost her driver’s license for not paying tickets yet she continued to drive. According to the Judge she had 3 open driving with a suspended license cases and she failed to appear in court 12 times in the past.

The young lady with her hands cuffed behind her back and tears in her eyes waited as I negotiated with the prosecutor. I wanted to resolve all her cases in a way that would keep her out of jail. The prosecutor’s offer was 30 days in jail and I wanted probation. The state wouldn’t consider probation because the last time she was on probation she did not follow the rules.

As the packed courtroom looked on I asked if the Judge would consider probation. It was an argument that I was doubtful I could win. “Yes your honor she violated probation in the past but she was just a child at the time; 18 years old,” I told the Judge. I then explained that this young lady was now going to a trade school and she recently started a job with a cellular company. Her mother, still in shock at the thought that her daughter could be spending the night in jail, came to the podium to help me convince the Judge.

After a tense few minutes that felt like hours the Judge made his offer, 18 months of probation. That’s a very long time to be on probation and I have clients who wisely take jail over a sentence like that but this client was different, jail was not an option for her. So the cuffs came off and she was reunited with her mother. I know she learned her lesson I just hope she can successfully complete her sentence.

From Jan. 17, 2015:
LIFE AS A PD: As the elderly man made his way to the podium everyone in the courtroom just froze and looked at him. I know we were all thinking the same thing, what crime could this man have possibly committed? The man in dark glasses was carrying a long cane and a friend was leading him by the elbow to the front of the courtroom. Yes he was blind. Right away I grabbed the docket to see what he was charged with: Violation of Probation for DUI.

After a brief conversation with the Judge we found out the man didn’t have an attorney and he couldn’t afford one. The Judge told him to fill out the application to have the public defender, me, appointed to his case. I sat with this gentleman and filled out the application for him. I had to ask about his debts, income and any property he may own. When it came time for him to sign the form I guided his hand to the area where there’s a signature line on the page. At this point I asked him when he lost his sight, I knew it was recent because his DUI was less than 2 years ago.

He qualified for a public defender so the Judge appoints me to the case. Together we wait for probation to show up so I can discuss with them his violation which included not attending driving school, not doing community service hours and not reporting to probation.

When the probation officer arrives in the courtroom I huddle with her and the prosecutor. Even though they are usually my adversaries I realize no words are needed so I just point to my client and ask, “How are we going to resolve this one?” We all knew we needed to make this case go away. After a brief conversation we agree that probation would be revoked in exchange for 1 day in the Broward County Jail with credit for the one day my client spent in jail when he was originally arrested on the DUI charge.

As his attorney I was the one to deliver the good news. I could actually feel this man's relief when I told him his criminal case was over. He now had one less thing in his life to worry about. Those of us in the courtroom never mentioned the man again but I know we all felt good about the outcome. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “The time is always right to do what is right.”

From Jan. 8, 2015:
LIFE AS A PD: When I opened the door to the holding cell I heard a young man say “Kim?” with a question mark in his voice. It took me a second but when I recognized him I had to fight back tears. I wasn’t there to see him, I had no idea he was in jail. I was visiting my clients and I had just returned one client to the holding area where the inmates wait for their attorneys.

I immediately pulled, let’s call him John, out of the cell and sat him down for a chat. I have known John for about 13 years and I consider his family a part of mine. John’s a great kid who has grown up with more pain than any person should have to experience. I can only assume that it was drugs that dulled his pain and it was drugs that had him in shackles and cuffs during our random catch-up. As we sat at a table discussing his life and his family, I hear over the loud speaker his name announced.

Next, I notice an attorney I didn’t know, walking to the inmate holding cell. I stop the attorney and ask, “Are you here for John?” He says, “Yes.” I tell this attorney I am also a Public Defender. I didn’t have to ask how I knew that John’s attorney would be a fellow PD. I quickly tried to explain why I am sitting with his client. I believe I said something like, “I’m a family friend and I just saw him in the holding cell so I pulled him out.” I have no idea what John said to his attorney after I left but a few hours later when his attorney sent an inner-office update about his client he added my name to the email. That’s the type of people I work with, people who care, people who listen and people who will go out of their way to include others.

This chance encounter made me realize that every client is special to someone. What’s that saying, you shouldn’t judge others until you walk in their shoes? I know the shoes John was given and as bad as it was seeing him behind bars, he made me remember that I need to be the attorney for my clients that I want for John. He may have done things that were questionable but I love him and he deserves another chance and so do my clients. John is not just another inmate in the criminal justice system he is the person who has just changed me for the better.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Feel free to comment on anything you read here.

All comments must first be approved. Spam and spam links will not be tolerated or approved.