Thursday, September 27, 2007

"To get out of a ticket... Don't break the law."

That's the advice given by a police officer to the public on a website called "Cops Writing Cops: Where's the courtesy?" (hattip Scott Greenfield at Simple Justice) By "Writing" they don't mean love notes or blog entries, but mean tickets. Or, in the words of the officer who created the site, the purpose is:

If you are a police officer, trooper, court officer, correction officer, telecommunicator, highway patrol, federal agent, or any other type of police (peace) officer... that has been disrespected or insulted by another police agency (officer) by not receiving some sort of professional courtesy, please email staff (at) with the information."

Yes, the "don't break the law" advice doesn't extend to the brothers in blue as further down the page, the same guy who wrote this writes:
"Yes it’s true, cops usually don’t give other cops tickets. Think of it as an employee discount, perk or benefit. Other Cops are family and you wouldn’t give your brother a ticket if you were a cop either."

The Equal Protection clause isn't very fashionable here, but I'm sure those other parts of the Constitution are taken very seriously!

Reminds me of when I was in high school and my girlfriend at the time was babysitting for a police lieutenant's family. As the girl was getting a ride home, they were pulled over for speeding and the first words out of the officer's mouth weren't "your license and registration" but "I'm sorry! I didn't know it was you!" And that was the end of the traffic stop. I remember being shocked at this episode, at the lack of principle or even concern for whether the law was broken.

But wait, as a criminal defense attorney, don't I qualify as a "court officer" entitled to a little "professional courtesy" under the above definition. What am I complaining about? I'll just pull out my "Nebraska Criminal Defense Attorneys" card at my next traffic stop and threaten to expose their lack of "professionalism" on this site if they have the nerve to ticket a fellow "court officer."

Anybody want to bail me out afterwards?

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Symbols of Our Prison Culture

On Friday, the PBS program Bill Moyers Journal ran a fascinating interview with former corporate attorney turned photographer Chris Jordan about his work "Running the Numbers: An American Self Portrait." The two that caught my eye are shown above and they reveal what the prison population of America in 2004 truly looks like, if each of the 2.3 million prisoner's uniform were folded and stacked together. As Jordan says on his website:

My hope is that images representing these quantities might have a different effect than the raw numbers alone... Statistics can feel abstract and anesthetizing, making it difficult to connect with and make meaning of 3.6 million SUV sales in one year, for example, or 2.3 million Americans in prison... This project visually examines these vast and bizarre measures of our society, in large intricately detailed prints assembled from thousands of smaller photographs.

On the Moyers program, Jordan described what he was trying to show in the photographs above:

We have the largest prison population of any country on earth. There's also no other country that has that percentage of its population in jail. And that includes all of the dictatorships that we think of as the enemies of freedom."

Here's another way of looking at it: According to Wikipedia, "The United States has 5% of the world's population and 25% of the world's incarcerated population." So, while 1 in 20 of the world's population hails from the so-called "Land of the Free," 1 in 4 of the world's prisoners calls America home.

Isn't there a lesson here about how we can show judges the "big picture" as we ask them not to add to this grotesque scene? When we step back at look at what our prison population truly looks like, don't we have a better argument (especially in the case of non-violent drug offenders) that adding another orange uniform to this picture means isn't the only way, or the right one?

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

"Don't Taze Me Bro!"

That's what you can hear the young man yelling just before the cops taze him (video below) for refusing to obey their commands to "stop resisting" as 3 to 4 cops lie on him in the back of the auditorium.

At one point, Kerry says something about "he's unavailable to come up here and swear me in as President." It seems to me that's Kerry trying to laugh at the situation but what a pathetic spectacle to have a Democratic Senator droning on and making jokes while the young man is screaming his lungs out.

Admittedly, the kid was being rude but tazing him for this! Here is a comment I left at Talkleft:

"What a great metaphor for the position much of the Democratic party takes with regard to the so-called "fringe" that is demanding action on Iraq and against the Bush administration. Like the female officer who screams "stop resisting" (which has no real effect on a very frightened kid) they want to ignore these inconvenient truths, like the skull and bones society link, and tell us, at a time when we're surrounded by people who seem to have no regard for either the Constitution or the rule of law, simply to "stop resisting."

And Kerry carries on as if he can't even hear this, hoping it'll be over soon. What a sad display of force, juxtaposed with apathy, bearing down on a kid who, albeit rudely, is asking a question about the insider nature of our government, a government that currently seems oblivious to what the people truly want, whether it be with regard to Iraq, to a popular election, or to why the opposition to Bush is perpetually capitulating.

UF Student tasered at John Kerry Speech

Monday, September 17, 2007

Going to Jail for Refusing to "Be Still" in Court

Last year, when I was still in the Public Defenders Office, I was in court with a child who was being arraigned by the judge for a juvenile delinquency charge. The transcript below shows what happened, but first a little background.

As you can see, the judge very quickly began speaking directly to my client. What set her off was the moment that I pivoted in my chair (I'm serious!) and turned to tell him to behave himself since I was afraid, from the way she was talking to him and from his demeanor that he would either say something that would further draw the judge's ire or else say something incriminating about his case.

I haven't written about it for several reasons, not important for right now, and I've only shared the transcript with a few people since my former boss told me, at the time, to keep it quiet until he decided what to do. I don't think he ever did anything, but I could be wrong as I never asked him and quit that job two months ago to start my own practice.

Anyway, here's the transcript. What do you think?

(At 11:45 a.m., on January 26, 2006 in the Separate Juvenile Court for Douglas County, Nebraska, before the HONORABLE ELIZABETH G. CRNKOVICH, with Ms. Kristin Huber appearing on behalf of the State; with Mr. David Tarrell appearing on behalf of the minor child; and with the minor child Larry ****** being personally present with his mother, the following proceedings were had: )
THE COURT: What’s the matter, Larry?

LARRY ******: (nodded head)

Mrs. ******: She’s talking to you.

LARRY ******: I said nothing.

Mrs. *****: No you didn’t.

THE COURT: No, you didn’t. When I walked in, you’re very—it was – I don’t want to start anything, but I, I want you to know that, that you—you’ve got the judge you’ve have and—Mr. Tarrell, can I talk to your client for a moment?


THE COURT: Can I talk to him, please, for a minute?

MR. TARRELL: Yeah, I’m – you know, I’m—

THE COURT: Thank you.

MR. TARRELL: Judge, you know—

THE COURT: Thank you, I’m just going to visit with him for a second.

MR. TARRELL: Judge, you know what—

THE COURT: You- Just a moment. Mr. Tarrell, if you do not be still, I’ll find you in contempt.

MR. TARRELL: You can find me in contempt.

THE COURT: All right.

MR. TARRELL: I think it’s important that I talk to my client, okay, Judge.

THE COURT: All right. Just a moment. Just a moment.

MR. TARRELL: If you want me to play a role here, then let me play that role.

THE COURT: I’d like a sheriff please, thank you.

MR. TARRELL: I think it’s important for me—

THE COURT: Just a moment. If you open your mouth, I will incarcerate you; do you understand?

MR. TARRELL: I think I should get a chance.

THE COURT: All right. I’m finding you in contempt of court because you have refused to follow the court’s order to be still. I need a sheriff.

(Deputy sheriffs entered the courtroom at this time)

[Note: When the sheriffs came in, they were responding to a “panic button” so three of them ran into the courtroom, the first one holding a taser. When they saw a calm situation, with everyone sitting in their seats, they looked surprised. So I stood up in my seat, and stuck my hands out behind me so they could cuff me. I was thinking at the time that the judge probably wanted me to beg to not be arrested, so I was “calling her bluff” by doing this. When I did this, she slammed her hand down on the bench and screamed the next line at me. The rest of the conversation is a battle over the record, as she’s trying to make it seem as if I’m not complying with her orders and I’m trying to show everything that is going on]

THE COURT: Sir, Mr. Tarrell, sit down, sit down in your seat now.

MR. TARRELL: Your honor--

THE COURT: Sit down and be still, sit down. I have three deputies here. I am ordering you this last time to sit in that chair. Are you refusing?

MR. TARRELL: Your honor, I need to make a record.

THE COURT: Are you refusing? Yes or no?

MR. TARRELL: I will sit down in the chair, but I need to make a record.

THE COURT: Thank you. We have a clear record here.

MR. TARRELL: I don’t think we do.

THE COURT: You are in contempt of this court. I am ordering the deputies to take you back at this moment.

MR. TARRELL: Your honor, what I want to put on the record is—

THE COURT: Deputies, now.

MR. TARRELL: I think I should—

THE COURT: Stop, we do not have a record. I have ordered him to be removed.

MR. TARRELL: It doesn’t have to be this way.

THE COURT: I know that sir, it didn’t have to be this way.

MR. TARRELL: I’d like to try to play the role that you want me to play.

THE COURT: Go, go.

MR. TARRELL: Okay. I’m not going to be intimidated by you. I’m trying to do my job, the job you asked me to do. Now, please put that on the record. It’s not fair.
(MR. TARRELL exited the courtroom at this time)

THE DEPUTY: Would you like me to stay ,or?

THE COURT: No, I’m not having any difficulty with anybody else. I was just going to have a conversation with the young man.

THE DEPUTY: Sure. If you needed me to stay. I was just asking.

THE COURT: No, that’s fine. Just hang on to Mr. Tarrell for a moment, please.
Young man, I’d like to explain where I was beginning, but under the circumstances, it would not be appropriate because your lawyer doesn’t need to be with you. Let me say that you remain in good hands in terms of your legal representation. I think there was just clearly something else going on , and the court has a responsibility to maintain its authority, so I’m going to take a recess. You may be excused.
(a brief recess was taken and all parties exited the courtroom.)

[Note: they took me into the back room, where they book prisoners into jail. The deputies all treated me very well and it seemed like they hated to be doing what she told them to do. I was wearing an antique watch and one deputy offered to keep it safe for me as they told me to take it off for processing into jail. I had my shoes, tie, and watch off when the judge called the sheriff’s phone and told them to bring me back into the courtroom]

(the proceedings reconvened with only Mr. Tarrell present in the courtroom.)

THE COURT: Mr. Tarrell, are you ready to listen for just a moment?


THE COURT: All right. No. 1, my experience with you has been that you are a fine and dedicated lawyer who more than adequately represents your clients in juvenile court, and that impression has not changed.
No. 2, it matters not your opinion of the court in a professional way because the fact remains that I am the judge in this court and when I issue a command, it is required to follow that command.
Now, what you did not know is what I observed when I walked in, and I made an effort to relate to and communicate with your client merely to set the stage so that we could proceed. I do understand, because I also observed this, you were attempting to communicate with him, and I have no doubt that you were trying to tell him, hey, shape up, so that he would not then get himself in trouble with the court. However, the court had a handle on it, and the court was addressing your client. Everything that transpired from that point when I asked you to cease was contemptuous of the court and, I must suggest, of this particular Judge, and I will not tolerate it.
Now, you stated truly that it didn’t have to lead to this, and I agree with you. But you have to reflect that not once but at least six times in the course of ten minutes you refused to follow a directive of this court, either to be still and/or to sit down. I did not escalate this.
I do not wish to find you in contempt. I do not wish to incarcerate you. I do not wish to have this kind of exaggerated incident happen again . It doesn’t serve you, it doesn’t serve the bench, and it doesn’t serve the kids and the families.
Now, I took a recess. This may not be the time to address the two boys and their family. I am happy to continue it until after lunch when calm and reason can prevail or to another day. I will give you an opportunity to talk to your clients. I will allow you to leave freely and without the deputy. You may be excused.
(12: 06 p.m. adjournment accordingly)