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June 01, 2004

WIR #2: Advisements, Orientation, Investigations

Last week was only the second week of my summer public defender internship. It feels like I started about a month ago, but last week was only week two. At this rate, it's going to be a long summer—not because I'm not liking the job, but simply because the 11-hour days make such a demanding schedule that my mind and body is rebelling against. That aside, last week was highlighted by two days of advisements, an orientation session for interns, an office barbecue, and my first "in the field" experience trying to find and interview witnesses for a case.

Advisements are interesting, but I feel pretty useless doing them. As interns, we basically go to court to sit through arraignments and make sure defendants who want and qualify for a public defender get our contact and information and we get theirs. It seems some people are surprised to learn that public defenders aren't free, and that not everyone can get a public defender—the service is only available to people below a certain income threshold. If you make too much money, you can still get a court-appointed attorney, but you'll get a private attorney who has agreed to be called upon by the court for those purposes. Also, even if you get a public defender, you may still have to pay a nominal fee for your attorney—but only if you lose. In advisements, the judge advises the accused of their charges and asks for their plea. If they plead not guilty, the judge asks if they have an attorney or if they'd like the court to appoint one for them. If they ask for court-appointed counsel, the judge asks them some income questions and they fill out some paperwork. Once all that's complete and they qualify, interns like me will get more contact information from them, and make sure they understand they need to call our office soon so the public defenders can help them with their case. Then they ask us questions about their chances and the charges against them and what kind of jail time they might be facing. This is the frustrating part because my only answer is: Call this number and your attorney can answer all your questions. It's so nice to be helpful.

The orientation session was another exercise in how much I don't know, with the lead attorney giving us a fact pattern and asking us to think of all the factual and legal questions we'd want to ask if faced with this case. I spotted a good, oh, 5% of the issues. Why was I chosen for this job? The fact that many of my fellow interns claimed to be just about as clueless as I was only made it slightly better. The good news: The attorneys know we know nothing, so, as I was advised before beginning, they're unlikely to give us enough rope to hang ourselves. Little lessons learned: You have no reasonable expectation of privacy in a telephone number so a search of your phone records is generally ok. Search warrants generally require probable cause, but if a tenant has abandoned an apt., a search may be ok w/out probable cause because the tenant has relinquished his/her 14th Amendment right to privacy. It's very hard to win an argument that police used impermissibly suggestive ID procedures to identify witnesses. You can't ever suppress an arrest; you can only suppress illegal fruits (evidence) of an arrest. (I don't think I ever thought of trying to suppress an arrest, but apparently many people think of it, and it's not an option.)

The bottom line lesson of the orientation: We don't judge, we defend. We don't put people in jail, we try to keep them out—no matter what.

Quickly, the investigation assignment was also frustrating. I guess when you walk around a neighborhood asking random people if they have any information about a recent crime, the odds are rather low you're going to find someone who A) knows something worth listening to, and B) wants to tell you about it. So we spent about three hours and got about nothing for our time. Still, it was interesting, and I got the feeling that with more practice I might be able to learn to approach people in ways that might lead to better results. I'm sure I'll get more chances to try. That said, I don't think I have a bright future as a private investigator.

Today begins week #3, and although it will be a short week, it will be busy, including more advisements, filing a notice of appeal, and possibly beginning work on the appeal. I'm sure I'll also spend more time in court, about which more soon, including the invaluable lesson learned last week: Do not, under any circumstances, take your crack cocaine with you when you go to court. (IANAL (I am not a lawyer) and YMMV, but trust me, taking crack to court is just not a good idea.)

Posted 06:09 AM | Comments (3) | 1L summer

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