Friday, October 26, 2012

Washington State Supreme Court limiting Defense Attorney's case loads

A recent, 7-2 Washington State, Supreme Court case will limit the amount of felony and misdemeanor cases taken by public defenders. In addition to the limited case load, attorneys that intend on taking the maximum cases will be deemed as full time public defenders; thereby, making them ineligible for a separate, more lucrative private practice...

Obviously, there are pros and cons to this decision and one thing is for sure, Washington State cities are scrambling to fill law and justice budget gaps as is, so this extra burden will weigh heavily on cash strapped municipalities. Roughly twenty municipalities have hired an attorney to repeal the decision, but as of now the new ruling will take into affect beginning September 2013.

As we've seen from the past, defendant's who have money get way better results than those who don't. We all agree that the justice system should not be dictated by money, but the fact is it does.

It is an unfortunate occurrence where defendants, often the poor, are not given good legal representation because they are seen as income versus people. Typically, the public defenders push for plea deals and do what they can to fulfill their legal obligation to the defendant, while simultaneously doing as little as possible to earn more money, take more cases to do as little as possible to earn more money.

Now our Supreme Court has made a definite statement with this ruling. I think its a great stride to restore the integrity of the justice system and I also feel it presents itself as a good opportunity for private investigators to lend their assistance.

From the news reports, most municipalities feel that this new ruling will not attract quality public defenders and the ones that it will attract will be those that are newer with little experience. Current public defender's pay rates vary between$70 and $90 thousand a far cry less than their private practicing peers.

This scenario opens the doors for private investigative firms, at least in Washington State, to solicit their expertise to the public defenders. The more experienced private investigators can help preview incoming cases for shoddy police reports with weak or little probable cause, PC. A good private investigator can tell whether the PC is based on good or bad police work and procedures. Those reports that can be easily discredited can be separated from those that are stronger. The inexperienced attorneys can use their newly learned legal skills, access to criminal history and other guidelines to determine whether or not to work on a plea deal or go to trial. Once a decision has been made to go to trial then the private investigator's field experience will help keep the attorney focused on court procedures, time constraints and legal wranglings.

I was in a small business seminar and learned a valuable lesson. The lesson is that in small business, we are not competitors, but we should look at our "competitors" and find strengths inherent to each company and combine those strengths to offer bigger, better service and go after larger and larger contracts. The struggling municipalities should share in this mind set.

The law and justice division makes up the largest part of their budget, serves the most important role to the people by protecting life, safety and constitutional rights of the people, but yet, money is still dictating the quality of care in these areas. Private investigators and the legal system should be seen as serving a common purpose and that is ensuring constitutional fairness to the poor as well as the rich.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Jail or Bail, Law and Justice budgets, dictating who goes to jail and who gets bail.

It's happening all over our nation.  Money woes, bankruptcies and budget cuts.  Cities and counties are trimming off the excess and in some cases chopping spending across the board.  The law and justice budget is the largest budget for most cities and counties.  Law and justice comprises of law enforcement, prosecutors, defense attorneys, jail staff and all of the support for each.  Truly, the only people who benefit from these cuts are the criminals.

Because of the large cuts to law and justice budgets, more and more cities and counties are going to "booking standards", and pre-trial release programs for specific crimes.  Property crimes, like thefts, malicious mischief and lower tier felonies; burglaries, assault 3 and fraud to name a few, are the types of crimes that will be exempt from booking; unless a guilty finding.  In addition, prosecutors are encouraged to offer more enticing plea deals and incarceration alternative like home monitoring. Judges are urged to PR/OR, release on personal  recognizance or release on own recognizance, defendants and if bail is set, set it low so they can afford it.

Wait a minute, so when did budget becoming the crux for crime and punishment.  Lets analyze this for just a second.  If a city/county jail declares a crime as one that doesn't meet booking standards, then that crime is now exempt from search and seizure laws, so no more "search incident to arrest."  For instance, King County WA, doesn't book for burglaries. Officers catch a burglar in action, but they can't search the contents of his person or backpack, even though burglary is a felony.   He doesn't get arrested, and he leaves with a bag full of your personal property.  In order for an arrest to lead to a search, the arrest has to be custodial; meaning, intent of being booked.  If there is no intent on being booked, then officers can't legally search outside of implied consent from the defendant.

Now consider this, most law enforcement agencies don't even dispatch police officers to take reports for these non-booking crimes. They have, telephone report units or clerks taking reports over the phone. No evidence is gathered, the reports are filed away and patrol officers aren't even aware that a string of burglaries are occurring   The criminal continues to commit these crimes because they know of the booking issue.  If this isn't bad enough, when officers do respond to these crimes, they encourage the reporting party not to even make a report.  Recently, my friends car was stolen.  A police officer came to take the report, but told him that unless he was going to file an insurance claim he wasn't going to take a report, "WTF."

The car was found a few days later, but the police wouldn't respond to investigate or take the report.

As it becomes more difficult to afford the cost of housing defendants it is becoming more difficult to afford the cost of not housing defendants.   King County Washington has been doing this for the past year and their crime rate in these booking standard crimes have increased as much as 400%.  The King County Sheriff's office had to enact a special unit to combat the rising burglary rates.

This is happening all over our nation and there is no foreseeable respite.  Quite frankly, prior to law enforcement people patrolled their own neighborhood, took inventory on who belonged and who didn't and addressed suspicious behavior.  A famous crime prevention quote is this, "we use to sit on our front porch and help our neighbors with their problems.  Now we sit on our back porch and talk about our neighbor's problems."  My analysis is that it is time to get back to sitting on the front  porch.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Selecting the right Private Investigator

Now that you've decided to use the services of a Private Investigator, how do you select the right one?
Depending on the size of the city in which you live, your choices may be limited.  Rest assured, that whether you live in a large metropolis or a rural community, a qualified investigator will be available.  We'll talk about where to find them in a later post.

Assuming you're using the investigator to perform field work consider this: Recently, my partner and I were looking for a subject that skipped bail on 24/7 Bail Bonds.  A tipster spotter the subject at a local mini mart one evening, so we rushed to the scene and set up surveillance.  The demographics surrounding the mini mart is predominantly Native American and Mexican.  My partner nor I resemble either races, but did the best job we knew how.    We spent several hours, watching from concealment and entered the premise as "customers", a couple times.  Ultimately, we left empty handed, but we really didn't feel out of place as this was a very busy mini mart.

A few days later one of our associates talked another of the bail agencies "skips" into turning themselves over to her.  On their way to jail, the subject asked if the bail company had two bounty hunters looking for him at the mini mart.  She told him, no and he replied that he saw two white guys at the mini mart.

The point that I'm trying to make is that in defense work we are generally dealing with the criminal element and a perceptive and suspicious one at that.  Minority people who are suspicious tend not to open the doors to strangers, of other nationalities, nor do they freely enter into conversations with others not of their race.

The fact is, on that night whether we were just two white guys buying gas or bounty hunters, we were presumed the latter.  This presumption can impede a criminal defense attorney or agents working on their behalf, lest care is taken in choosing the appropriate person(s) to assist them when dealing with this area of work.

A resourceful Private Investigator, no matter their race, will know their limitations and employ the efforts of the contacts in the field to bridge this gap.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

How Top Attorneys Benefit from Private Investigators

The proper use of Private Investigators by criminal defense attorneys is slowly becoming a lost art.  Before the advent of the world wide web, defense attorneys had to physically leave the comfort of their office to gather evidence that might otherwise be lost.  With today's technology and web based access to data, attorneys can gather the same information from the comfort of their office.

Although new technology may seem like a benefit to a defense attorney, it can actually hinder their ability to creatively and effectively defend their clients.  Generally, attorneys are familiar with the laws, court procedures and case laws.  When attorneys spend their time researching or gathering evidence, they are losing valuable time that could be spent on case preparation and research of "Case Laws."  

In 1979 the Fordham Law review conducted a study named, Speedy Trial: Imperical Study.  In that study, defense attorneys, prosecutors and judges all expressed concerns with the time constraints of the act.  Defense attorneys stated they were most burdened by the time constraint.  Prosecutors generally build their case prior to filing charges against a defendant, and have the use of local law enforcement to do their follow up in the field.  When defense attorneys get assigned a case or are retained, they are starting from ground zero with the clock already ticking away. 

In protecting a client's right to a speedy trial, defense attorneys can use private investigators to gather crucial evidence and witness testimony that can contradict proscutorial evidence.  A good investigator will know the culture of local law enforcement, the officers and their report habits as well as their inequities.  A good investigator will develop "probably cause" through their field work, while the attorney develops the strategies and procedures to compellingly produce it.