Monday, November 2, 2009

Zen and the art of lawnmower repair

This weekend I set out to mow the yard at our new house for the first time. Since I've lived in apartments and townhouses for the past 18+ years, I've never owned a mower. My parents graciously donated their old mower to our cause after we bought our house. They parted with it because they've used a lawn service for the past five or six years and the mower has just sat parked in the garage for that time.

On Saturday I tried to start it up but could never get the motor to turn over after yanking on the cord. There was gas in the tank and there was a spark plug in the cylinder and nothing was binding the blade. I gave up for the day and prepared for battle the next morning.

After a brisk 13-mile run on Sunday I stopped at the gas station and filled my bucket with gas. I then headed home and filled the tank of the mower. Still I couldn't get the blasted thing to turn over. I pulled the hose leading to the carburetor and made sure the gas was flowing through -- it was. Then I pulled the spark plug. It was oily so I cleaned it up. Then I aimed the brake cleaner spray into the cylinder and fired. I put the plug back in and popped on the wire. Still nothing. Next I changed the dirty air filter. Still it wouldn't turn over. Next up was the exhaust chamber. I pulled it, blew it out and rebolted it.

I pulled the cord and, finally, the engine turned over and the mower was up and running for the first time in over five years.

Now I know y'all must be asking what on earth does that story have to do with criminal defense practice. I'm glad you asked.

Whenever an engine isn't starting it's either because it's not getting fuel or it's not getting a spark. To find out which you have to test each part of the system until you've made your determination. And that's true whether it's a car's engine or the engine on a lawnmower.

In preparing to defend a case you have to run through the same checklists over and over again. On a DWI case you first look to determine whether the officer had a valid and legal reason to stop your client. Next you watch the video and look for errors the officer made on the field sobriety tests and for things your client did that demonstrate he wasn't intoxicated. If there's a breath test you go through a checklist to determine if there are grounds to suppress the test result. Same thing for a blood test.

To be successful you must be methodical during the preparation of your case. What a jury sees is the end result of countless hours of case preparation.

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