Wednesday, January 26, 2011

I'm from the government and I'm here to help

Now we have a judge in Harris County who is concerned about the amount of time our clients miss from work or school as the result of appearing at court settings in criminal cases. At least that's the story going around.

In order to combat this problem, the Honorable Jay Karahan has decreed that there will only be three pre-trial settings in matters in his court: the initial appearance, a motions setting and a final setting either to plead the case or set it for trial. But will this "rocket docket" actually benefit our clients?

The answer is a resounding no.

Being required to make multiple appearances in court is an inconvenience for most of our clients. They have jobs. Or they're in school. Or they have family obligations. However, in some cases, multiple settings is the only way to obtain the evidence that is necessary to defend the case.

How long will it take to get that blood test result back? What about that lab report on that little rock in the floorboard? What about having to wait for an ALR hearing in a DWI case? How about obtaining maintenance records for a breath test machine?

Will the settings be 30 days apart? 45 days apart? 60 days apart?

Reducing the number of settings will benefit those attorneys who live by "churning and burning" their clients into quick pleas. No longer will they have to pretend to work a case to satisfy a client. Now they can scare their clients into pleading out by telling them that the case is bad and can't be won at trial.

The other result of the "rocket docket" will be more and more cases set on the trial docket. It takes time to prepare a case properly for trial, especially cases in which we're dealing with (pseudo)scientific evidence. It takes time to get an ALR hearing. It takes time to get lab results. It takes time to interview witnesses.

I can think of no reason a client in a criminal prosecution benefits by speeding up the docket - unless they're already in custody (in which case they aren't inconvenienced by multiple appearances). After all, every day that your client is out and about is a victory when you are up against the oppressive power of the state.

If the dockets have become unmanageable, maybe we should look to what's happening on the 6th floor at 1201 Franklin. Harris County District Attorney Pat Lykos operates her office using fear as a motivator. There are prosecutors who are scared to dismiss questionable cases out of fear of retribution by Ms. Lykos.

The "rocket docket" is not being implemented to benefit our clients. Nothing in the criminal courthouse is designed to benefit our clients. The purpose is to coerce more pleas and deprive more citizens of their right to a trial by jury of their peers.

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