As you may have noticed, this blog has a post on every published decision from a federal court of appeals that is a direct appeal from a criminal case and is a defense win.
A very good question is why this is useful.
There are already a lot of very good legal blogs. How Appealing is, of course, the gold standard in coverage of the goings on our nation’s appeals courts. Sentencing Law & Policy is a tremendous resource for people who are interested in the latest developments on sentencing law and policy (it’s very well-named). A loose coalition of federal public defenders run a set of blogs on criminal law developments in the circuits, aggregated at the D-Web Law Blogs site.
If you’re looking for factual information about how the law develops, the blogs above, and many others, are already out there to help. Surely, by focusing only on cases where the defendant wins, a diligent reader will not leave with a representative view of the law or the country. The Ninth Circuit pops up more than, say, the Fourth. The majority of criminal appeals do not go well for the defendant who is appealing.
What’s more, there are already a number of places on the internet to look for criminal defense commentary. Mark Bennett, Brian Tannebaum, and Scott Greenfield are the deans of this mode of blogging, though Not Guilty No Way, Grits for Breakfast, Jamison Koehler’s blog, and Norm Pattis are reliably worth reading. If you’re looking for the defense perspective, there’s no shortage on the internet.
In light of what’s already there, why post about every published defense victory in a federal criminal case?
I have three reasons:
First, because I’d like to post a little more in depth on each case, and that requires not writing about everything. I’d like to be able to write about cases so that my smart friends who aren’t lawyers can understand what’s happening, and whether it’s something they agree with. The law shouldn’t be inaccessible to nonlawyers — at least not criminal law. By taking time with each case, I’m hoping I can write about the law in a way my mother, or yours, can understand. This is our government, putting people in cages. That’s not always wrong, but it shouldn’t be opaque.
Second, because it’s a good way to canvass a number of areas of the law. Though the sample won’t be random, it will be diverse. And diversity is fun and good. We’ll touch on sentencing, on what counts as a crime, and on how the process of federal criminal law works.
Finally, I think this makes sense because criminal defense attorneys, especially ones who practice in federal court, need to be reminded that we do win. When I interviewed for a job with a federal public defender’s office years ago, I was told that a lot of what the office did is “redefine victory.” I get that. It matters if a client gets two years instead of eight as a result of a lawyer’s smart work in negotiating a plea in exchange for sentencing concessions. Even with that success, the client is still going to prison. It’s nice to see a court say “Reversed” when something bad happens to a client. This series celebrates that.
If you have questions or comments, send me an email or post here. Otherwise, enjoy!
If you have questions about how federal criminal charges are different than state criminal charges, please visit this page on Maryland federal criminal charges or Washington DC federal criminal charges.