Articles Posted in Lawyer Client Relations

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Most people who are accused of a crime in federal court are unable to pay for a lawyer and have one appointed for them.

Which makes sense – a decent lawyer for a federal criminal case is expensive, the need to find a lawyer is urgent, and most people don’t have substantial liquid assets to hire one quickly.

Most people, then, are represented by either a federal public defender or an appointed attorney.

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Howard Kieffer really liked federal sentencing practice.

He co-counseled in cases in federal district court and some federal circuit courts. He gave presentations on how people who are facing a sentencing hearing can prepare, and he helped people who were going to the Bureau of Prisons position things so that they could make an easier transition.

Mr. Kieffer even ran a website and a listserve for people who were interested in sentencing and the Bureau of Prisons – lots of lawyers contributed.

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Everyone makes mistakes. Even criminal defense lawyers.

Luis Juarez bought a gun. When he bought the gun, he said that he was a U.S. citizen. The government thought he was lying about that.

Mr. Juarez was charged with violating 18 U.S.C. § 911, which criminalizes making a false statement about being a United States citizen.

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James Kimsey was not a lawyer.

But when Frederick Rizzolo was deep in a hard bit of contentious litigation, James Kimsey wanted to help out. Mr. Rizzolo’s lawyers withdrew from the case. Mr. Rizzolo tried to go on without a lawyer, but his efforts were poor. One can imagine that Mr. Rizzolo felt the situation was bleak.

68920_law_education_series_5.jpgJames Kimsey came to the rescue. While not a lawyer, Mr. Kimsey had some prior legal experience – he was previously sanctioned for the unauthorized practice of law. He was also, apparently, willing to work for free.

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Walter Blair was a full-service lawyer. He received a phone call from a woman who wanted to hire a criminal defense lawyer. The woman’s name was Ms. Nicely. Ms. Nicely had a relatively intricate problem.

The Safe Full of Money

As it happened, she was in possession of a safe that contained a substantial amount of money that belonged to Mr. Rankine. Mr. Rankine was a drug-dealer. The money was drug money. Mr. Rankine’s girlfriend had been found murdered, and Mr. Rankine was missing.

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I recently read a very successful personal injury lawyer’s advice to a lawyer who was starting a personal injury practice. His advice was “make your client’s pain your own and everything else will take care of itself.”

I suspect that’s excellent advice, and not just for a personal injury practice.

It presents unique challenges for a criminal practice though. On one hand, I know that the best results I’ve achieved for clients have come when I take their case completely to heart. Cases tend to go better than I think they will when I wake up at 3 a.m. thinking about what I’ll say at a hearing, or I find myself thinking of an argument to make to a prosecutor when I should be listening to one of my kids tell me about his day. Clients deserve to have a lawyer who is thinking about their cases obsessively. I know if I, or a member of my family, need a lawyer, I’d want that lawyer to be thinking about the case often.

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I was in court the other day waiting for a hearing, and I saw a heart breaking scene. A woman who looked to be in her late twenties was the defendant in a criminal case and she had brought her daughter to court with her. I would bet her daughter was about four.

She didn’t have anyone with her to watch her daughter, so she brought her up to counsel table for her hearing. When she got to counsel’s table, the judge asked her where her lawyer was. She said she didn’t have one. As it turned out, she had already plead guilty to felony theft. She was coming back for her sentencing hearing.

The judge asked her why she didn’t have a lawyer. From looking at the docket for her case and his notes, he told her that he could see that they had continued the trial date twice for her. Each time the judge inquired about her eligibility for a public defender, and concluded that she was eligible. Each time he told her to go to the public defender’s office. He also told her to go get a public defender after her plea hearing.

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There’s a fascinating case unfolding in Georgia. According to Law.com (reprinting an article from the Fulton County Daily Reporter), United States District Judge Clay Land learned that a prosecutor from the United States Attorney’s Office in the Middle District of Georgia lied to a defense attorney. The defense attorney asked if the prosecutor was recording their conversations. The prosecutor says he wasn’t. As it happened, that was a lie.

Judge Land said, “I’m shocked. . . . There’s got to be some policy about when a U.S. Attorney can lie.” I’m also a little surprised that there’s apparently no policy on when a U.S. Attorney can lie too.

Though that isn’t the problem I have with the case described in this article.

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.
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Last week the Sixth Circuit decided a case with stunningly bad conduct by a defense lawyer. The case is United States v. Herrera-Zuniga. In it, Richard Stroba of Grand Rapids, Michigan turned himself into a prosecutor against his own client.

Mr. Herrer-Zuniga was charged with entering the country illegally after having been previously deported subsequent to a felony conviction. He plead guilty in federal court in Michigan.

Instead of submitting a sentencing memorandum on behalf of his client, Mr. Stroba submitted a copy of a letter he had sent to Mr. Herrera-Zuniga. The letter is simply stunning. Here are some quotes from the Court’s opinion:

My duty now is to try to write a sentencing memorandum on your behalf. I knew this day was coming and I knew it would be a difficult task, but . . . I must admit that I am completely stymied (i.e., without a place to go). There is not one thing about your situation that lends itself to a positive thought, save that you have a good work history.

Wow, that’s quite a start. But wait, it gets worse . . .

You are clearly an alcoholic with either no ability or desire to quit drinking . . . . At some point either you will stop consuming alcohol on your own, or you will develop cirrhosis of the liver and you will die a slow, painful, horrible death. And then you will be done drinking for sure.

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.
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Getting ready for a criminal trial is a stressful time. It’s particularly stressful for the relationship between the lawyer trying the case and the person who is trusting the lawyer to try the case well. The lawyer may see the case one way, and the client may have a very different, even inconsistent, view of how the case should be tried.

As a result, it is not uncommon for a person accused of a crime to try to find a new lawyer shortly before trial. The problem, however, is that often the court is uninterested in upsetting its schedule to allow a new lawyer to come into the case.

When does a court grant a motion for new trial? In the Fourth Circuit, which decides the rules for federal trial courts in Maryland, the Virginias, and the Carolinas, the case that describes how a trial court resolves a request for a new lawyer during a trial is United States v. Mullen.

The court should look at three things.

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.
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