Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Palin biography shows dominionist threat to U.S. Constitution

   The new biography of Sarah Palin by Joe McGinniss is entitled, “The Rogue: Searching for the Real Sarah Palin.” It is riveting reading. McGinniss is widely considered one of the best investigative political journalists in the nation and his highly-publicized “stalking” of Palin was fodder for the 24-hour news cycle throughout 2010.
   The reality of McGinniss’ journey is detailed in the book. It paints a damning picture of Palin and, even worse, contains a frightening revelation that Palin is not only an ethically challenged politician, she is an ethically challenged person and a dominionist determined to remake the United States into an evangelical theocracy. No other politician, with the exception of Alabama’s former Chief Justice Roy Moore has ever represented such a dominionist threat to the rights of American citizens.
   The book details Palin’s sordid personal life. Her sexcapades; her penchant for nude flirting (in the name of Jesus!) in the presence of other women; her short-term infatuation with having sex with black men; and her sexual affairs (and husband, Todd’s). The book recounts numerous takes of Palin’s narcissism and her inability to lovingly parent her children except when television cameras are around. One family friend of the Palins who later turned against them told McGinniss that Palin has “neglected her own kids. She’s too narcissistic to care about her kids. It’s always ‘me, me, me,’ and everybodyelse is always wrong. She’s so narcissistic she couldn’t even care for a pet.”
  The book goes on to detail the seamy business dealings the Palins have had over the years; the use by the Palins of veiled threats of violence to control their detractors; the flailing victimology of her psyche which is used to blame those she is attacking; her refusal to read any book, article of document unless it aligns with her dominionist Christian belief ; her fervent belief that the Earth is 6,000 years old – indeed the list is endless.
   What is most chilling about this revelatory book is Palin’s single-minded crusade to obliterate the rights of Americans under the United States Constitution while claiming to support and defend it.
   When she was elected mayor of Wasilla – thanks to an anti-Semitic smear campaign against her opponent – Palin went on what McGinniss calls a “reign of terror.” She had used moderate Republican operatives to get elected, then jettisoned them because they weren’t good enough Christians. Instead, she installed as her cohorts John Birch Society members, operatives of the Alaska Independence Party, a group that advocates Alaska’s secession from the union, and further aligned herself with an extreme sect of the Assembly of God church, the views of which approaches neo-Nazism.
   She then fired anyone who worked for the town of Wasilla who would not swear their personal allegiance to her personally. She actually called each employee in and demanded their oath of allegiance!
   Palin closed the Wasilla Museum and fired its director because she said no one cared about history or culture. She then openly violated the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and demanded the Wasilla librarian remove a list of books that were offensive to her Christian beliefs, including any text that mentioned established science that her cohorts, the Birchies, the independies and the radical dominionists found contrary to Biblical teaching. When the librarian refused and threatened suit, Palin’s supporters went to the library and checked out the books. Most were never turned back in, others came back with entire passages blacked out with permanent magic marker. Palin further demanded the removal of several books about homosexuality, telling the librarian the gays were evil and perverts.
   Palin was completely unable to run the town’s business, and hired an administrator to do it for her. Against Alaska law, she bought a $50,000 Ford Excursion with city money and treated it as her own. She remodeled her office without approval of the city council. She fired long-time city employees without following the labor laws which govern such occasions. Those who sought legal counsel never got their day in court because the lawyers backed out after receiving threats from the Palin camp. When the city’s attorney cautioned Palin that such acts were illegal, he was put on her hit list.
   Palin pushed through unrestrained development, often spending millions of taxpayer dollars to build “city” buildings on private land owned by her supporters, thus giving free buildings to her faithful. Any building built on any land becomes the property of the land. Talk about kick backs!
   The unrestrained and unregulated development under Palin resulted in massive pollution to Lake Lucille, the lake so fondly featured in Palin’s reality show. What Palin didn’t  mention in her show and McGinniss proves in his book, is Lake Lucille is now a dead lake, too polluted for either fishing or swimming.
   When the Wasilla Frontiersman, the local paper, began to question Palin’s ethics and, indeed her sanity and behavior, she responded time and again by lying to paper and flatly denying her actions, even when those actions were documented. When she was caught in a lie, she went on a tirade about being the victim. Residents looked on in horror as Palin turned Wasilla into her personal kingdom.
   When residents came to city hall for council meetings, they would try to ask questions and Palin would shout, “How dare you question me?” More than one recall was attempted, only to be put down by campaigns of duress and threats of violence by Palin’s minions.
   Palin confounded people when she aligned herself and her dominionist allies with local bar owners and disbanded an Alcohol Task Force that was working to stop the rampant drunk driving on Wasilla’s streets. Palin had tip jars installed at the local bars and the tips all went to her, allegedly campaign donations. She publicly said DUI laws were unconstitutional and stopped the program despite howls of protest from law enforcement and emergency responders. The number of DUI accidents in Wasilla skyrocketed. Bars in Wasilla were allowed to remain open until 5 a.m., while neighboring communities closed their bars at 2 a.m. The result was a wave of drunken drivers heading to Wasilla to get in an extra three hours of revelry. The drunks would then begin driving home just as school buses began their morning runs filled with children. Despite the danger to the public, Palin never waivered in her support for her tip jar allies.
   Palin announced and instituted a ban on abortions at the local hospital, resulting in a federal lawsuit that slapped her down hard. It mattered not to her that Roe v. Wade was the law of the land, in her mind Wasilla was hers to command.
   Palin refused to accept any counsel related to local, state and federal law. She sat in meetings as if she were too bored to pay attention and refused to listen to discussions of laws and ordinances. She refused to take advice on compliance by the city with the United States and Alaskan Constitutions, insisting that she would do what she wanted until someone sued her and the Courts told her she couldn’t do it. (This is a tactic called, “Subject to Challenge” that is often used by corrupt politicians to skirt the letter of the law.) Palin, like the former Alabama chief justice, did whatever she wanted and claimed God told her to. When even some supporters asked her to read an economic report, she replied, “I never read anything that might conflict with my beliefs.”
   All the while Palin was running Wasilla as her personal fiefdom, husband Todd was running amok as her enforcer. Todd Palin’s reputation for violence in Wasilla is legendary. When Wasilla got its first-ever black resident, Todd Palin attacked him merely because he was black and did so with the stated purpose of running the young man out of town. McGinnis details where many Wasilla residents state that Todd Palin was and is notorious as a heavy drinker and cocaine user. One named resident of Wasilla calls Todd Palin “emotionally unstable” and recounts numerous acts of violence.
   When McGinniss moved into Wasilla to research and write his book, by chance he rented a house next door to the Palins. Wasilla is a small town and there are few rentals. It turned out the house McGinnis rented had been used as a halfway house for convicts transitioning from prison to freedom and was later used as a meth lab. Wasillans were uncomfortable with the house as both halfway house and meth lab, but the Palins never complained. They complained bitterly when the house was rented to a writer who merely wanted to research a book on their lives. Palin engaged in a smear campaign that was picked up by FOXNews and other media outlets on the right, including nutbar Glenn Beck, who claimed McGinniss was a pedophile who was watching Palin’s daughters through binoculars.
   When McGinniss moved in, many Wasilla residents quietly warned him to buy a gun. They warned McGinniss of Todd Palin’s penchant for violence. McGinniss recounts residents coming to visit him to bring welcome gifts, often bringing along a gun for McGinniss to borrow. It happened repeatedly.
   Still others came to offer alternative living arrangements, fearing for McGinniss’ safety.  One Wasilla resident who grew up among the Palins offered McGinniss an AK 47 and told McGinnis that nothing less would be effective against Todd Palin.
   McGinniss talks about how residents were either quietly afraid of the Palins or subversively acting as their minions. He recounts people making hand gestures as if their index finger was a gun and mimicking shooting him. He recounts incidents where people who were interviewed by McGinnis had their car windows shot out.
   I watched all of Palin’s reality series and did not notice what was missing. After reading McGinniss’ book I realized what it was. The series never featured Palin interacting with Wasilla residents. It was only her and a cadre of close friends. The book makes it clear why.
   McGinniss’ book is not a hit job without attribution. He names names, dates, places and people with clarity. His interviews are documented and have been fact-checked.
   The net effect of McGinniss’ book is that it paints a disturbing picture of a power-hungry politician and her husband who will stop at nothing to obtain power. Their dominionist beliefs – i.e. that they make the rules because God talks to them – is a threat to the United States. Their penchant for claiming to defend the very Constitution they refuse to read is alarming. The Constitution was written by the Founding Fathers as a limiting document, designed to limit the power of government over people and narrowly define the powers and the limits on those powers that government has.
   The Palins are nothing more than old-fashioned small town political thugs who have managed to paint themselves as quaint Alaskans, thanks to the public relations actions of the fervent FOXNews hierarchy.
   Thus, Sarah Palin can only be considered by anyone who is passionate about defending the rights of Americans under the Constitution as a threat to security of America. Hopefully she will fade from the national stage and there will be no further presidential aspirations on her part.
   The McGinniss book gives us a glimpse of how close America came to having a dominionist of dubious repute in the White House.

(Required by Alabama law: No representation is made that the services to be performed is greater  than other lawyers.)

Monday, September 26, 2011

A good criminal defense lawyer doesn't fear the trial penalty

     The September 6, 2011 New York Times contained an article entitled "Sentencing Shift Gives New Leverage to Prosecutor" by Richard A. Oppel.
     The well-researched and well-written article contains an examination of the new trends in criminal law that are having a chilling effect on criminal cases. Prosecutors are now illegally punishing people accused of crimes by penalizing the accused if he doesn't accept a plea bargain. The article notes that the number of criminal cases which go to trial has dropped to 1 in 40.
     The prevailing wisdom is that prosecutors now hold the threat of stiffer punishment over an accused who refuses to plead. In short, a prosecutor offers 2 years probation on a felony if the accused enters a plea, but if the accused insists on a trial because he believes he is innocent, the prosecutor will push for a maximum sentence of ten years in prison if the accused is found guilty by a jury.
     This is an old tactic. It's not new. Prosecutors have been doing it for years. It works especially well when an accused is sitting in jail and can't get out on bond and the only ticket to freedom is to accept a plead bargain for probation. In such a case, it's no wonder the accused takes the deal. He wants out of jail. Period. Who can blame him?
     The New York Times articles implies that the reason this works is because a great many people opt for the lighter sentence rather than risk trial and a heavier punishment. Keep in mind that the heavier punishment for exercising your constitutional right is called a "trial penalty." It's illegal.
     Here's how prosecutors and judges get away with the trial penalty game:
     Many criminal defense lawyer won't fight it. Period.
     A criminal defense lawyer who flinches when a prosecutor offers the carrot and stick of a light sentence plea bargain or a stiff prison sentence is a criminal defense lawyer who is unsure of his trial skills. Many lawyers will say, "But they had an open and shut case!" Or "This is ___ County, and it's different here!" Others say, "There was nothing I can do!" I can't tell you the number of times I've had clients tell me that their prior lawyer said these things to them.
     This is disturbing on so many levels. A good criminal defense lawyer knows that taking a case to trial is never a bad option. Some of the worst "open and shut" cases I have tried in 16 years of criminal defense were the ones that were the fastest not guilty verdicts in my career. The secret is the criminal defense lawyer must try his case with passion and do so aggressively. If the criminal defense lawyer assumes that his client is guilty, or assumes the evidence presented by the state will be admitted, then the case is lost. The criminal defense attorney has to object to everything, fight like hell to prevent the state from presenting evidence, challenge the admissibility of evidence, challenge the veracity of witnesses, fight like hell on the technicalities.
     This shift from taking cases to trial and towards accepting plea bargains is driven completely by the prosecution being better poker players. They make the defense lawyers flinch.
     Economics is also a factor. Many people accused of crimes can't afford a top-flight defense. Many have to rely on appointed lawyers and many appointed lawyers don't have the nerve, the skill or the willingness to fight hard simply because there's not enough money in it for them.
     A criminal defense lawyer who fights like hell on a criminal case can win in the trial penalty game. Prosecutors are not afraid of criminal defense lawyers who cave. They call them "pleaders." The accused who hires a pleader will be plead guilty. Prosecutors know that there are certain lawyers who will not plead their cases out of fear of losing. The criminal defense lawyer who makes the prosecutor flinch gets a far better outcome for his client. When the prosecutor is afraid of losing, that's when charges get dismissed. When the prosecutor is afraid of losing, that's when pretrial diversions and other beneficial resolutions are offered. No prosecutor drops a charge out of the goodness of his heart. He drops a charge because he knows that the charge is not legally correct, i.e. a case filed by a cop that simply won't stand up to legal scrutiny. Further, the prosecutor will drop a charge because he's going to lose the case.
     A good criminal defense lawyer is a good poker player. A good criminal defense lawyer turns the trial penalty argument on its head by telling the prosecutor that he's going to take it to trial -- a trial most states can't afford due to huge cuts in judicial budgets -- and if he loses he's going to appeal the case all the way. A good criminal defense lawyer knows most prosecutions can't afford this.
     Further, a good criminal defense lawyer knows that the trial penalty dodge won't work if he keeps his client out on bail throughout the process. What the accused doesn't want is to be stuck in jail the entire time.
    Also, the trial penalty dodge would disappear if the criminal defense lawyer would simply put into the court record that the prosecutor asserted the trial penalty. Then the criminal defense lawyer should appeal that issue. Eventually the courts will weigh in on the tactic and it will be curtailed.
(Required by Alabama law: No representation is made that the quality of legal services is greater than other lawyers.)

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Small town Bay Minette Alabama to sentence convicts to church

Once again, an Alabama court process has made national headlines this week as the town of Bay Minette, Alabama announced plans to sentence offenders to church.
     The plan has, of course, drawn howls of protest from the American Civil Liberties Union, which has correctly claimed that sentencing a convict to church is against the United States Constitution.
     Many people engage in knee-jerk hatred of the ACLU because of the constant smear campaign against the organization. In actuality, the ACLU does tremendous work protecting the rights of individuals against the machine of government. I believe that the very politicians who decry the ACLU don't understand that it is fighting to preserve human liberty.
      The Bay Minette alternative sentencing program does something that is illegal: It offers people the option of going to church to avoid going to jail. This is legally wrong on many levels. In Alabama, a judge has the power to sentence a convicted offender to jail, to suspend that sentence and put the person on probation, and/or order that a fine and court costs be paid. Nowhere in the United States of Alabama Constitution is there a provision that gives a judge the power to send someone to church as part of the sentence. Also, the courts have held that it is unconstitutional to order a probationer to go to church as it violates the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. A person simply can't be made to go to church by any branch of government.
     The State of Alabama loves to interject evangelism into its governmental processes. Each time the attempt is made, there is a legal challenge costing hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars. Each time the State of Alabama loses. The most famous incident involved putting a giant granite Ten Commandments in the Alabama Supreme Court building -- a move which caused a tremendously expensive legal fight that ended up in the Ten Commandments being removed and the judge who ordered it stripped of his judgeship and disbarred from practicing law.
     Having practiced law in Alabama for 16 years, and having tried hundreds of cases in state and municipal court in Bay Minette (which is the county seat of the 28th Judicial Circuit in Alabama), I know that religion is a big part of the politics of that circuit. One circuit judge there has tried for years to sentence probationers to church, and succeeded whenever the probationer's lawyer didn't put up a fight.
     No criminal defendant can be made to attend church by any judge. Neither can a judge give a defendant the option of jail or church. It's unconstitutional. The City of Bay Minette, Alabama will learn this, and it will cost the city more money than the city can even fathom to learn the lesson.

(Required by Alabama law: No representation is made that the quality of legal services to be performed is greater than other lawyers.)

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Being poor reduces the chance for a fair trial, increases likelihood of conviction

"I felt that I was trampled on, humiliated, even before I had the chance to say a word," French millionaire Dominique Strauss-Kahn told a French reporter this week as he discussed his high-profile rape case. Strauss-Kahn was dubbed with the trendy monicker "DSK" by the media, and his arrest for allegedly raping a hotel maid in Manhattan lead to a media frenzy which convicted him in the press before one single piece of evidence had been presented in court.
     In less than two months, Strauss-Kahn was released by the New York criminal court and his charges dismissed when the allegations against him appeared to unravel as police repeatedly interviewed the alleged victim and her story fell apart. The district attorney asked the court to dismiss the charges. In short, the prosecution folded.
      Strauss-Kahn's case is a rare one. In most criminal prosecutions the district attorney rarely dismisses the charges "sua sponte," that's legal Latin for "on his own initiative." Further, district attorneys generally don't try to find out if the defendant is innocent. Many often overlook evidence of innocence. Sadly, many don't look for it.
     What usually happens to criminal defendants is the reverse of Strauss-Kahn's experience. The police arrest the accused person and the district attorney prosecutes to the fullest extent of the law. Sadly, most criminal defendants are middle class or poor. They don't have the luxury that Strauss-Kahn had of millions of dollars to hire the best lawyers and mount an aggressive defense.
     In Strauss-Kahn's case, the defense's economic muscle weighed heavily on the minds of the New York prosecutors. Not wanting a high-profile not guilty verdict, and not wanting to bring down a potentially innocent millionaire -- who was also the former head of the International Monetary Fund -- the prosecutors tread carefully.
     That's not the usual pattern of events in criminal trials.
     In most criminal cases, the cops are hasty, the detectives are sloppy, the forensics often inept, and the district attorneys are so overburdened with cases that they don't have the time to sort out the wheat from the chaff. Amazingly, I have seen some diligent district attorneys do just that, but it's extremely rare. I have seen hundreds of cases in which the prosecutor hasn't even looked at his file -- not once! -- before court.
     If Strauss-Kahn felt humiliated and trampled on, imagine how an accused person feels when he hasn't even got a lawyer or the money to afford one. Now that you know that the Strauss-Kahn situation isn't at all typical, what do you take from this knowledge? What you should have learned is this: If you're not a rich as Rockefeller -- or Strauss-Kahn -- you will not have as thorough a review of your case by the prosecution. That means it's up to you to win your case!
          The best way to prevent the freight train of the legal system running over you and sending you to prison is to hire a lawyer. Hire the best criminal defense lawyer you can afford. Good criminal defense lawyers aren't cheap, and bad criminal defense lawyers often aren't cheap either. You have to research the lawyers and make sure they focus their practices on criminal defense cases and then consult with them. Your criminal defense lawyer should conduct a thorough review of your case and do his own investigation. As a former metro-Atlanta cop and a certified forensics investigator, I research my cases thoroughly. It's vital to winning the case.
     Very often the defense investigation reveals either new evidence or pokes holes in the state's evidence that will lead to a dismissal of the charges or a not guilty verdict.
(Required by Alabama law: No representation is made that the quality of legal services to be performed is greater than other lawyers.)

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Driving while black can get you arrested!

All too often I have potential clients come to my office who have been arrested because they were targeted by law enforcement for driving while black.
   In many cities, driving while black is a serious problem. What is driving while black? Just what it says: If you're black and you're driving a car and a cop passes you, you will get pulled over. This is a major problem in Huntsville, Alabama where my main office is. Every day I consult with a potential client who is black and was inexplicably pulled over by a police officer on a pretextual stop and then rousted. A pretextual stop is where the cop pulls you over for something minor, such a a burned out tag light, and uses that to begin an all-out assault on your liberties. For example: A cop pulls you over, tells you your tag light is out, then asks "do you have anything in the car I need to know about?"
   The open-ended question is designed to look for a reason to investigate you. For example, such an open-ended question will elicit a response of "no" or "yes." Some people stupidly will blurt out that they've got a bag of pot in their car, or a weapon. That's too bad, because you have a 5th Amendment right to remain silent and don't have to admit to anything. So, the cop will use the admission that there's illegal drugs in the car to take the driver out of the car and search the car, resulting in an arrest.
   When the driver says "no," the officer will then claim that the way the driver said "no" was suspicious, thus furthering an investigation.
    This happens to blacks every day. The inherent racism of profiling a person because of their race is apparent. And it's important to know it's illegal. That said, it's productive for the police. Since blacks are 35 times more likely to be in possession of illegal drugs than whites --yep, that's the statistic -- cops are 35 times more likely to pull over a black motorist than a white. This is especially true after 2 a.m., as all cops know that between 2 a.m. and 5 a.m. the motorists on the road are most likely to be either a criminal or a drunk. That's an established statistic.
   So, if you're black and driving between 2 a.m. and 5 a.m. you are 35 times more likely to get pulled over than a white driver.
   Remember, if you're pulled over by a cop, you don't have to help him arrest you. Give your name, address, social security number. Hand over your license and insurance card. If the officer asks to search your car, say, "No! Get a warrant!" Then, if the cop insists, don't resist. Comply silently and let the officer search. At the point you say no and he searches anyway, he's got to prove in court the search was allowed by law. If he can't, you win. If you consent to a search, you've waived that challenge.
    I hope that you never experience being pulled over merely for driving while black. If you are, remember you have rights. Call a lawyer and defend those rights.

(Required by Alabama law: No representation is made that the quality of legal services performed is greater than other lawyers.)

Friday, September 16, 2011

Just say, "No! Get a warrant!"

   The #1 reason police are able to gather physical evidence against a person accused of a crime is, amazingly, that the accused person consents to a police search of their home, office or vehicle.
   People who are confronted by the police don’t realize they have the power to say “No! Get a warrant!” when a policeman asks to search their home, office or car.
   The Fourth, Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution give a person confronted by police the absolute Constitutional right to say “No! Go get a warrant!”
   This is a hotly contested part of the law. The police get furious when the person says no, and they often yell, threaten the person with certain arrest and  increased punishment. A motorist will often be told, “Well, we’re gonna sit right here no matter how long it takes until we get that warrant...” As if inconveniencing the motorist is of no conern to the cop! 
   Keep in mind you are going to be arrested anyway. Cops don’t err on the side of letting people go. So, as you realize you’re going to be arrested anyway, don’t help the cops put you in prison.
   If you just say, “No! Get a warrant!” You will have a fighting chance at staying out of prison!
   Keep in mind there are exceptions to these Constitutional amendments that have been carved out by the courts but don’t worry about them. Let your lawyer worry about them.
   Here’s why: If you say no to a police search and the officers insist on searching anyway, that’s fine. You should not resist the officer beyond the emphatic saying of “No! Go get a warrant!” The point is to NOT consent to the search. After that, do what the cop says. Don’t fight the cop and make it worse.
   At that point, whatever the cop does is subject to legal scrutiny. If you say “No! Get a warrant!” and the cop searches anyway, the cop has now placed his search at issue in your criminal trial. He’s got to prove in a court of law that his search did NOT require a warrant!
   If you consent, the cop has nothing to prove. If you say, “No! Get a warrant!” then the cop has to prove he didn’t need one!
   Now it’s up to the court, the prosecutor and the criminal defense lawyer, to argue over whether the subsequent arrest and any evidence gathered as a result of the search is admissible in court. Oftentimes, the evidence is not.
   In short, if you say “No! Get a warrant!” You have given yourself ammunition to win your court case. You might lose the battle, i.e. get arrested, but you’ll have a much better chance of winning the war in court.

  (Required by Alabama law: No representation is made that the quality of legal services to be performed is greater than other lawyers.)

Thursday, September 15, 2011

What to look for when hiring a lawyer

Every day in my practice I have at least one person come into my office with a tale of woe about a bad experience with a prior lawyer.
   Most of the people with such stories tell me they paid a lawyer a great deal of money and when it came time for the lawyer to perform the lawyer didn't perform to the level of the client's expectations.
   Many others complain that they paid too much, or were overcharged by their prior lawyer.
   Still others feel like their lawyer didn't care about them.
   So, here's some tips on what to look for when hiring a lawyer.
   First: Make sure the lawyer has experience in the type of case you have. If you have a felony criminal case, for example a sex crime allegation, you need to make sure that the lawyer has experience in that type of case AND that the lawyer has actually won not guilty verdicts in sex crimes cases.
   Second: Look online. Many lawyers have websites. Look and see what they list as the areas of law in which they practice. If you have a criminal case and the lawyer's website focuses on personal injury claims, perhaps that lawyer doesn't focus on your type of case.
    Look at legal referral websites, such as Many of these websites not only list lawyers, they also rate them and allow clients and fellow lawyers to rate them. Also check, a service of Martindale-Hubbell, a legal rating service. You will get a very candid look into what others think about the lawyer you are considering.
    Then check out sites like Google News to see if a newspaper story was published showing that the lawyer you are considering won a not guilty verdict in a newsworthy case. If the lawyer you are considering has won a not guilty verdict in a case that's noteworthy enough for the media to cover it, that tells you the lawyer can try a tough case even under intense scrutiny.
     Third: Go to a consultation with the lawyer. Most lawyers give free consultations. Many charge for the initial visit. Personally, I believe a lawyer who charges for the initial meeting is charging you because he doesn't think you'll end up a client. I believe a lawyer needs to always consider the initial consultation as a two-way information gathering session. The lawyer needs to learn about the client and the client needs to learn about the lawyer.
     When you arrive for the consultation, look at the lawyer's office. You should see a wall full of credentials, such as the lawyer's college degree and law degree. You should see the lawyer's certificates of admission -- the certificates which state which courts have admitted the lawyer to practice. You should look for the lawyer's Martindale Hubbell rating and/or AVVO rating prominently displayed.
    When you talk to the lawyer, ask the lawyer about his experience and qualifications. Ask about how many cases similar to yours that the lawyer has tried and won. Ask how many of his cases are tried versus how many are settled.
     If the lawyer is casual and answers your questions freely,you're off to a good start. Many clients tell me about how standoffish their prior lawyer was. I get complimented all the time because I am personable and don't rush a client. I listen to them and I ask questions. I never rush that free consultation. That's because a good lawyer knows that he's looking to establish a trust with the client. Also, a good lawyer knows when to NOT take a case. Sometimes a case is so different from the lawyer's experience that the lawyer must walk away. For example, I'm a criminal defense lawyer. I don't take worker's compensation claims or civil cases or anything except criminal cases.
     Fourth: Ask the lawyer to spell out his fees in writing. Many clients tell me that their prior lawyer simply named a price and that the price was given as an all-or-nothing quote. This is dangerous for the client because the lawyer isn't spelling out what the services are for that price, how that fee is earned, and what additional -- if any -- fees will arise.
      If you are sitting talking to a lawyer and that lawyer is vague about fees, watch out! A good lawyer puts his fees in writing, explains what the fee entails and, even more importantly, what they do not entail. I spell out in a fee contract exactly what my fees are, how they're to be paid, how I earn those fees, and unlike most lawyers, I put a cap on my fees plainly in my fee contract. This is important because many attorneys quote a fee to a potential client without telling the client that the fee is only a partial retainer.
     And ask for a copy of the fee contract and attorney/client contract. If a lawyer has a written contract or contracts and is willing to give you copies, that's a good sign. Never hire a lawyer who won't put in writing what your agreement is.
     For example, many people who are accused of crimes come to my office for a consultation. They tell me about lawyers who quote outrageously low fees. I ask them if the lawyer told them that was the total fee. Most of the time they say no. Many lawyers will charge a rock bottom fee to get the client but want an additional fee down the road. For example, a criminal defendant hires a lawyer for a rape case and pays that lawyer $1,500 retainer. The client thinks he's paid the lawyer in full. The lawyer doesn't tell the cilent that the fee is only for getting the client a plea bargain. Lawyers call that a "fee to plea." If the case doesn't plea bargain, the client is suddenly (and usually on the eve of trial) told by the lawyer that an additional $5,000 fee is needed immediately in order for the lawyer to try the case. Also, beware of lawyers who charge outrageous rates, such as the lawyer who charges $150 per phone call. That's unconscionable, but I've seen lawyers get away with it.
     You need to look for a lawyer who spells out his fees. Period. Also, the lawyer who puts his fees in writing is saying explicitly that he's living by his quote.
     Fifth: Look for a lawyer who doesn't promise you any particular result. Many people mess up and hire lawyers who tell the client that "this case is going to be dismissed!" Or, "This case is guaranteed not guilty!" Any lawyer who guarantees a result is lying to you and breaking the rules. No lawyer can predict an outcome and no lawyers is allowed to. But they often do! You want a lawyer who lays out in detail the case against you, explains the possible strategies to attack the case and win, and then gives you a candid assessment of your chances.
     Also, don't ever hire a lawyer who tells you "I can get you off because I know the (judge)(prosecutor)(cop)(court clerk)..." All lawyers know these people, and trust me none of them will change the outcome of any cases solely because they know a lawyer. That's absurd. The same goes for lawyers who say that if you can find someone else to take the rap, you'll be fine. That's make believe.
    So, if you're looking for a lawyer, keep in mind that with some intelligent inquiry you will be able to choose a good lawyer for your case.

(Required by Alabama Law: No representation is made that the quality of legal services performed is greater than other lawyers.)

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Shut Up and Stay Out of Prison!

   Did you know that 99.5% of people who go to prison put themselves there?
   Did you know that most of these people, while perhaps have done something illegal, are often convicted of the highest level of felony when in fact they are only guilty of, at worst, a misdemeanor?
   How does this happen?
   It's simple. The person accused of a crime talked to police or to prosecutors when they should have remained silent.
   The reality of our criminal justice system is lost on most people. It is an adversarial system. The prosecutor and the cop aren't trying to help the accused out, even when they promise to. Their job is to get convictions.
   When a person is confronted by police, there is a dynamic taking place that is crystal clear. The cop is in control. He has the power to arrest. He has the power to zap someone with a tazer. He has the power to shoot someone with a gun. The person accused of a crime believes that he is powerless. The accused believes that if he tells the truth the cop, or the prosecutor, will go easier on him. Wrong!
    The cop has no authority to "go easy" on any person accused of a crime. Cops have only the discretion to arrest or not to arrest. All other decisions are made by the prosecutor. No person accused of a crime should ever believe a cop when he says, "just tell me the truth and I'll talk to the prosecutor to help you out." That  doesn't happen. The promise from a cop to do that is not legally binding. It's actually a flat lie.
    Cops are not allowed by law to promise not to prosecute in exchange for a confession. If a cop says, "Tell me what happened and I promise I won't charge you," it makes the confession of the accused inadmissible in court.
     Cops are quick to show the accused that the accused has no power. Cops put the accused in handcuffs. Cops lock the accused in the back of the police car.
      Here is what you need to know: Nothing you say, and I mean NOTHING you say will prevent you from being arrested. Everything you say, and I mean EVERYTHING, will be used against you.
     Now here's the amazing part: You have the power to change the dynamic and make the cop completely powerless against you. All you have to do is REMAIN SILENT.
     And it's perfectly legal! The 5th Amendment to the United States Constitution gives you the right to remain absolutely silent when confronted by the police. You have the power to say nothing and the cop can't do anything about it. Of course, the cop will yell and raise hell with you. He'll try to browbeat you into talking, but it's sound and fury signifying nothing.
    You are within your rights to shut up!
    This is vitally important because you're going to be arrested anyway, but if you say absolutely nothing, you won't end up in prison, unless the cops have lock solid evidence against you -- which most of the time they don't.
    Here's an amazing statistic: More than 95 percent of my clients who remained silent when confronted by police ended up either with their case thrown out or with a not guilty verdict.
    So, shut up! Say nothing! Give your name, date of birth, social security number, address and then shut up!
    When the cops push you to talk, demand your lawyer and say, "I'm not talking until I see my lawyer." They'll push you.
    Just shut up. Exercise your 5th Amendment right to remain silent.
    And, to be sure, this works whether you are innocent and falsely accused or guilty. Remember, the prosecutor has to prove the accused guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Don't help him by talking. Shut up and you will likely stay out of prison, especially if you hire a lawyer who is a criminal defense lawyer.
    Here's the equation: Cops+you-confession+lawyer=>not guilty.
    So shut up!
(Required by Alabama law: No representation is made that the quality of legal services to be performed is greater than other lawyers.)