Now Playing: New Rules Will Tie Defense Attorneys' Hands
Topic: Criminal Defense
Here's another reason to avoid going to court in Pierce County, after January 1, 2008, it's going to be a cluster f#@%.
It all started with Justice Management Institute's scathing report criticizing our Superior Court Judges for not taking a leadership role in moving cases to resolution. As if that wasn't bad enough, the Tacoma News Tribune published excerpts of the report causing the Judge some embarrassment. http://www.thenewstribune.com/news/local/story/178760.html. Now the Bench is ready to take control by adopting the Institute's recommendations.
My favorite new recommendation is that deputy prosecutors are now supposed to give their best offer first, with ensuing offers each a little less generous to the defendant. How this makes sense when it can take months of investigation to uncover facts is curious.
For instance, I once had a client accused of possessing a lot of marijuana with the intent to deliver. One of the police reports in the case indicated that "an officer" witnessed my client stuffing the remnants of a grow operation into a trash bag. The prosecutor's first offer, based on the police report, was for the client to plead guilty to possession with intent to deliver.
Because of my caseload, and police officers' and prosecutor' schedules, we couldn't arrange interviews with the cops for several months. Everybody wanted to do the interviews, but getting the right people together at the same time was impossible. When we finally got together, we found that none of the cops actually witnessed my client with any drugs. The next offer was a dismissal.
What this case highlights is the fact that the new rules require making the "best" settlement offers before the parties have any chance of investigating the case. And once we have the information, we'll be locked into a deal that may no longer make sense.
The Court also expects that cases will be resolved within 90-120 days. I love the idea, but here's the problem. A trial, or settlement, can require the presence of arresting/investigating officers, the prosecutor, the victim, lay witnesses, expert witnesses, the defendant, the defense attorney, and the Judge and staff. On top of this, the parties have to be prepared for trial while juggling 40 other cases. My prediction is that a lot of cases are going to go to trial without adequate preparation. Well, at least we’ll be moving cases forward.
The judges, defense bar and prosecutors are getting together next week to figure out how best to move things forward in a realistic manner. I'll let you know how it turns out.