Friday, March 28, 2008


Like all my cases, Randy’s began when I found a new manila file folder in my mailbox the day after he made his first appearance in court. At this hearing, he would be informed of his rights, the possible penalties and then be asked how he wanted to plead. If he plead not guilty and was then found to be “indigent” the judge would appoint a public defender to represent him and then set a bond to assure his appearance at trial. My clients came in two basic varieties: those in jail who could not post their bond and were stuck there waiting for trial or an early plea, and those who were out of jail, having either posted their bonds or been released on their own recognizance.
Since I handled only misdemeanor cases, only about one out of four clients that I represented was in jail. Although some of my “non-jail clients” would end up being sent there eventually, there was simply not enough room in jail to hold all the accused citizens as they awaited trial. Evidently Randy’s prior record was such that he did not appear to be a flight risk and the judge had not set a bond for him to post to get out of jail.
By the time I received Randy’s file, he had already appeared at our office, set up an appointment with me two weeks in the future, and been sent a form letter reminding him of this appointment. Usually about half of my clients made it to their first appointment, and the other half either left voice mail messages asking me to call them back or else actually listened to my voice mail message that instructed them about how to call and reschedule their appointment. Many of my clients, either because they were poor, overwhelmed or just irresponsible, had trouble keeping track of dates, times and obligations. I often wished I could hand out day planners because many of my clients made small problems worse by not taking the time to meet with me before court or missed court and were issued warrants on new charges of “failure to appear.”
Before Randy’s scheduled appointment, I had ordered, copied and reviewed the police report detailing his being cited for “open container” of alcohol. I had read the officer’s version, in other words, but hadn’t heard Randy’s yet. I had read so many reports at this point that I could picture the officers and the locations pretty well. I was getting also getting better at spotting issues to raise at trial, or through pretrial motions, such as questionable stops, seemingly illegal searches, or statements that could be excluded under the Miranda case. that is dramatized nearly every night on network television cop shows.
As I scanned the police report detailing Randy’s case, however, I saw little to fight against and plenty to laugh about. Looking for mistakes, issues and defenses my clients could utilize was my job, but finding something to laugh at made my job more bearable and even entertaining.
The officer who arrested Randy described seeing him driving in the right hand lane in a fairly rough neighborhood at about ten o’clock at night, on “routine patrol.” Suddenly, Randy passed him on the left, speeding and openly drinking from a silver can of beer. As the officer turned on his lights to pull Randy over, he noticed the out of town plates, which, because the high number designating the county the plates were licensed in, indicated that Randy was from a rural area of Nebraska, a long way from the inner city of Omaha.
When the officer got to Randy’s truck, Randy still had his beer in his hand and was surprised, but not mad, at being pulled over. Randy was puzzled when the officer told him he’d seen Randy drinking the beer, not because he denied it but because he didn’t know this was against the law. “That’s against the law?” Randy said. “Well, not up in Wausau it’s not. I do it all the time.” Wausau is a small town in Northeast Nebraska and, of course, it is against the law to drink while driving there, but evidently Randy had gotten away with it there and thought it must be o.k. in Omaha too.
The cop took Randy’s beer, poured it out (probably rolling his eyes as he did it), and then went back to his cruiser to write Randy a ticket while running a check on his license and registration. As the cop was writing the ticket, he looked up and was surprised to see Randy patiently waiting in his pickup, casually sipping from another silver can of beer! Evidently Randy either knew he was already in trouble for doing this or else just figured he was not driving anymore and that it must be o.k. to drink while parked and waiting. Perhaps he was slowly disposing of the evidence?
At this point, the officer walked back to the truck and asked Randy what he thinks he is doing. Randy was not belligerent, but explained that he was “just thirsty” and once again acts surprised to find out that this too is against the law in Omaha. This time, though, the officer orders Randy out of the truck to perform field sobriety tests, to determine how many times Randy has broken this law tonight and to find out if he’s broken another law called driving under the influence. Randy passed these tests as quickly as he’d passed the cop earlier on the street and the officer, content that Randy has a lot more heart than brains, quickly sends Randy on his way with a ticket and instructions to get back to Wausau before he opens any more beers or before he gets himself shot.
I was anxious to meet Randy and I knew that I could set up a hearing and have him plead guilty before a judge who would (silently) laugh as hard as I had and let Randy go back to Wausau with a small fine. Of course, the decision on whether to have a trial or to plead guilty would be Randy’s not mine, but I didn’t see any defenses for Randy to the crime of having an open container within reach to the driver of an automobile.
However Randy didn’t make it to his appointment. I waited in court for him on his trial date and spoke with his mother who had driven all the way from Wausau to give me a message. Randy did not have a phone and a big snowstorm left him stranded at his ranch. I asked the judge to continue the case, to give Randy a chance to appear, but knew the judge would simply issue a warrant for Randy’s arrest and leave it up to me to bring Randy back to court to cancel the warrant. I didn’t blame the judge. So many people missed court that judges grew sick of excuses. Unless an attorney could provide a very good excuse on the date of trial, it was difficult to have a case postponed, especially when the state’s witnesses were already in court and ready for the trial.
I told Randy’s mother to have him call me or drive down to meet with me to get the warrant cancelled. I knew that if he called me and we arranged a hearing before the right judge, Randy could be sentenced to a small fine and be given time to pay it. I also knew that if he didn’t take care of this warrant, getting a speeding ticket in the future could result in a few nights in jail if he couldn’t post a bond, as the check of his license would show the active warrant from Omaha.
His mother wasn’t worried about this, though. She told me that he would be coming back to Omaha in the Spring and that he would get in touch with me then. Evidently Randy came to Omaha quite regularly. It was then that I realized what probably brought Randy back to Omaha several times a year. Randy was picked up in a rough neighborhood where drugs, crime and trouble could be found easily. I was worried about what could happen to such a naïve, obviously country-raised person in place like this. I assumed that after his brush with the law and after his warrant had been issued, that Randy would stay in his safe place in Wausau.
But there was something you could find in some parts of Omaha that you couldn’t find in Wausau and that this was probably what kept calling Randy back. You could find guns and drugs in the neighborhood where Randy was picked up, but you could also find girls, or even guys, who would do just about anything you wanted for $20 to $30. You would also catch anything or everything from these people who were so blinded by addiction that fear of things like contagious diseases was not of much concern.
Because of my job, I was acquainted with many women and a few men who made their “living” this way as I defended them, usually unsuccessfully, on prostitution charges. I also knew that a lot of their “Johns” were lonely white men, like Randy, from the “sticks” who, like the wealthy shoppers, drove to Omaha from their homes across the state for the larger selection of things that could be purchased here.
At first, I wondered what brought this country boy to the crack-infested streets of the city, but, after I thought about, I could make a pretty good guess. Having realized what had most likely brought Randy here in the first place, I came to agree with his mother. Randy would be back in the Spring, just as she predicted. I just hoped he came to see me first, so I help him cancel his warrant before he ended up in jail.
People like Randy were often picked up in prostitution stings since their hormones and lack of street smarts made them easy targets for undercover police officers. Unfortunately, this was not the worst thing that could happen to Randy as this same combination of horniness and stupidity also made them easy targets for thieves and even more dangerous criminals. Maybe when Randy came back in the Spring he would be better off getting picked up by the police before he went “shopping.” Sometimes when you shop in parts of the city where Randy was picked up, you end up getting more than you bargained for.

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