Friday, December 23, 2005

Drinking, driving, drunks, and mass transit

Drunk driving and mass transit? How are they connected? I'll tell ya!!
This is going to be a bit of a rant.
Groups like MADD have focused relentlessly on the prosecution of people who drive after consuming alcohol. They push for more punitive sanctions, and for lowering the threshold BAC for arrest.
The reality is that driving with a BAC of 0.08 is not much different than driving while talking on a cellphone, or eating a burger and fries, or changing a CD. I'm guilty of all of the latter, though I've never driven while anywhere near intoxicated. I'm actually very careful not to drink and drive because I know how harsh the penalties are.
I'm not a total apologist for those who drink and drive. Once you get to 0.12 and up, I think there should be penalties. Still I'm not big on using BAC as the basis, and I think the penalties for first-time offenders are way too harsh, but once you get to second offenses I become a lot less sympathetic.
Still, prosecution is not the best way to approach the problem, IMHO (net-speak for "in my humble opinion", though I'm not as humble as I should be).
What is the correct way? Mass transit. I have been beating the mass transit drum for a while now. There are many reasons for supporting it. But DWI is rarely cited as a reason for it.
So think about this. We spend billions of dollars (probably tens or even hundreds of billions) every year pulling people over and ticketing them for speeding, other traffic violations, and for dwi offenses. This is a very expensive way to deal with the problem, arguably ineffective, and imposes a lot of other costs on society (spend a night in traffic court and you'll see what I mean), with no other meaningful benefit.
If we spent billions on mass transit to create useful systems that make it easy for people to use it, we would reduce the amount that people drive.
There's an important type of person to consider in this analysis. I had a client not too long ago who showed up to court apparently drunk. She had driven a long way, and was planning to drive a long way back after court. I made sure she did not drive that night, by the way.
Anyway, I was chatting with her about her situation. A habitual drinker, she had tried to quit for years. All the institutional efforts made were to get her to quit drinking.
Reality check: Most of these people are not going to stop drinking!
I told her something she had apparently never been told before - maybe you should keep drinking and find a way to stop driving.
This had never occurred to her. Unfortunately, our society and infrastructure do not make it easy for someone to follow through on this approach. It works if you live in New York City, or a few other places with good mass transit. But it's not easy in upstate New York.
Some people will be shocked that I suggested she keep drinking. That's just ignoring the reality of the human condition. People have been drinking for thousands of years, maybe longer. Alcohol has been causing problems for just as long. But cars only came into human society in the last 100 years.
Go back 100 years and it was not terribly uncommon for a lot of people to get stupid drunk and stumble around. They didn't have cars to get into, so they didn't cause nearly as much harm.
If we got our heads together and created useful mass transit systems, with the dwi issue in mind, we would make a huge dent in the problem.
In Japan, where I lived for a year, they have areas where the bars are concentrated. There's not much parking there, but there are mass transit stops nearby. Here in the US, bars are everywhere and they have parking lots.

How stupid is that? Why are bars allowed to have parking lots? In my hometown of Guilderland, the zoning requires them to have ample parking. Come on people - Think!!!

Enough ranting. Time to do some work.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Daniel Cady site

Looks like we're getting the Daniel Cady site under way. Bryan D. Ford has transcribed a lot of the letters, and my brother is just starting to get them on a website - one so far. He's using a blog format for it. Great work guys!!

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Town Court and Traffic Court directory

Just wanted to mention that we're making progress on the directory of town courts that we're developing.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

The innocent client

Another reality for criminal defense lawyers. Many of our clients are actually guilty. Once in a while we get a client who's actually innocent.

To be clear, some of our clients who tell us they're innocent are not really innocent. This may be a shock, but not all clients tell their lawyers the truth. The smarter clients don't tell us one way or another, and the smarter lawyers don't ask that question.

I've had a few clients who were actually innocent. Not long after I started my practice I got a client who was accused of stealing from the store where he worked. It was clear from early on that there was insufficient proof of guilt. The store did not have the proper accounting controls to show who was stealing money, or even show that money was missing. For example, the cashiers did not sign into the registers, and there was no inventory control over returned merchandise. A cashier could fake a returned item transaction, pocket the money, and there was no way to tell.

I explained these problems to the prosecutors. They were completely uninterested. He was the defendant, therefore he was guilty. Their theory was that there were a number of "suspicious" transactions that occurred only when my client was working. Now, they couldn't prove that a "suspicious" transaction was actually a phony transaction (because of the lack of controls) and they couldn't prove who did it anyway because of the lack of controls. On top of that, I hired a friend to go through the register tapes and he identified a number of transactions that seemed suspicious (like a coupon-only transaction, and a return after the store was closed) on days when my client didn't work.

That case went all the way to trial. The jury was outside waiting to come in and be picked. We conferenced with the trial judge (Dan Lamont, a great guy and a solid judge). Judge Lamont quickly recognized how weak the prosecutor's case was and let her know. We were still going forward and then I leaned over to the prosecutor at one point and said that I couldn't ethically prosecute this case if I were on her side. She ran downstairs to the DA and came back with an ACOD (effectively a dismissal). In retrospect, I give her credit because she saw the light. I think most prosecutors would have gone through with the trial (I was salivating at the prospect).

I've got two cases pending with clients who are actually innocent. One is also accused of stealing from his employer. This case is even worse than the one described above. And the other case is a DWAI, where the breathalyzer showed 0.07 BAC. Under NY law, at 0.08 or above, it's DWI. Period. But for 0.05 to 0.07, the BAC is not illegal on its own, but is an indicator of impairment. In this case there is a lot of evidence to show that my client was not impaired, and no evidence to show he was impaired. In both of these cases, the prosecutors just refuse to see it. They can't see through the haze.

I did just get a case dismissed with an innocent client. Charged with AUO (Aggravated Unlicensed Operation), it turned out that his insurance company made a mistake and incorrectly notified DMV that my client had no insurance. By the time we got to court, client had a letter from the insurer demonstrating the mistake.

I must therefore give credit to the prosecutor, a young black woman in Albany City Court, named Lavonda (I think). She recognized the problem and did not oppose the motion. The judge gave me a funny look. It's just so rare to see cases where the client is so clearly innocent.

I was so happy with the experience, and it resolved so easily, that i cut my fee in half on the spot. The client had paid me half and owed me the other half. I told him to keep it.

Criminal defense lawyers and prosecutors

A question/comment I hear from time to time is this: How can you defend someone you know is guilty?

There are a some variations. My favorite is: What if you were defending someone you knew was guilty and you won? How would you feel about that? Answer: I'd feel GREAT!!! It means I did a great job.

Now here's how I really respond: Do you ask prosecutors how they can prosecute someone they know is innocent? Or how they can look the other way when they know the cops are doing bad things like beating up innocent people?

This is usually met with a sense of disbelief. How could I think that prosecutors and cops would do such things? Because it happens. Most cops are good cops, but there are a few bad ones. And prosecutors, almost universally, look the other way and even back up the cop when pressured. That's reality.

Now here's the reality of criminal defense lawyers defending someone we know is guilty. We try to get them the best deal we can. Winning a case for a defendant who is actually guilty is extremely rare. Our job is to minimize the consequences for our clients. We work with the prosecutors and everyone else involved to see what kind of deal we can get. If we can find any kind of weakness in the prosecution's case, we use that to negotiate a better deal. In general, guilty clients are just looking for a deal. They do not want to go to trial because they know they're likely to lose and they don't want to face the longer sentence.

A far greater concern about criminal defense lawyers is that one might sell out his client, or not defend the client vigorously enough. If you were the one facing criminal charges, you'd want your lawyer to fight for you. We have an adversary system of justice, and it works pretty well (with some failings).

Monday, December 05, 2005

Struggling with success as a lawyer

Things are going well. I've got tons of speeding ticket cases, along with a decent flow of DWI matters. Icing on the cake is the occasional personal injury case that comes in.

Now I have to manage all of that work, while still marketing and all of that. Haven't persuaded my wife to quit her job yet, but we're making progress.

Today I may be dropping off some work for a recent law school grad who's studying for the bar. Nice to give someone some part-time work, and hopefully it will help keep my cases moving. She has personal injury experience so that should help.

I forgot to mention that, besides managing the practice, there's my wife and two kids at home who like to see me once in a while.

I'm also trying to branch off into online legal content and web marketing for lawyers. Working on that with my brother. Creating a site in memory of Daniel Cady. Got a guy in Syracuse transcribing all Cady's letters and we'll put them on the web in the form of a blog. Also have plans for a directory of traffic courts and a serious but funny site about dead lawyers.

And then there's the screenwriting hobby. Came up with a good line for my "Personal Injury" TV series -- "Is that a $100,000 check in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?" We'll find a way to work that in.

So maybe I have too much on my plate??

Albany Attorney - more links

Some deeper links to the Albany attorney website:

Colonie NY DWI Lawyer

Guilderland New York Traffic Courts

Coeymans New York Speeding Ticket Attorney

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Albany Attorney sitemap pages

A while ago we developed a dynamic site for the firm, which is focused on the main keyword Albany Attorney. The site has a lot of dynamically generated pages, using location-based keywords to help people who are looking for a lawyer in a specific location in the Albany area.

Within the site are sitemap pages, some of which are:

Schenectady Lawyer

Saratoga Lawyer

The idea was that these pages would help the search engines find all the content on the site. I'm not sure it's working yet, but maybe this post will help?