Come on, we’re not even pretending anymore


If you for some reason start a judicial opinion with the following:

By virtue of a reassignment within the Mercer County Office of the Public Defender (OPD), defendant Terrence Miller did not meet his attorney until the morning on which his trial was   scheduled to begin.

and then explain further that:

Defendant’s new attorney was a public defender with nineteen years of experience in legal practice, including some experience in criminal cases. On Thursday, December 6, 2007, defendant’s new attorney was informed by his supervisors at the Mercer County OPD that he would be transferred from his current assignment in the Mercer County OPD’s juvenile unit to a trial team responsible for cases overseen by the trial judge in this case. The attorney was told that day that he would serve as defendant’s trial counsel and that defendant’s trial was expected to begin on the following Monday, December 10, 2007. It would be his first adult criminal trial in seven years.

[No. Stop. You really need to read that blockquote. Don’t skip it.] And then recite more facts like these: He worked for an hour and a half on Thursday. On Friday he worked on the case for 2 1/2 hours. Then, on Saturday:

defendant’s counsel conducted a three- to four-hour review of relevant evidence rules and suppression law to prepare himself for proceedings in adult criminal court

and on Sunday, he spent three hours reviewing discovery and preparing cross-examination. In all, he spent 10-11 hours preparing for a trial. For his first criminal trial in 7 years. For a client he’d never met.

If you do all of that in a judicial opinion, you simply should not be allowed to then conclude that the conviction didn’t violate the Constitution or fundamental fairness.

But that’s exactly what Justice Patterson and 5 other justices of the New Jersey Supreme Court concluded last week in State v. Miller [PDF] in endorsing this meet-and-greet practice.

The supreme court admits that this continuance was through no fault of the defendant, but still elevates “trial calendar management” above the Constitution.

Oh, and the lawyer said he was ready.

Listen to me. I’m gonna say something serious now.

The fuck is wrong with you? You’ve spent the last 7+ years doing juvenile work and your experience with criminal before that is meager. You just get transferred to another unit. Another office. Another court, another judge, another whole field of law. On Thursday you’re told you’re starting trial on Monday for a client whom you’ve never met.

Listen to me.

You’re not ready. You’re never ready in those circumstances. You stand up and you say – because you believe in justice, right? You believe in the noble principles we claim to believe in? – so you stand up and say “with all due respect, judge, I’m not starting. You can do what you like, but I’m not start. I’m not ready. I don’t know you think I could be ready in three days. You can hold me in contempt, but I will not participate in this. I’m not ready.”

What’s he going to do? Force you? Fine. But then you don’t have a record where you’ve said you’re ready for whatever dumbfuck reason was going through your head.

I’m extremely uncomfortable with the concept of the 24-hour notice in my own cases, much less another attorney’s cases, much less an entirely different field of law that I haven’t touched in 7 years1.

You’re not ready. You can’t be ready. You shouldn’t be ready.

You know what you just did because of your ego or, more likely, because you thought you could be ready and wanted to make a good impression and not piss off the new judge and the new boss? You just fucked your client. The one person you should’ve been thinking of.

This opinion should make it clear to you now, if it wasn’t already.

We’re not pretending anymore. We’re not pretending that justice means anything. That Due Process means anything. That we care not only that the right people are convicted, but the manner in which that conviction is obtained. The facade of “the greatest system in the world” has fallen and revealed itself to be the fraud that everyone long suspected it was.

Are you ready for that?


  1. And at least here in CT we have jury selection that can take days so you can use that downtime to prepare. But being put on trial in 3 days under any circumstances is a stretch.

12 thoughts on “Come on, we’re not even pretending anymore

  1. Sujal

    This point about our civil society no longer caring about “the manner” in which any desired outcome is achieved is pretty much the root problem with anything in our civil/political world right now. The debt ceiling and government shutdown fight is pretty much a poster child for this.

  2. mirriam

    I’ve done that. I’ve said I am not ready. My client can post convict me because I am telling you I am not ready. The problem is, of course, the post-conviction would probably fail because OF COURSE I CAN TRY A CASE I WRITE A BLOG.

  3. Jersey Mark

    This New Jersey opinion sounds more like it came from Connecticut’s Supreme Court. Our high court here tends to the left; problem is judges are trying to appeal to Republican Chris Christie to get reappointment.

    In this case, the public defender was coerced by the judge to state on the record that, technically, he was able to proceed with the case. If counsel held firm and stated issues needed investigation, witnesses needed, etc. and that he was not capable of “zealous representation,” the outcome would have been very different.

    BTW, did you read the dissent in the case? Justice Albin makes a good case and remarks, sadly, that “We will have to wait for another day for the rights sacrificed here to be raised once again to their high place in our constitutional jurisprudence.”

    Hopefully this case is either revisited or court rules are revised to prevent re-occurrence. I can understand strict case management in civil cases, but here, we’re dealing with peoples’ lives!

  4. Rebecca

    This is blasphemous. Just another shining example of inequality and the lack of justice thrust upon indigent defendants. Does anyone believe in the individual’s 6th Amendment rights anymore?

    All of that aside, what are the chances the defendant has a different judge review his post-conviction appeal…? My guess is probably in the neighborhood of slim to none.

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  6. Aaron Sellers

    I’m not a lawyer, but I’ve studied it quite a bit and I believe much of the problem is that we have lost sight of the idea of ‘substantive due process’ and only seem to have ‘procedural due process’. Perhaps this has to do with the fact that government assumes we are all 14th Amendment citizens of the United States rather than citizens of the original class.

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