I swear, sometimes, I think everybody needs to go back to grade school for remedial lessons in English and Civics.
I’ve said it again and again, our system of laws is an adversarial system, as opposed to a “truth-seeking” or inquisitorial system. This means there are two sides in opposition: those that try to put people in jail and those who try to ensure that only those who are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt are put in jail. The system can build trust and work relatively properly only when the two sides fulfill their stated roles and don’t exercise improper influence over the other1.
So that means, for instance, that a public defender shouldn’t be arrested and charged with hindering prosecution because his client failed to return to court at the start of a trial.
An Allegheny County public defender was arrested Monday on charges that he gave inaccurate information to a judge’s staff about whether his client had appeared for trial in a sex assault case. [He] was arraigned Monday night on charges of hindering apprehension and obstructing the administration of law. Court records show Mr. Capone, who could not immediately be reached, was released on nonmonetary bond.
He was arrested for giving “inaccurate information”? What in Blackbeard’s black beard is that?
Mr. Capone represented Jeffrey Derosky, 44, of Imperial, who was charged by Allegheny County police with sexually assaulting a child and other crimes. Mr. Derosky was scheduled to go to trial Jan. 12. Four days later, he was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in West Virginia.
Sorry, I forgot it mention it gets pretty serious. But here’s the crux of it:
A detective with the county sheriff’s office wrote in a criminal complaint that Mr. Capone told a staff member for Judge Donna Jo McDaniel that Mr. Derosky “had not appeared at court.” The judge’s tipstaff told investigators Mr. Capone asked several times that day whether his client had checked in and stated that “the last time he saw his client was when they met on the Friday before the trial,” the detective wrote.
Unfortunately, it turns out that he had seen Derosky on the morning of the trial and had conveyed an offer of 5 to 10 years to serve. Derosky and his girlfriend had left, both intending to not return. It doesn’t seem that Capone was aware of their intentions to flee.
But it’s still not clear what exactly happened:
The detective contacted the judge’s staff again and asked them to clarify whether Mr. Derosky had come to the courthouse for trial. Confronted with the information from Ms. Blystone, Mr. Capone said he “was unsure how to answer that question and believe that it would violate attorney/client privilege,” the detective wrote.
He said Mr. Capone told the judge’s staff that Mr. Derosky and Ms. Blystone had come to court for the trial, he informed them of the plea deal and Mr. Derosky then cursed and said, “I’m out of here.” Mr. Capone told the staff he went to another courtroom and when he returned about 10 minutes later, Mr. Derosky was gone, according to the complaint.
So it seems that Capone rightly told the cop to fuck off and then did tell the staff that the defendant had come to court.
He was charged with hindering apprehension or prosecution. In Pennsylvania, that crime is defined as:
§ 5105. Hindering apprehension or prosecution.
(a) Offense defined.–A person commits an offense if, with intent to hinder the apprehension, prosecution, conviction or punishment of another for crime or violation of the terms of probation, parole, intermediate punishment or Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition, he:
(1) harbors or conceals the other;
(2) provides or aids in providing
a weapon, transportation, disguiseor other means of avoiding apprehension or effecting escape;
(3) conceals or destroys evidence of the crime, or tampers with a witness, informant, document or other source of information, regardless of its admissibility in evidence;
(4) warns the other of impending discovery or apprehension,
except that this paragraph does not apply to a warning given in connection with an effort to bring another into compliance with law; or
(5) provides false information to a law enforcement officer.
I’ve put a strikethrough through those parts that aren’t implicated leaving only those that possibly might be. Those remaining parts, however, are a stretch. First, can it be said that he provided or aided a means of avoiding apprehension or escape? He just told the client the offer, the client said that he’d be back and then he pretended to not have seen the client that day.
Let me tell you. This happens all the time. Clients are late. They show up and then they disappear and you have no idea where they are. Some of them run off when you tell them you’re going to jail. It happens every single day every where in America, multiple times.
My job as a lawyer is to make sure my client doesn’t screwed and even doubly so when he’s doing the screwing to himself. So if I can avoid eye-contact with the judge or go disappear in my office for a few hours and pretend to have forgotten that they’re waiting for my client, you can damn well be sure I’ll do that, because clients that run and stay gone are rare. Most often they’re outside smoking a cigarette, calling their relatives arranging for bail or off for one last decent meal. If making myself sparse for an hour or so while they get their shit together avoids the hassle of a re-arrest warrant and then the subsequent vacating of that warrant, then I’m all for it. Call it judicial efficiency.
(4) is pretty damn stupid to be applied in this context. We warn our clients of their apprehension every day. “Hey, Jimmy Jones, you’re going to jail today.”
Finally, “tipstaff”, whatever that is, don’t qualify as Law Enforcement.
What was the problem here? Clearly, he shouldn’t have pretended to not have seen the defendant when he, in fact, did. But how much different is that than him saying “I don’t know where he is”? What if he had said “I can’t divulge any information without violating attorney-client privilege”? Would that be hindering apprehension? Or are those with guns and gavels simply mad that he dared “lie” to them?
This scenario has been discussed many times in my office and no doubt in other public defender offices across the country. I can tell you that there is a difference of opinion and sharp one at that. There are those who believe that it is not within their job description to do one thing to help cops or prosecutors in arresting and prosecuting their clients. There are others who believe that to omit information such as is the case here is to play with one’s word and trust and potentially expose one to professional sanctions.
Not a single person believes that it rises to – nor should it – a criminal act. That’s nothing more than flexing of the thug muscles by law enforcement and should be denounced from every quarter.
Frankly, I’m more concerned about a system that makes an offer of 5-10 years of jail on the day of trial and then causes a man to take his own life rather than be arrested and incarcerated. Isn’t that the real problem here, worthy of scrutiny?
To make it incumbent upon criminal defense lawyers – at the risk of arrest, incarceration and loss of license no less – to divulge the whereabouts of every client and assist in their apprehension is to make attorneys complicit in the machinery of the prosecution and to fundamentally erode the bedrock foundational principles we pretend to be so proud of.