Friday, April 07, 2006

--spoil the rod.

The Public Defender tried to call Dante’s credibility into question during cross examination by searching for any inconsistencies in his initial reports of the assault. But the scope of cross is very limited at the preliminary hearing stage, and it is not the time or place to mount a full-blown defense. The P.D. and I entered into a sort of verbal thrust-and-parry, with him probing for damaging details and me trying to deflect each question with an objection. Whether or not Dante would have to give an answer depended on Judge Clark's particular ruling.

Dante, what did you tell the doctor about how this happened when you first got to the hospital?

Objection, Your Honor.


Did you ever tell the doctors that you didn't know who hit you?



Isn’t it true that you are mad at Jerry because your Mom was spending so much time with him and not with you?



And so on.

He was only doing his job as an advocate on behalf of his client, and certainly there were other judges on the bench who frequently allowed the preliminary hearings to become a free-for-all, but Judge Clark wasn’t one of them.

I had the emergency room records and the photographs taken by the assigned detective at the hospital marked as exhibits. The tipstaff handed the pictures of Dante’s bruised and bloody body up to Judge Clark. She had been hearing these types of cases for years, and always maintained an objective appearance while she was sitting on the bench, but I noticed her mouth harden by the slightest degree as she flipped through the photos.

I moved the medical records and photographs into evidence, and rested my case. The P.D. waived the chance to present any evidence on behalf of his client, which was done 99% of the time at this stage to prevent the defendant or any alibi witness from getting locked into their testimony several months before trial. Judge Clark ruled that all of the charges in the criminal complaint had been made out, and directed that the case be held over for trial. I took note of the defendant’s history of bench warrants in his criminal record, and the fact that he was currently being held on just $50,000 bail for this case. A person being held on bail only needed to post 10% of the total amount to be released, so if Jerry (or someone on his behalf) could scrape together $5000, he would wind up back on the street and be gone in a heartbeat.

I made a motion to increase the Defendant's bail based upon the severity of the charges, the likelihood of a substantial jail sentence, and the repeated failures to appear for court during his prior convictions. The Public Defender objected, and pointed out correctly that these charges were still allegations at this stage and that nothing had been proven beyond a reasonable doubt. But with the color photos still spread across the top of the bench before her, Judge Clark wasn’t hearing any of it.

“Bail is hereby raised to $500,000--effective forthwith.”

The Defendant's shoulders slumped down and Dante’s mother became all agitated in the front row. The sheriff snapped a pair of handcuffs around Jerry's wrists behind his back, and led him out of the courtroom down to the holding cells in the basement. Later that night a bus would be taking him back up to the main prison in Northeast Philly, where now he would sit tight until his case was eventually called to trial.

It was obvious that Dante needed someone looking after his rights full-time on his behalf, since his mother had a clear conflict of interest. As an Assistant District Attorney, I technically represented all of the people in the city—Dante was a victim of crime, but not my individual 'client' to advise or supervise. I made another motion and the Court appointed the Support Center for Child Advocates to step in and become Dante’s legal advocate. They had a lawyer assigned to B Court full-time for just such a situation, and she came over and introduced herself to Dante. I dropped down to one knee again and shook his hand, telling him that he was very brave and that he had done a great job. He gave a faint smile and walked out of the courtroom with his new attorney.

I gathered all of the photographs and medical records back into the file and placed it on top of the disposed pile on the far side of the table. There was a temporary lull within the courtroom as the clerks processed the paperwork from the hearing we had just concluded. Judge Clark sat back in her chair and glanced over in my direction from behind the bench.

"Counselor, is that a purple tie that you're wearing?"

I already had the chance to see her go through this routine with new attorneys on both sides of the aisle, and recognized it as an invitation to play right along.

Why, yes it is Your Honor.

"Are you aware that purple just happens to be my favorite color??"

I held the tie out from my body and looked down as if noticing it for the very first time.

I had no idea, Your Honor.

She flashed me a knowing smile and then returned to a formal tone as the crier called the next ready hearing up to the bar of the court. I appreciated the effort to lighten the mood, if only for a brief moment. A long list of the day's scheduled cases still remained to be heard. And upstairs alongside the desk in my office, a box filled with tomorrow's files already sat waiting on the floor.