There is something different about the name of one of the local prosecutor’s cases scheduled for trial next week. It seems the defendant who was charged for throwing his feces at a police officer after being picked up for DUI just changed his name to “Lunatic.” “Hopefully,” he thought, “he’ll plea like all the others, and I’ll only have to say his name once and pray to God I don’t burst out laughing.” But there is no time to deal with that now, with a rape case scheduled to resume at 1:30–or whenever the judge feels like herding in the jury. He has to recover from his witness’s nonresponsive answer on cross-examination, which called the defendant, in a perfectly unflinching face, a “barbitual” liar.
He takes his seat in anticipation of defense counsel’s closing argument. Judge Cheer enters. Expert witnesses love her, especially the men, with whom she openly flirts on the stand. It was even suspected by the particularly astute court reporter that she used various inflections of “debriefing” with inordinate frequency. “How much have you been debriefed, Dr. Howard?” “Did you bring a copy of the debriefing, Janet?” and, of course, “The facts! Debrief me!”
It is about to begin. The fold of twelve jurors obediently walks into the courtroom and takes their seats. The judge informs them that what is about to proceed is the closing arguments of both the State and the defense, and admonishes them that their statements are not to be accepted as unchallenged truths, but are merely their theories of the case. The defense attorney goes first. “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury,” as so many closing arguments begin, “my client did not abduct this woman’s dog.” Without missing a beat, the prosecutor stands and says, “That’s correct, your Honor.”
It’s just another colorful day at the office for Makepeace O’War, the local prosecutor, and May Culpa, the defense attorney. Criminal cases are no better petri dishes for mutability because everything happens live. Think about it: how many SNL sketches are consistently funny, apart from Scared Straight? Each courtroom has its own unwritten script of how to take a plea, examine prospective jurors, how much time for opening statements and closing arguments, and a host of other procedures. Generally, this would be more of a problem for May because she isn’t assigned to a courtroom like Makepeace, who can familiarize himself with the judge’s nuances and attitudes, along with shacking up in the courtroom like it’s his second apartment.
You better learn to play things by ear if you’re going to deal with the unpredictable behavior of witnesses, victims, defendants, jurors, officers, judges, and attorneys. A thick skin and suppressed superego can help, too. May will have to be on good terms with all the courthouse’s personnel to find her way as she floats form room to room. She’ll also have to garner excuse credibility tolerance from judges for the next time she’s late to court because she had to represent a client in another case or simply forgot to prepare for the immediate case. It’s already happened once and judges aren’t likely to be so forgiving a second time after they saw her smoking outside the building.
Makepeace won’t be seeing much of criminal defendants, which, unfortunately for them, means that they won’t get to hear his “Poker Face” chipmunk ringtone. Nevertheless, he’ll communicate with his share of victims, which aren’t exactly flag waving–though they may be gun toting–patriots. Just last week, Makepeace looked over a theft case involving a victim who recorded his telephone conversation with the defendant, who admitted he had the victim’s stolen power tools. Makepeace wanted to investigate further, so he gave the victim a call. When the victim picked up (he could recognize his voice from the recording), Makepeace identified himself, his employer, and asked if he could speak to him. “No speaka Englaze” was the reply, and the victim hung up the receiver. When Makepeace called a second time, the victim burst out in a string of profanity about how many warrants he was going to take out on the caller, and advised Makepeace about just what he could do with his phone. Makepeace dismissed that case for lack of probable cause.
While Makepeace has discretion, May doesn’t have the luxury of giving up on her clients or potential witnesses. It was bad enough to argue her client’s innocence with regard to the rape charges while he was looking her up and down. Did he really have to go and file a complaint that May had not returned his calls because she had more clients than she could competently handle? “What is this?” she thought. “Is it like an Okaycupid.com date gone bad, and he’s complaining to the management about me?” She was doing her best, but this trial wasn’t going well for her. That means only one thing: blame the lawyer. Yes, the law that no good deed goes unpunished also reigns in the criminal system. In the ensuing ineffective assistance of counsel case, everyone will be able to see just how hard she fought for her client, and the best part about it will be that Makepeace will make her out like Clarence Darrow to secure his conviction.