Committed to Your Justice REACH OUT NOW

How Can You Represent Those People? Barely.

By Randall Grantham Community Columnist May 13, 2012

Some people hope for a miracle cure Some people just accept the world as it is But I'm not willing to lay down and die Because I am an innocent man. Billy Joel

While this writing stuff is fun, it don’t pay the bills. As you know, my job is being a lawyer and, as such, I get a lot of grief from some people. Further, I primarily practice criminal defense and I get a lot of flack about how I can represent such heinous criminals that find themselves on the wrong side of the law, like murderers and rapists! (How easily they forget about the pot possession or the mouthing off to a cop defendants.)

My usual responses are that everybody deserves a defense, there are bad or stupid laws that need to be fought and that “those people” can be you, your friends or your family. As I like to say, nobody goes out intending to get arrested. It happens when you least expect it.

But there are cases that no lawyer except a masochist would relish. The rapes and murders that appear to be so open and shut that we wonder why didn’t they just expend the amount of money a bullet costs rather than going to the trouble of arresting the guy (or gal) and wasting all our tax dollars going through the motions.

But then I was reminded of a case I tried some years ago. The guy was charged with rape. The “victim” was a teen girl and the defendant was an itinerant laborer. She had run from the woods to a nearby Fire Station and the cops had jumped on my guy when they found him asleep, or passed out, on the mattress where the deed had been done.

I was court appointed to represent him and it did not look good.

But it seemed strange to me that when the cops had so rudely interrupted his post-coitus slumber, he woke up screaming for the police to come help him ward off this attack from unknown (to him) hooligans. He insisted that he was the victim and it turned out to be true.

My first clue was when the jail medical staff came to visit him, without request, to treat him for gonorrhea. He displayed none of the symptoms (yet) but they dosed him up good with antibiotics designed to prevent an infection. Turns out the rape crisis team had found that our “victim” had a full-blown case, oral and genital, and, without the treatment, my guy would follow suit. She had given it to him!

In further investigation, I found that she was a run-away from New York and had been staying locally with the family of a friend she knew from there. They told her to leave because of her bad influence on their daughter.

My guy insisted he had picked her up hitch-hiking and that she had come on, hard, to him. They got to drinking, he made some vague statements about wanting to go to New York and then they went out to the woods where he pulled his old mattress out and they got busy.

As it turned out, after they had their fun, she then expected him to drive her to New York (!?). He laughed it off and went to sleep. Bad idea.

She left him sleeping in the woods and tried to catch a ride before stumbling upon the fire station where she lodged her complaint.

The system had this poor young thing flown home while they locked my guy up.

The State Attorney on the case and I went to upstate New York to take her depo and the boyfriend there who gave her a ride became a surprise witness, against her, regarding other false allegations of sexual abuse. After returning home, I had to have the young man threatened with incarceration to get him to agree to fly, on the State’s dime, as I was court- appointed, to Florida to testify

After the jury heard all of this, they acquitted my client, but it’s not that simple anymore.

The biggest knock on Public Defenders and court -appointed lawyers is their case load. It is unbelievably high. No lawyer could adequately and consistently represent that number of people.

And the money to do it right ain’t there either. I could not have proved my client to be innocent had we not been able to fly to New York to take the depositions of the witnesses. Or if I had not been able to use the laws and funds of the state to secure the testimony of the boyfriend and to fly him down here for the trial.

I used to say that the only people who could really challenge the power and resources of the State were the very rich or the very poor. The rich can do it on their own and the poor could get the services of a well-funded indigent defense system. That’s no longer the case.

The economy and the budget cuts have emasculated indigent defense. Public Defenders haven’t gotten a raise in years and their numbers are decreasing. The offices can’t afford to hire replacements for those that leave. I stopped doing court-appointed work when the pay schedule changed in such a way that there is a disincentive to go beyond entering a quick plea. The hours I spent on my innocent rape defendant would have been uncompensated, even at a bargain basement rate.

Why should you care? If those guys don’t do the crime they won’t be looking at doing the time, right?

Believe it or not, my client in the above story is not alone. There are people wrongfully accused daily. It is our duty to provide a defense to those, like him, who find themselves locked up by our paid enforcers. They didn’t put themselves in that position, we did!

It’s not just a matter of compassion. It’s a question of who we are as a people.

(Randall C. Grantham is a fifth generation Floridian and lifelong resident who practices law from his offices on Dale Mabry Highway in Lutz . He can be reached at Copyright RCG)