Tyrannical prosecutors protecting tyrannical cops

When you cross a police officer, in many West Virginia counties, you also cross one or more “badge bunny” prosecutors.  I have found that the difference between a good prosector and a bad one is their backbone and their integrity.  Confident, knowledgeable, experienced and honest prosecutors are independent.  They do what is right.  They know what is right – and what is wrong.  Others lack confidence, as well as the backbone to be independent from law enforcement.

As you venture between various counties in West Virginia, you will encounter prosecutors of both types.  I have encountered the badge bunny prosecutor derangement syndrome in one particular West Virginia county several times now.  In these badge bunny jurisdictions, even the magistrates are not immune from infection.  In fact, some are former police officers themselves.  Unfortunately, almost none are former lawyers.  Hell, who needs legal training when deciding bothersome legal issues, such as one’s freedom?  Magistrates are almost always infected where there is an outbreak among prosecutors.  If a prosecutor or a cop says the sky is purple, then the sky is purple.  Defendants and defense attorneys are scum – even if they are not scum.  They are worthless bastards.

If you want to experience injustice, piss off a cop in one of these counties.  For instance, you could have an affair with his wife.  He may be of the sort to arrest you illegally and beat you down when no one is looking, and while you are handcuffed.  A badge bunny prosecutor would proceed to prosecute you.  You could show him evidence that you were illegally arrested, and that you were illegally beaten.  The evidence could be indisputable.  But your barking up the wrong tree.  Unlike the good prosecutors, justice is not his concern, getting convictions is.  Protecting “his” or “her” law enforcement officers is priority numero uno.

So you then could file some civil lawsuits.  Then you have really made it personal to the prosecutor.  Justice gets thrown to the wayside altogether, and you now  have crosshairs on your back.  Your only way out is through a trial.

Now compare this to the often-seen scenario when a police officer violates the law.  He gets a sweetheart deal and fades from the spotlight conviction-free.  If it doesn’t piss you off now that this injustice and tyranny exists in West Virginia, then just wait until it happens to you.  Good people get wrongfully arrested in West Virginia.  Then you will need a lawyer who has the guts to stand up to these scoundrels and fight them on their home field.  Choose carefully.

So far away, yet so similar…

While perusing Fort Worth criminal defense attorney Shawn Matlock’s blog, I came across a post describing the world of Texas’ Magistrate Court, which seems to be strikingly similar to West Virginia’s Magistrate Court. Apparently we are not that unique with respect to the concept of speed-pleading. And I thought that I was the only one who felt uncomfortable in that type of judicial atmosphere…

– John H. Bryan, West Virginia Attorney.

This Blog Makes Front-Page News…

Note: this post was initially much more extensive.  Pursuant to the advice of my beautiful wife, against whom I have never won an argument (and suspect I never will), and who’s advice has the usual effect of making my hot-heated initial reactions seem childish and ineffective, I have revised this post.

It seems that my humble commentary regarding the Register-Herald op-ed piece detailed in my last post touched quite a few nerves at the Monroe Watchman newspaper. For those of you who may not know, the Monroe Watchman is the main newspaper for Monroe County, West Virginia, and it has been continually published since 1872. It’s a great paper. I read it every week, and I am also a paying advertiser. They are also located right across the street from my office building.

Why should they care about my commentary in this post? Because the Watchman is owned by the family of the former prosecutor who I allegedly criticized, and understandably, they are protective of their family members. And also understandably, the former prosecutor is deeply hurt as a result of the lost election.  And I completely understand the hurt, as I suffered through my father’s election defeat as a college student.  It’s not easy to see negative television commercials about your father running during prime-time every couple of minutes for a month straight.  Your natural reaction is to lash-out at your perceived threat, and I guess that that is what I was doing as well in my initial response in this post.  And so I also understand why the former prosecutor feels the need to protect himself and his family.

This situation is not about me, it’s not about the former prosecutor, nor the current prosecutor, nor the magistrate – nor the Watchman.  This is about Mr. Watson, who made the intentional choice to consume alcohol and drive a dozen children off of a 120 foot cliff in a Monroe County school bus.  This is about Mr. Watson, who tried to save his own skin by lying and claiming that he consumed Nyquil the night before.  This is about Mr. Watson, who misled much of the community into believing that he was innocent, only to let them down with the sad truth – that he had an alcohol problem.  But, he still didn’t want to lose his job, and he didn’t want to lose his retirement.  That was what Mr. Watson was worried about.  Was he worried about the children on board his reckless DUI school bus?  No, he was worried about himself.  This is about the fact that Mr. Watson received a plea deal where only two days was recommended, and where he only received twelve (to serve on the weekends at his leisure).  

When I was working as a young prosecutor in Raleigh North Carolina, I tried a man for 2nd offense DUI.  He was convicted and sent to jail for one year.  There was no accident, no children in the car, no adults in the car – nobody injured whatsoever.  He was just some guy who got pulled over and failed some field sobriety tests.  That was a serious charge.  He was the first person I sent to jail as a prosecutor.  I’ll never forget the image of a deputy walking up behind the man and putting him into handcuffs.  Imagine if this man, when he was pulled over, had a child in the car?  Imagine if he had a dozen children in the car.  Imagine if he had a dozen children in the car and drove off a 120 foot cliff.  Imagine that he did this with your child in the car, entrusted to his care, and that afterwards he lied and told you that it must have been the Nyquil he took the night before?  My point is, this is about protecting the children.  We should have made an example of this man.  He was a school bus driver for heavens sake!  The citizens of Monroe County trusted him to drive their children to school and back every day!

I have been on the other side of the coin as well.  As a defense attorney in Greenbrier County several years ago, I had a client who was convicted of 2nd offense DUI.  We begged and pleaded to the judge for a light sentence, since he wanted to join the military.  The guy was sentenced to one year in jail – and he actually went to jail for about 8 months before he got out of jail.  He wore the orange jumpsuit and ate the awful food for breakfast, lunch and dinner – everyday.  He did his time.  He didn’t whine or complain.  He served his debt to society. 

My argument is simply this: did this man not deserve a real punishment?  Would it really have been a great miscarriage of justice if this man had really been forced to serve a real sentence in jail?  I don’t think so.  It happens all the time in 2nd or 3rd offense DUI cases.  Is it not more egregious for a man to get drunk and then drive a school bus loaded with children?  And then to actually crash off a cliff?

Since the Editor criticized me for making “no effort to discuss the issue with Mohler before writing [my] scathing assessment…” then I will reiterate the same offer that always exists on this blog – both to subjects of my posts and to casual observers: if you disagree with something I have said, then please, by all means, leave a comment on the blog. As always, anonymity will be maintained where requested.

– John H. Bryan, West Virginia Attorney

Opinion Piece in Register-Herald Regarding Monroe County School Bus DUI

As some of my readers will remember, I was given some flack in the community for speaking out early against this bus driver – Clyde Watson. And as it turns out, Mr. Watson proved himself to be a disgrace after all. The really mind-numbing part of this is, that people in Monroe County love this guy for some reason. It seems he is the “everybody’s favorite uncle” type. The editorial slams Monroe County for the way in which this case was handled.

The editorial places some blame on the prosecutor, and I must now stick up for him with respect to the most-generous plea deal. The previous prosecutor made the plea agreement. No matter how ludicrous the agreement was, it was the current prosecutor’s duty to follow-through with that agreement. It is no different than if he made the agreement himself. So, it was not his fault that the plea agreement was executed.

The paper gave a lot of flack to the magistrate, who gave the guy a 12 day sentence, to be served on the weekends at his leisure. To her credit, she actually increased the sentence from what the previous prosecutor had agreed to recommend – which was 2 days. However, it seems that the guy just walked in and asked to be sentenced quietly – without a lawyer, and without the prosecutor (or any victims) present. The paper did note that the magistrate made a phone call to the prosecutor to make sure that the sentence was okay with him.  Actually, this is pretty much what always happens in misdemeanor cases in magistrate court.

Welcome to the world of magistrate court. The prosecutor is king. The prosecutor wants X, he gets it. The prosecutor wants Y, he gets it. Trust me, I am still waiting on a phone call from a magistrate requesting my blessing for someone’s sentencing. And this is the way things happen. If you are charged with a felony, there is a boatload of paperwork and formal procedure (and legal mumbo-jumbo). But, if you are charged with a misdemeanor, then you are in magistrate court, and things appear, disappear, reappear, and are modified, with not much more than the stroke of a pen or a phone call.  That’s just the way it works.

Observing from the ivory tower is one thing, but in reality, what could have been done differenlty by this prosecutor and this magistrate? About the only thing the prosecutor could have done differently is make sure that the victims were given the opportunity to speak at the sentencing. But then again, that is almost never done in misdemeanor cases.  He could not have recommended or argued for anything more than 2 days.

The magistrate could have reviewed the presentence investigation report (“psir”) prior to the sentencing, and could have scheduled the hearing for a date when the victims and their families could have been there to speak. But in reality, if a psir was prepared, the guy was most likely petitioning for probation, in which case the sentencing should have been in circuit court, where psir’s are regularly prepared and reviewed. Furthermore, this also almost never actually happens in these misdemeanor cases.  Even with felonies in circuit court, this is mostly a formality. The biggest thing of substance that she could have done is to give the guy a larger sentence. How about some real jail time? How about a year in jail? 6 months? How about 30 days of real, actual, jail time? He would have deserved it. But it would have been extremely unusual for a magistrate to stray that far from the recommendations of the prosecutor.  In fact, she already exceeded the prosecutor’s recommendation fourfold….

So if justice was not served in this situation, the Register-Herald can point their finger at the former prosecutor.  But there is no sense in doing that, because he already lost his job, and that probably was partially due to this case.  And nothing positive is served by rubbing salt in his wounds.

Despite the “slap on the wrist,”  Mr. Watson suffered a punishment that is rarely given in misdemeanor offenses: major coverage and castigation in a prominent regional newspaper.  Henceforth, any time someone googles his name, these articles will come up.  It will be difficult for him to ever get past this time in his life…  I don’t know about you, but I would rather do a stint in jail than have your darkest hours broadcasted to the surrounding 5 counties, to live in perpetual existence on the internet.

You can read the full editorial here.

– John H. Bryan, West Virginia Attorney.

Charleston Taco Bell Shooting Will Reverberate Around West Virginia

The Charleston Taco Bell shooting last Saturday, which is detailed in the Charleston Daily Mail here, is not one that will likely fade from memory. The perpetrator of this crime, Desmond Clark, gives new meaning to the term “bad apple,” and he has indeed just about ruined the probation system and the domestic violence petition system – for everyone.

I was talking to a former prosecutor and legislator the other day who was up-in-arms about this. Defense attorneys now are going to have an extremely hard time getting probation for their clients, especially in those domestic-related cases, which oftentimes are the same cases that subside on the flimsiest of evidence.

And for those of us who practice divorce and family law, the times just got tougher. What magistrate is going to deny a protective order in any situation now? This legislator joked that in just about every ugly divorce he has seen, there are skid marks from the marital home to the magistrate court, where the first spouse there takes out a domestic violence petition against the other. Then, what family law judge is going to release or dismiss the protective order, despite the sufficiency of the evidence? The end result is that the loser of the race to magistrate court ends up getting ousted from their house/belongings/children until the divorce is finalized.

So, the legislature has realized this system of domestic violence petitions is broken and largely abused. But, what can they do about it? For every 999 times this system is abused and misused, there is some legitimate victim out there like this poor woman who was murdered in the Taco Bell. But then again, she had a protective order in effect at the time she was murdered, and it didn’t help her very much.

– John H. Bryan, West Virginia Attorney.

More Justice in Magistrate Court…

Although I stated in a previous post/rant about magistrate court in West Virginia that I do everything in my power to prevent having a bench trial in magistrate court (rather than a jury trial), I was forced yesterday to try a case in magistrate court.

The reason I was forced was this: my client initially requested a jury trial, but the court was dragging it’s feet in scheduling one and she wanted to get the matter over with. Against my advice she requested a bench trial instead. The good news was that most of the State’s witnesses did not show up, so I got two of the three charges dismissed. The bad news was that the officer could still testify to one charge. So we went for it.

We didn’t even get through the first witness’ testimony. The prosecutor objected to one of my questions on cross examination. As he was arguing his objection, the magistrate made the final ruling in the case. I was shocked. I hadn’t even had the opportunity to finish my cross examination, or the opportunity to call any witnesses, or the opportunity to have a closing statement, or the opportunity to discuss the case law. I think the prosecutor was dumbfounded as well.

Moral of the story? Request a jury trial. Unless of course, you want to be convicted.

– John H. Bryan, West Virginia Attorney.

Probable Cause Found in Bluefield Shooting Case – Preliminary Hearings Basically Meaningless in West Virginia

From the Bluefield Daily Telegraph today:

Mario Goodson, 18, appeared Monday for a preliminary hearing before Magistrate Rick Fowler. Fowler found probable cause in Goodson’s case and bound him over to the Mercer County Grand Jury.

Both Goodson and Kenneth Dwayne Eaves, 19, of Bluefield are facing charges of conspiracy and first-degree murder in the Dec. 14, 2007 death of 28-year-old William Jerome Flack of Bluefield. Detective L.B. Murphy of the Mercer County Sheriff’s Department testified Feb. 8 that witnesses allegedly heard Eaves order a second person, Goodson, to shoot Flack.

Wow, that is a big surprise. Many West Virginians do not realize that if they are arrested on a felony, they are entitled to a preliminary hearing in front of a supposedly neutral magistrate to establish whether the police have probable cause to hold you in jail (or on bond) for the charges. They also don’t realize that this process is for the most part a farce, a formality. Preliminary hearings in West Virginia are a joke. The magistrates for the most part are not lawyers and have no legal training on what is and what is not probable cause. They, for the most part, have no idea what is and what is not admissible under the West Virginia Rules of Evidence (of course, there are exceptions).

The West Virginia Rules of Criminal Procedure allow for “relaxed hearsay” in preliminary hearings. This means that the investigating officer can come in and testify to some hearsay if there is a substantial basis for believing that (1) the source of the hearsay is credible; (2) there is a factual basis for the information furnished; and (3) it would impose an unreasonable burden on one of the parties or on a witness to require that the primary source of the evidence be produced at the hearing. Therein lies the problem. Many magistrates will just allow the investigating officer to come in and testify to anything and everything they were told throughout their investigation. Then, the magistrate will say, “well, probable cause is a very low burden, and they have met the burden… I find there is probable cause.”

For instance, I had a client who was charged with a absolutely ludicrous felony charge in Greenbrier County. His preliminary hearing was held by a magistrate in Greenbrier County. The State subpoenaed three witnesses: the investigating officer, and two very disreputable convicted felons whom had been caught red-handed and pointed the finger at my client to try and get a plea deal. They appeared and were waiting in the waiting room as the hearing began. The State called the officer first, and he proceeded to testify to almost entirely hearsay testimony – basically everything the other two idiots in the waiting room would have testified to. I objected to hearsay, reciting the above relaxed hearsay rule, but the magistrate basically said that all hearsay is allowed in preliminary hearings. Thus, the magistrate allowed the hearsay testimony despite the fact that the two idiots were in the next room, so the primary source of the evidence could have testified. Furthermore, they were extremely incredible. One of them was notorious in the county for being a career criminal, having spider web tattoos all the way up his neck. The lying officer however, grinned and testified that he thought the man was credible. I later told this to the Prosecuting Attorney, and he laughed and joked that everyone knew that this was the most incredible man in the county, perhaps the state.

As it turns out, when it came my turn to call witnesses, I obviously tried to call the two idiots in the waiting room, so that my client would at least have the opportunity to confront his witnesses. Believe it or not, the assistant prosecutor, on his first week of the job, objected on the grounds that they may be charging one of them with a crime and one may testify against the other, and that therefore there was a “use immunity issue.” I responded that it was irrelevant, and was the prosecutor’s problem and had no bearing on the hearing. The magistrate however, got really, really worried that she was going to make someone mad in the prosecutor’s office and decided not to allow me to call any of the witnesses that had been subpoenaed to the hearing and were waiting in the next room. Then, that was it: she found probable cause and we were not allowed to call any witnesses. This was an absolute disgrace to our criminal justice system. Imagine if it were your son or daughter that was treated like this.

Fortunately this client was able to make bail, as his case was never even brought to the grand jury. If it were some poor sap who didn’t have any money, he would still be sitting in jail thanks to this meaningless system of magistrates conducting preliminary hearings.

By the way, these same non-lawyer judges are the ones who make decisions on whether or not the police have probable cause to be issued warrants to search your home – or to arrest you. Yes, it’s very scary and very unjust.

Read the full article here.

– John H. Bryan, West Virginia Attorney.