The legal system– justice– is built on the twin pillars of precedent and procedure.
This is why attorneys look to ‘preserve the record’ by filing various motions, even when they know they will likely be ruled against in the current trial. They are preserving points on the record that may in fact be incredibly important in any appeals that may be filed.
Procedure and Precedent.
The procedure part can often be frustrating for everyone involved, but the truth is, what you say in court proceedings is only as relevant as how–and when– you say it.
Court scheduling can often be a source of frustration for client and attorney alike. The courts in various counties throughout the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania do not all operate on the same schedule, and the procedures can vary from county to county.
Courts schedule hearings without reference to each other, or attorney schedules, and they certainly don’t recognize the convenience of the accused. This is why there are often delays, motions for a continuance, etc.
This can be very frustrating for someone with a court date hanging over their heads. We hear it again and again: “I just want to get it over with.”
The wheels of justice often turn slow, but that is far better than hastily running over the innocent in the name of efficiency.
Of course there are always extenuating circumstances that the court will recognize– a death in the family, severe illness, scheduling conflicts for the defense or prosecution– and the courts are usually pretty accommodating with a reasonable excuse.
Recently, I was scheduled to appear in court at 9:00 am and later that day in a different court at 1:30 pm. Normally, that would not be an issue, but on this day, morning court was running way behind schedule, and it became obvious I would not be able to make my 1:30 appearance. This is where good relations with various courts can be a big help. The Judge in my early case had his clerk contact the Judge in the afternoon case to resolve the issue successfully (much appreciated, btw).
However, this left my client in the second hearing in the unhappy position of having to appear on a later date.
At times like that, I feel awful knowing my client is frustrated, but it was truly a situation completely out of my control. The courts reign supreme when it comes to scheduling. In this instance, the early case was time sensitive. Our backs were against the wall, therefor the afternoon case would have been delayed regardless.
“The Cop Didn’t Show”.
Television shows have absolutely no bearing on the reality of the legal process. On TV, if the arresting officer doesn’t show up for court, the accused goes free. Not so in real life. (The same is true of, “They didn’t read me my rights”.)
Judges are extremely reluctant to rule against police officers in general, and an officer who calls in sick on court day is hardly thwarting justice. The presumption of the court is the officer is too ill to come to work. Period. They are extremely unlikely to throw out the charges, at least on the first occurrence. A subsequent failure to appear is a different matter. The Judge has a responsibility to maintain a fair process for the accused, and a second incident undermines the authority of the court to do that.
This is one of those times when a good attorney makes ‘procedure’ work in their client’s favor, citing for example an individual’s right to a speedy trial and moving to dismiss the charges.
Asset seizure and forfeiture is probably the single most frustrating part of a criminal investigation for everyone involved.
Authorities have the right to seize assets even without a guilty verdict. In cases involving illegal gambling, drug dealing, etc., the authorities will freeze bank accounts and seize property that they deem was either used in the commission of a crime, or was purchased or obtained as a result of criminal activity. Cars, boats, computers and of course cash can be seized with little or no recourse for the accused.
Even in the event of a Not Guilty verdict, the procedures for getting property back are extremely limited in scope and are often not worth the effort and cost. For example, a seized car was stored by the authorities for a year, and they charge storage fees that are often so high, it’s cheaper to just buy a new car.
This is an area that needs some reform. The authorities should bear the cost of storing a vehicle when the verdict is Not Guilty. An innocent person should not be penalized any more than the trauma of facing criminal charges and the costs of defending themselves.
These are just some instances of the preceedural part of the court system and are examples of why an experienced attorney who maintains good relations with the court system can be invaluable to someone facing criminal charges.
PKN Law pride ourselves on our knowledge of the court system from both sides of the aisle, as well as our good working relationships with court staff from counties across the Commonwealth.