I was so surprised years ago when I started a private practice and learned quickly the way the prosecutor and defense attorney communicate about cases right out in the open in the hallway where everyone can listen and hear the private information about defendants and their families.
I went to a pretrial hearing in defense of a 10-year-old black boy who was charged with a felony (breaking and entering or something along those lines). I could still count the number of cases I had at that time. The boy was from Lansing, Michigan and had no prior criminal history. (You’re thinking of course, he was only ten, right?) He had been in the wrong place at the wrong time – with his older brother and his friends. The boys were invited over to a girl’s house when her parents were out. She had other girlfriends over and the group was doing what 13 and 14-year-old kids do. My client was seen in the driveway looking out down the street. He was checking to see if the parents were coming home as they were expected any minute. The boys left along with my 10-year-old defendant. Later, the boys allegedly went back, entered through a window and stole various items. The prosecutor argued that my client was really looking out because the other boys were breaking in to steal from the home, but this was untrue as per my client and the other defendants.
At the initial pretrial hearing, the prosecutor told me in the hallway, there would be no deals. I couldn’t believe it. I looked around thinking why in the hell are we discussing this out in the hallway; I can’t believe this is the way this is done. I was out-numbered though as the prosecutor was there with the police officer and a probation officer. So I continued on with our discussion right there out in the open. I told her, you have got to be kidding! He’s ten! Give him a break! You want a 10-year-old to plead to a felony? Are you crazy? She was adamant that there would be no deal. I was shocked. I said, and of course, everyone heard, “If this were a 10-year-old WHITE boy from Okemos, he would get a deal and you know it!” (Okemos is east of Lansing and is majority white educated.) The three looked at each other in awe. Come on, I said, this is prejudicial. I was made to earn my stripes, but ultimately, I was able to obtain a dismissal for that 10-year-old (but not until the morning of the first day of trial). In practicing in Ingham County and dealing with prosecutors at hearings in the 30TH Circuit, I always tried to keep matters private by finding a private place to discuss my cases with the prosecutors. I am still surprised that this is the way things are done in the 30TH Circuit. You wouldn’t think it would be this way, would you?