Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Crime News: Jose Baez Has A Tough Job as Defense Attorney for Casey Anthony

If you read People magazine at all, or watch CNN's Nancy Grace any day of the week, then you're aware of the "tot mom" case: young mother Casey Anthony has been charged with killing her 3-year-old daughter, Caylee Anthony, sometime this summer.

No body has been recovered, and the Anthony family maintains that the little girl is alive and well, having been taken by evildoers.

Heavy Media Coverage Turns to Jose Baez's Relationship with His Client

Media coverage has been heavy in this case; I've already posted about fair trial and due process concerns given the heavy media play (see 09/15/08).

On the web, the Websleuths site has dedicated an entire forum with numerous, active threads specifically dealing with the Caylee Anthony disappearance. The Websleuth forums have heavy traffic 24/7.

During the past week, however, the piercing eye of the press has turned away from Casey, the formal investigation, and the manned searches for Caylee's remains to Casey's defense attorney, Jose Baez. Web chatter has followed close behind.

It seems that Jose Baez hugged his client during two separate jailhouse visits, and jail officials have asked him to refrain.

There were early reports that the Florida Bar Association was investigating Jose's activity for purposes of formal disciplinary action - but the FBA has nixed those reports as untrue.

There have been many unsavory suggestions that Jose and his client have entered into a personal relationship - again, without factual support.

The Unmitigated Gall of Hugging Your Client

A hug might have been a big deal during Victorian times, just like showing the female ankle, but in our present culture, nothing could be more innocent than a hug. Friends hug. Grandmas hug. Colleagues hug. You hug your pet, you hug your pillow, you hug your doctor when he gives you good news and you hug your pastor on Sunday after a particularly touching sermon.

Of course, jail officials will point to past precedent of contraband being passed to prisoners during apparently innocent hugs -- sometimes, yes, by attorneys -- and that this is a legitimate reason for their request to Mr. Baez.

Jose's Defending a Client Who Has Already Been Found Guilty or Crazy By Many People

Jose Baez has the job of representing a woman who, before she has reached the age of 25, faces formal charges of murdering her only child - and possible execution for this crime, if convicted - as well as charges of assorted felony thefts that carry enough jail time that she'll be lucky to get out of jail before she is eligible for an AARP card.

Public opinion has pronounced her guilty, she's been labeled a monster by the masses and armchair psychologists have been busy diagnosing Jose's client as a sociopath, a psychopath, or someone suffering from Antisocial Personality Disorder, Histronic Personality Disorder, or Borderline Personality Disorder.

Jose's Defending a Client Who Hasn't Told the Truth and Has No Support System

In addition to the public arena, Jose has the job of defending a client who hasn't told the truth to authorities regarding the circumstances surrounding her daughter's disappearance (that's all in the recorded interviews and transcripts) and who has lost apparently all her friends, who assumedly feel betrayed by her lies to them. It's one of her former close friends, for example, that pressed the felony theft charges.

Jose's client has not had a visit from family or friends since she was returned to jail, based upon the murder indictment. According to media reports, Jose Baez is Casey Anthony's only visitor.

A Criminal Defense Attorney's Relationship with His Client

It's not the job of a criminal defense attorney to judge his client's guilt or innocence: that's the job of the factfinder, be it judge or jury. Doing so -- making the call on whether or not your client did the deed -- can sometimes hamper your work, in fact.

It is the job of a criminal defense attorney to make sure that a client's rights are protected, and that the prosecution truly proves its case beyond a reasonable doubt.

Defending the accused is an honorable and vital role in our criminal defense system. If you or a loved one are accused of committing a crime, you will want your attorney to defend you, not to judge you.

The Relationship Between Attorney and Client

Representing someone who has had their freedom taken away from them is a heady matter. It's a tremendous responsiblity to defend someone sitting in jail, much less someone facing a death sentence.

You need not be your client's friend in order to feel compassion and empathy with their plight -- and if you hug your client, it doesn't mean you are sleeping with her.

Representing Casey Anthony would be a tough job for the most experienced of criminal defense attorneys, much less one with the years of experience that Jose Baez has. This media exposure places him in the most glaring of lights -- every decision he makes is second-guessed (and often ridiculed) by media talking heads. Still, many of Jose's motions to the court have been granted, and he seems to be holding up well under all the pressure.

Make no mistake -- not only is Casey Anthony's life on the line here, so is Jose Baez's professional reputation. And Jose knows it.

The Paradine Case

Of course, it makes a better story the other way around ... and if you're interested in the plot of a criminal defense attorney falling in love with his client, check out Gregory Peck in Alfred Hitchcock's The Paradine Case. (And, yes - of course the client was guilty of poisoning her husband in the movie, would it be a Hitchcock movie otherwise?)

Monday, November 03, 2008

DA Watch: Legislator Promises Action to Fight Against DA's Wrongful Convictions

Well, it's good to know that someone's paying attention to the Dallas Morning News scoop on known wrongful convictions of innocent men and women by the DA here in Dallas besides a blogger or two (see this blog's October 13, 2008 post)....

State Senator Rodney Ellis Has A Plan for Laws to Fix the Eyewitness Identification Problem

State Senator Rodney Ellis (who represents District 13, covering parts of Harris and Fort Bend counties) actually wrote a column in the Dallas Morning News last month, where he promised to:

1. introduce legislation in 2009 to reduce the likelihood of an innocent person being convicted in the future with laws requiring that eyewitness identification procedures be based in science and implemented by trained law enforcement personnel;

2. introduce legislation in 2009 to pass a law that will require videotaping of custodial interrogations, arguing that this will not only stop false confessions but also false claims of police brutality as well as disclosing any deals made with informants for their testimony; and

3. introduce legislation to create an Integrity Commission within the Texas Legislature, if the Texas Criminal Justice Integrity Unit created within the Texas Judiciary (i.e., formed by Justice Barbara Hervey of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals) doesn't hit the ball out of the park in reform aimed at preventing the conviction of innocent people in this state.

What About Ellis' Proposals?

Rodney Ellis is known for advocating criminal justice reform, and he's been one of the first appointees to Justice Hervey's Integrity Unit. He's not new to the scene here, trying to grab a headline or two: this isn't Ellis's first rodeo.

And, writing a short column for the Dallas paper might not be the proper place for details on how Ellis intends to implement his ideas.

Nevertheless, an argument can be made that we already have trained law enforcement personnel that are supposed to use scientific techniques (proper lineups, not show-ups) and it's just not happening when zealots are anxious for a quick conviction.

Academics have shown that eyewitness testimony has historically resulted in more wrongful convictions than all other causes, combined (See source link, below). Good luck to Senator Ellis on finding the cure.

As for the videotaping of custodial interrogations? You don't have to watch many episodes of Law & Order to figure out that taping the formal interrogation isn't going to stop police brutality and false confessions. It's just going to move the bad stuff down the hall.


"Rodney Ellis: Lowering odds that innocents end up in prison," Dallas Morning News, October 21, 2008

Eyewitness Identification Procedures: Recommendations for Lineups and Photospreads, Law & Human Behavior Vol. 22, No. 6 (1998)

For More Information:

DA Watch: Dallas County Prosecutors Routinely Convicted Innocent Men Using Eyewitness Testimony Known to Be Faulty