Decades ago when I was a young, idealistic lawyer, I would handle just about any case that walked through the door with money. Really, I had no choice as I was assigned by senior management of the firm. As my practice built I did what most lawyers do and honed it down to the areas I enjoy most and for which I believe I am best suited.
I lopped off bankruptcies, and most business transactions went by the wayside. Both of these are too boring for me. I must require a larger-than average dosage of human drama, because I sure get a lot of it in family law.
One area that was drama-filled but also got cut from my list was criminal law. I just had trouble relating to the clients.
I recall being given the task of determining if we could help someone who claimed he was wrongfully convicted of first-degree murder because he had an unfair trial. I was sent to our state prison to interview him.
Facts of the Case: The victim had refused to pay client’s girlfriend for a trick she turned in the parking lot while on her break from bar waitressing. He said, the twenty dollars was not the issue: it was about honor (I won’t risk my PG rating to describe the service, but the customer was getting a deal at 20—it was worth more, much more; as in “ain’t enough money in the world…”). But, I digress. You just don’t fail to pay for sexual services-t’ain’t right, and he was not going to allow his girlfriend to be disrepected like that. Clearly, the guy had to die…
I was thrown by his statement that if we got him out, he was just moving to another state where the heat was not so great. Translated: he was not about to reform. He just wanted to lessen his future chances of being caught. Naively, I had expected stuff like, “I was framed…I didn’t do it” or “If I can get out and back with my family, I’ll straighten up…” Nope. No remorse, no promise of reform, just boasting and planning future illegal escapades. I recall thinking, “Why, on earth, would I want you out of prison?” Never fear, we could not do anything for him and, so far as I know, he’s still there. It was my last criminal case.
But as I watched the tornado warnings the other night, a small town north of here was displayed on the television screen, and it brought to my mind a criminal case I handled there when I had been out of law school a couple of years.
These four criminal geniuses were after prescription drugs. Where do you get such? Why, at the pharmacy, of course! How do you get them? Why, just wave a gun at the pharmacist, of course!
These Einsteins were not from this town; no, they had chosen it very carefully, driving through once to observe that this little pharmacy, with its soda fountain and collection of costume jewelry in the little rotating case, in this sleepy little town would be easy-pickin’s. As I interviewed my client in jail, it came to me that they had violated in every way what I imagine should be every criminal’s rule book. Here are just a few of the rules I think they broke:
RULE 1: Scout out your town carefully. They were right; this was a sleepy little town. The Interstate had missed it by four or five miles. What this means, of course, is that there is one good road running between it and the freeway. The rest of the routes out of town are twisty little country roads—state and county highways which are useless for quick get aways. The plan was to zip into town, rob the store, and zip out to the freeway and skeedaddle. Sound like a plan to you? Well, how ‘bout we factor in that the road between town and the interstate was under construction and down to one freakin’ lane with flagmen!!
I asked him this obvious question about facility of egress. He said, “Yeah, we noticed we had to stop for the flagman coming in. We figgered that the cops’d have to stop for ‘em, too, and we’d have a headstart ‘n’ all…” Right.
What happened, actually, is that traffic was backed up at exactly the time my guys had to leave (wouldn’t you just know!), which meant a couple circles around town square (at high speed) until the line died down, cops chasing merrily and cutting them off at the pass, as it were. They never made it back to the flagman.
RULE 2: Scout out your town VERY, VERY carefully. This looked like a sleepy little town, but it is actually the wild, wild west in disguise. The only shots that were fired in this episode were by bystanders. Instead of just cooperating, all the ladies in the pharmacy poured out the door, yelling “the drugstore is being robbed!!” When the townspeople on the street realized what was going on, they actually seemed delighted at this chance—guns materialized out of trunks, out of purses, and off the gun racks that were sported in the rear windows of pick up trucks. Bullets were whizzing everywhere, and none from the thugs! My guy had no bullets—he did not want anyone to get hurt.
RULE 3: Know your product. It is important to give specific directions when one is robbing another. These guys found out that yelling, “Give me drugs!” is not an efficient means to obtain them. Adrenalin must have been running, because my robber confessed that he could not recall the names of the drugs he was after on that day…it only added to the confusion of the scene, and he left empty-handed. Perhaps writing a few names on his palm would have helped.
RULE 4: Appropriate dress is always important. My client was the lone “gunman” in our gang of thieves. He exited the drugstore, sans controlled substances, and sprinted to the “getaway car” (actually a full-sized van, which also surely violates some getaway-car rule) which was located half a block (?) away. Remember those bullets? As they started flying, my boy lost his shoes. Yes, his shoes were left on the sidewalk, which meant they were available for brandishment at trial and that dough-head had to go to jail barefoot (yuck!). I’m just saying that wearing flipflops is not the thing to do in armed robbery.
There are many other things this gang did not think through: Why FOUR of you? Don’t you think streamlined might be better? Parallel parking can be a b—ch when you have to pull out into traffic quickly (‘specially in a big van). I could go on, but I think you see the IQ situation here.
You know, I may not condone it, but I understand the logic of fighting over custody and angling for the best financial settlement in divorce. I don’t get putting lots of effort into illegal activities when, if one expended the same amount of energy to legal purpose, he would be miles ahead.
After dealing with criminals like the above, and those caught red-handed with a bagful of change in the phone booth (“Officer, it was broken, I was trying to put the money back…”) and hearing, “I don’t know where the pot came from—it’s not mine!” and “I only had two beers!” (as the video shows him careening off the hallway walls on the way to booking) or “I wasn’t shoplifting, I was exchanging this yellow flashlight for a blue one”—I gave up. I just don’t get it—crime does not pay, but it may be largely because of the average IQ involved.
Give me messy divorces any day. C