How will we explain this to the chief?

bank robberyWe once had a case of a bank robbery case in Audrain County where the bank robbers got away clean, except that some guy in the parking lot nearby saw them drive off and copied down their license number. That ID got them caught a short time later. Not that unusual, right?  Not until we noticed that the same thing had happened more than twenty years before in the same town. Same bank. Same witness.

I wonder if he was around when this video was made?

That was one angle of the scene. Here is another.

“Go Raccoons!” The case of the illegal mascot.

Perhaps I complain too much about the criminalization of trivial offenses. Sometimes the law is questionable. Other times the police and prosecutor get over-zealous.

One of the kinds of cases I came to dislike as a prosecutor were those dealing with animals. This is one of those areas where people get very upset, often out of proportion to the actual harm done.

A man may forgive you for kicking him, but he will never forgive you for kicking his dog.

Cases involving animals are often brought by in conservation agents. And that brings me to another kind of case I learned to dislike.

Conservation agents are mostly nice guys who belong to what you might call a “niche area” of law enforcement. Real cops deal with everything from traffic tickets to murder and usually are able to put things in perspective. But niche cops–that is, conservation agents, meter maids, dogcatchers, liquor inspectors, and the like—sometimes lack the larger view that enables them to view small cases as . . . small.

When I was a new prosecutor I was given a case about a fellow who had been caught possessing an illegal raccoon. My boss said it would need to be tried and that it would be good practice for me. I read all of these reports and met with the conservation agent, who was very interested in the public chastening of this particular lawbreaker.

The defendant was apparently unrepentant and refused to accept that he was a criminal who deserved to be punished (in this case by up to one year in jail).

So I went into court and masterfully laid out my case for the judge. The conservation agent was serious and professional; the evidence was ironclad, proving beyond all doubt that this stubborn lawbreaker had defiantly possessed an illegal raccoon and had been caught red-handed.

Then the defendant took the stand. The fool admitted everything! He explained how he had discovered this weakened & starving baby raccoon alone in his garbage can on a cold winter night. He took it in. Fed it. Raised it.

His children turned it into a family pet.

All of this in blatent violation of the law, § 252.040, RSMO.

And if that is not shocking enough, when summer came, the animal was pressed into service as mascot for the defendant’s softball team. He claimed that the raccoon was a big hit in his little uniform and tiny cap.

I gave an eloquent closing argument, exposing the defendant’s contempt for the law and heartless exploitation of this motherless creature. I suggested that the court make an example of him.

The judge found him guilty and sentenced him to a $5.00 fine. The example, apparently, was for me.

Why I don’t do divorces

I’m a criminal defense lawyer. I don’t do family law. I’ll be glad to refer someone to a good lawyer who can handle a divorce or custody/child support case, but I don’t do them myself.

When I started in practice everybody told me: “You have to do family law. Or else give up a lot of business when you need it most.” The funny thing was that the same people who told me I should practice family law would quickly admit that all their biggest headaches flow from family law practice.


If I walk by another lawyer’s door and overhear angry words, it’s probably a family law case.

I am sure there must be a study out there proving that 87% of lawyer swearing is caused by family law.

Family law mostly involves unhappiness and trouble of some kind.

Yeah, OK. OK. Adoptions are happy.

The irony is that as a criminal lawyer, my clients have just as much (or more) reason to be unhappy, troubled (and troublesome), but mostly they are not. People accused of a crime tend to retain a remarkable degree of common sense when it comes their case.

Perhaps the prospect of a prison sentence focuses the mind.

They understand that only certain issues are important and that they will not be able to avenge a lifetime of complaints in one case.

When I was a new prosecutor, I expected that defendants–seeing me as their adversary– would really hate me, but most of them seemed to understand that I was just doing my job. I appreciated that. I still do.

But there is just something about divorce/custody cases that turns normally nice, reasonable couples into a couple of lunatics. Mostly, I think it’s the kids.

Like I said, I know some highly-skilled divorce lawyers. A tip of my criminal lawyer hat to them. They perform a particular, necessary service, so I don’t have to.