Friday, January 15, 2016

How Can You Represent That Man?


This is how.  

In a recent jury trial, I am sitting by my client Joe Smith (all names in this post are fictitious), in a room full of strangers, including potential jurors. Above us all, between the American and Colorado flags, sits Judge Thompson, in a nondescript black robe that nonetheless conveys ultimate authority in the courtroom. Two plainclothes deputies sit behind us, ready to spring into action should Joe attempt to escape or should someone attack him.

It begins.

“My name is Judge Thompson. The matter before you today is a criminal case. The defendant, Joe Smith, is charged with two counts of sexual assault on a child.” They hate us, now, I think, for interrupting their daily routines for this despised crime.

 She continues, "The defendant has pleaded not guilty."

I feel very alone as I look for reactions to the charges. I generally enjoy my alone moments, but not this one. Make sure you are sitting close to Joe, I tell myself. Don’t recoil at the charges in the jury’s presence. 

Life in prison for sexual assault on a child.

Few crimes are more heinous than sexually assaulting a child. Coloradans so fear sexual predators that our law allows us to send convicted offenders to prison for the rest of their natural lives. Very few ever get out on parole.

As Judge Thompson continues, I tell myself, They all think he’s guilty, even though I haven’t said a word in his defense yet.  I know what’s coming from the prosecutor, too. She will paint my client as a vicious animal, the creator of a cruel and violent household environment, to maintain power and control over the alleged victim and her mother – Joe’s live-in. I look over the potential jurors, thinking, They don’t even want to hear the evidence or render a verdict: “Just sentence the b_______ and let us go home!" 

“Frontier justice: hang ‘em high!” 

One of them confirms my thoughts. He volunteers to the judge: “Those people ought to be strung up by the testicles (not his word) and shot." Keep a poker face, I remind myself, hoping Joe is doing the same. The judge excuses the man from further service in this case. Other potential jurors simply say that they cannot pass judgment in such a case.

I want to clear a pathway for the jurors, if warranted by the evidence, to a not-guilty verdict, regardless of their personal biases. For this, the jurors must recognize that our constitutional rights are paramount.

“These are very difficult charges for most people,” I say, when it’s my turn to speak, three hours after the trial starts. “This is not shoplifting a comb. It’s a horrible crime.” 

Mr. Jones provides an opening.

I look at Mr. Jones, a potential juror, recently retired from the Navy after nearly 25 years, a coach of youngsters in three sports, a family man who plans teaching as a second career. All my training and experience is screaming, DO NOT PICK MR. JONES!  as his military career predisposes him toward the government, and his second career shows he is committed to the well-being of children. 

            “Mr. Jones, have you been in battle?”
            “Yes,” he answers.
            “Did you take an oath when joining the Navy?”
            “What was that oath?”
            “I solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic,” he answers.
            “Mr. Jones, do you believe in the presumption of innocence."
            "Yes," he replies.       
            "It is essential to our freedom."
            I then ask, "Is it one of those rights you swore to uphold when you joined up?"
            "One of those principles you defended on the battlefield?"

A pathway to justice.

The pathway has appeared. Now the rest of the potential jurors know that among them is a man who has put his life on the line to defend basic civil rights at stake in this trial. I now want to keep Mr. Jones on this jury. The risk is, he might view Joe as a threat to society. But I trust my instincts, and keep him on.

The verdict.

By the end of the trial, I am not the only one willing to speak for Joe. The jury, with their foreperson Mr. Jones, find Joe not guilty of both sexual assault charges, although, guilty of other, less serious, non-sex related crimes toward the child's mother. This was, of course, a huge victory for Joe, who had maintained his innocence of the sex charges from the beginning.

Why I can represent that man.

If we attorneys will not use our legal skills, education and experience to speak up for those who need a voice, then who will? Like many lawyers, I speak up for others, even the guilty (although they’re innocent unless proven guilty, in our country), and take on unpopular causes, when no one else will. By doing so I pay tribute to the lives, fortunes and sacred honor that our nation’s founders - and countless others since – have pledged for the defense of fundamental American liberties. 

For me, as an American lawyer, Joe's trial was another opportunity to speak up for someone’s life, and a victory for civil liberty. Mr. Jones and my Dad did it in the military; and, now, I get to do it every day in the courtroom. And whenever I feel so alone at the defense table, this answers the question, “How can you represent that man?” 

Thursday, November 6, 2014

The Temporary Demise of ,"Stand Up, Speak Up for Your Rights, with Matt Martin"

My weekly radio talk show, "Stand Up, Speak Up for Your Rights, with Matt Martin," a self-described provocative, entertaining and useful talk radio show on the law is at a temporary end. The show was on I25 Talk Radio, 690 AM in Pueblo and 1490 AM in  Colorado Springs. The station underwent a change of ownership. The new ownership group immediately and without warning switched format of 690 AM from talk radio to oldies. 1490 AM, however, was not included in the deal.

I would like to take the show to internet radio, but I am going to take a break, and if the urge hits me, I will plan out every aspect of the show to the smallest detail. And, the existence of show, and the business entity inside of which the show is conceived, produced and distributed, will not be at the whim of anyone but me.

Stay tuned for news on the show, and for other blogs on legal topics.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Miss a little on "Stand Up Speak Up for Your Rights with Matt Martin," and you miss a lot.

I intend that my weekly talk radio show, "Stand Up, Speak Up for Your Rights, with Matt Martin," is a provocative, entertaining and useful talk radio show on the law. When you miss a little, you miss a lot. June 11, 2014, for example, we lampooned the RNC's statement to the press on the impact of legalized marijuana on the GOP's decision on whether Denver will play host to the 2016 Republication National Convention. The Pueblo Chieftain stated that the RNC Chair said "that logistics are more important than local marijuana laws. . . that he’s “not a big fan” of legal marijuana but that party officials aren’t considering it in their decision." On the show, I said one has to read between the lines as to what the RNC Chair really meant, and keep in mind that, despite legalization of marijuana use in Colorado, the GOP is STILL scouting out Denver as a possible site for the convention. 

Anyway, one possible interpretation when one reads between the lines: "We are not boycotting Colorado because of legal marijuana; in fact, we can’t wait to get there."

Another possible interpretation: "Legalized marijuana won’t affect our decision-making until we are actually in Colorado for the Convention and stoned out of our gourds."

Like I said, miss a little, and you miss a lot.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Federal marijuana laws are the supreme law of the land.

Do the feds have to obey state laws legalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana, such as those laws in Colorado and the state of Washington? The answer is no; the federal government can enforce its laws outlawing possession of marijuana at any time, but they have chosen not to do so in those states permitting the possession of small amounts of marijuana, as long as the “states and local governments that have enacted laws authorizing marijuana-related conduct . . . implement strong and effective regulatory and enforcement systems that . . . address the threat those state laws could pose to public safety, public health, and other law enforcement interests.” See the August 29, 2013 memorandum sent to all US Attorneys by the Department of Justice, and an accompanying press release from the  DOJ. 

Federal laws are the supreme law of the land “and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.” US Const. Art. VI, Cl 2. Further, the Constitution grants Congress the power to “regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes.” US Const. Art.I, § 8, Cl 3. The US Supreme Court, in Gonzales v. Raich, 545 U.S. 1 (U.S. 2005), was faced whether a seizure of six medicinal marijuana plants in California by local and federal agents was lawful. In Raich, the defendants’ growth and possession of six marijuana plants was legal under California’s medical marijuana law and illegal under the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA). The defendants claimed in a lawsuit against the US Attorney General and the head of the DEA that the seizure was unlawful under Commerce Clause, the DueProcess Clause of the Fifth Amendment, the Ninth and Tenth Amendments of the Constitution, and the doctrine of medical necessity. The US Supreme Court upheld the seizure, holding that “the CSA is a valid exercise of federal power,” Id., at 9 (U.S. 2005), “the regulation is squarely within Congress' commerce power because production of the commodity meant for home consumption . . . has a substantial effect on supply and demand in the national market for that commodity,” Id., at 19, and that this power “includes the power to prohibit commerce in a particular commodity.” Id., n. 29. 

Monday, May 13, 2013

Colorado Job Protection Civil Rights Enforcement Act of 2013 Signed Into Law!

Well, its about time. On May 6, 2013, Governor Hickenlooper signed into law the Colorado Job Protection Civil Rights Enforcement Act of 2013. This law, which is located at C.R.S. 24-34-405, remedies a woeful situation for employees who are victims of intentional discriminatory and unfair employment practices in Colorado companies with less than 15 employees. Here are the highlights:
  •  Federal law permits compensatory and punitive damages and attorneys fees and costs for victims of employment discrimination, but only for those employed in companies with 15 or more employees. Until now, there was no such protection for Colorado victims of intentional employment discrimination in companies with less than 15 employees. 
  • Not only will employees of Colorado companies with less than 15 employees who are victims of intentional discrimination  have the usual remedies of front pay, back pay, interest on back pay, reinstatement or hiring, and other equitable relief, but they now will also have available to them the remedies of compensatory and punitive damages and attorneys fees and costs (subject to the same limitations specified in the federal "Civil Rights Act of 1991"). 
  • And, this new Colorado law even ventures where the federal law does not by providing for compensatory and punitive damages and attorneys fees and costs for victims of employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation! 
  • This new Colorado law eliminates the prohibition of age discrimination claims by persons 70 years of age or older. 
  • Finally, these changes apply not just to court proceedings, but also to administrative proceedings in the Colorado Civil Rights Division.
This new law has limitations, of course. So, if you or someone you know are a victim of intentional discrimination in a company with less than 15 employees, please consult an attorney to discover your rights.

Colorado employees can be grateful for the efforts of the Colorado Trial Lawyers Association  in supporting this crucial legislation.