Patterico's Pontifications

1/12/2009

Defendant Delays Trial, Complains About Delay

Filed under: Crime,General — Patterico @ 7:09 am



Here is a case that’s headed for reversal:

After he was charged with hitting his girlfriend in the face, career criminal Michael Brillon sat in jail without bail for nearly three years, going through six public defenders before being tried for assault.

The delays paid off – for Brillon: A Vermont court threw out his conviction and freed him from prison last spring, saying his Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial had been violated.

The case is headed to the Supreme Court this week.

The defendant argues that it’s the government’s fault it took him so long to get to trial. But let’s look at what happened to his lawyers:

Held without bail, his case inched along as lawyer after lawyer asked for postponements and eventually withdrew or was replaced at Brillon’s request.

The first got an evidentiary hearing postponed because he was moving his law practice. He was fired by Brillon, who claimed the lawyer had failed to communicate with him.

The second reported a conflict of interest that prevented him from continuing – a day after he’d been appointed.

The third quit after telling a judge Brillon threatened his life during a break in a hearing.

Brillon fired the fourth, and the fifth quit, citing changes to his contract with the state public defender’s office.

The sixth took the case to trial in 2004, when Brillon was convicted and sentenced to 12 to 20 years in prison because he was a habitual offender with three prior felony convictions.

So in other words, the defendant caused much of this delay. He fired two of these lawyers and threatened a third. Another quit due to an unspecified conflict of interest — sorry, sir, but we need to know what that is. Was it a conflict caused by your threatening another lawyer?

This is like those cases where a defendant appeals his death verdict to the hilt, and then appeals on cruel and unusual punishment grounds because his appeal took too long. That ridiculous argument has found adherents among the mushy-headed liberals at the Supreme Court, and I don’t know why this one would be any different.

Still, I think the makeup of the court is sane enough that I have little doubt this will be reversed.

19 Responses to “Defendant Delays Trial, Complains About Delay”

  1. Is there something in the maple syrup in Vermont that makes everyone there a friggin retard? I used to think Bill O’Reilly blotovating about the Vermont criminal justice system was just O’Reilly blotovating, but the big Mick may be right.

    Joe (17aeff)

  2. if defence lawyers can drag a case on for more than five years, hanging is commuted to life imprisonment on humanitarian grounds because the murderer is deemed to have suffered enough while waiting on Death Row.

    If liberal judges want to block something, they will block it, the law be damned.

    Daryl Herbert (b65640)

  3. This reminds me of an old joke about a teenager who kills his parents then begs the court’s mercy because he’s an orphan.

    Steverino (69d941)

  4. His argument is the definition of “chutzpah.”

    aunursa (1b5bad)

  5. Another example of chutzpah — and I realize this is a tangent — is same-sex marriage proponents demanding last May that the CA supreme court decision be implemented immediately rather than a 4-month delay for the outcome of the election … and then after Prop 8 passed, declaring it unconstitutional because it takes away the very right they refused to delay in the first place.

    aunursa (1b5bad)

  6. Does Vermont Neighbor comment here any longer? It would be interesting to get VN’s take on this.

    When I lived in Massachusetts we used to say that Vermont was the the refuge for those Cambridge rich white liberals who secretly hate the ethnic working class and were worried that someone named McGrady or DiNardo would get elected to Congress from their district.

    JVW (bff0a4)

  7. Patterico,

    Your analysis of the facts appears to be wrong from the fourth lawyer on.

    See http://www.law.com/jsp/nlj/PubArticleNLJ.jsp?id=1202427338910.

    What actually happened here is that lawyers 1 and 3 were gotten rid of by the accused–those are clearly his issues and the Vermont Supreme Court did not count those delays. The second almost instantly withdrew after discovering a conflict. It was what happened after that, from 7/2002 to 8/2003 that is the grounds of the Vermont Supreme Court’s ire, and those delays were due to the fourth and fifth lawyers quitting public defense work because it paid too little. Indeed, the accused did not file his motion until May of 2003, after lawyers four and five had quit because Vermont did not pay enough.

    So there is a real question here from 7/2002 to 8/2003, which was the gap between lawyer three departing and lawyer six starting. The question is whether those delays are enough, in the context of a defendant who was extremely difficult to represent, to give him a get out of jail card.

    This will be a very interesting decision. I think you are right that it will be reversed on its facts because the accused had created the delays from 8/2001 to 6/2002 of ten months, so the state’s delay of thirteen months probably does not, in context, look so unreasonable.

    Cyrus Sanai (4df861)

  8. “It was what happened after that, from 7/2002 to 8/2003 that is the grounds of the Vermont Supreme Court’s ire, and those delays were due to the fourth and fifth lawyers quitting public defense work because it paid too little. Indeed, the accused did not file his motion until May of 2003, after lawyers four and five had quit because Vermont did not pay enough.”

    So even if an attorney in Vermont has filed an appearance, he can just quit the case without getting the court’s leave to withdraw?

    Federal Dog (9f7406)

  9. Cyrus,

    Even according to the facts you provided, you’re wrong to say: “Your analysis of the facts appears to be wrong from the fourth lawyer on.” I made no claim about the fifth lawyer (or indeed any lawyer after the fourth) that is inconsistent with the information you provided.

    If your information is correct, there’s a discrepancy between the report you linked and the one I linked regarding the reason for the disappearance of the fourth lawyer.

    What I reported is just what’s in the linked article. If another news sources says something different, then so be it; we should get the opinion itself if there are discrepancies to be resolved.

    I can’t read your link, however, as it requires a login for which I have no permission.

    Patterico (e96972)

  10. JVW,

    I have a vague recollection that the “Vermont” in “Vermont Neighbor” is the L.A. street and not the U.S. state. I could be misremembering, though.

    Patterico (e96972)

  11. Patterico, you are correct.

    daleyrocks (5d22c0)

  12. Aw drag. We’re going to have to start an outreach program to attract readers from the Green Mountain State. Maybe someone needs to do a post debating the merits of syrup from different maple trees. Or universal health care. Whatever works.

    JVW (bff0a4)

  13. Do you want to stir up some Vermonters JVW? Start saying that New York State has the best cheddar and that you prefer your maple syrup from Quebec (or God forbid New York or Massachusetts). Say that you like Vermont, but that New Hampshire is just better in everyway. That should fire them up.

    Joe (dcebbd)

  14. Joe, Vermont is just the southern suburbs of Quebec.

    SPQR (72771e)

  15. “…southern suburbs of Quebec.”

    Does that make them rednecks?

    AD (17695a)

  16. Heh! Why pick on poor Vermont? Illinois has a speedy trial statute of 120 days for defendants in custody and 160 days for those out on bail. It begins to run the minute the defendant makes a trial demand for charged offenses, and the minute the indictment or information is issued for any offenses arising from the same transaction but are not, for some reason, charged.

    nk (2a3e35)

  17. Whatever happened to the concepts of guilt and a just punishment. Sheesh…leave it to lawyers to make hamburger out of filet migon.

    torabora (6b79a6)

  18. Brillon was in jail on a domestic violence charge, with no bond for three years before the actual trial, and has been presumably in prison since then serving the sentence. It’s possible he’s already close to his release date , and the court figured it didn’t matter much. It might also be the judge’s way of flagging attention to difficulties getting private attorneys to act as PDs in conflict of interest cases, similar to what’s going on in Florida.
    But as precedent it’s horrible, and not only should be but needs to be reversed. The way speedy trial operates around here, any sort of continuance by the defendant–even if it’s just for being sick with the flue–renders speedy trial moot. By that standard, Brillon would have lost his speedy trial motion as soon as lawyer 1 asked for a continuance.

    kishnevi (b56000)

  19. 9.

    Well, there is an apparent discrepancy. I say apparent because the National Law Journal article I looked at and cited had much more detail. I think the AP got it wrong.

    That being said, there may not be a big discrepancy. What’s interesting about this case is that the first delays were clearly not a product of any defect in the system, but the accused’s own shenanigans. The Vermont Supreme Court explicitly wrote that this period was not to be counted in measuring the problemtic delay.

    Then it appears he stopped playing games, as he was getting tired of the whole being in jail without chance of bail, but that the system was having funding problems. Of course, had the accused not caused problems with lawyers one and three, then he likely would not have had the problems with the subsequent lawyers.

    I think on a causality analysis, there will be a 6-3 or 7-2 vote to overturn. My guess, having thought it through, that by his actions with 1 and 3, the majority will say he was the but-for cause of the problems with 4 through 6. This will create a rule of absolute clean hands, and that’s probably the right rule. In a system like Vermont’s where private contractors take on these cases, who is going to want a client that threatens his lawyers? No one. That will automatically cause delays in finding new attorneys.

    So I think an unclean hands bar to such arguments will be the rule, and that is the right approach. While I think there will be sympathy for the issue of delays caused by funding problems, I don’t think this is the guy who is going to get any benefit from those sympathies. The Vermont Supreme Court picked the wrong case to take a stand on this point.

    Cyrus Sanai (4df861)


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