I would never think of asking for anything that's less than fair and reasonable, and judges are often receptive to suggestions that might alleviate congestion in their overcrowded dockets.
She points to her watch and says, "You have two minutes."
It's more than I thought she'd give me. "As I said, this case is about a chicken."
She mimics a basketball referee by holding up her hands in the shape of the letter T. "Time out," she says. "Your client is charged with assault with a deadly weapon."
"Yes, he is, Your Honor, but there are mitigating circumstances."
"There are always mitigating circumstances when you appear in this courtroom." She turns to Andy Erickson for help. "What's this all about?"
Perfect. I've done nothing other than to question the charges, and now she's making poor Andy explain it. It's time for me to shut up and let him tell his story.
I can see beads of sweat on his forehead, and I'll bet his armpits are soaked under his new suit. He studies his notes and then looks up at the judge. To his credit, his tone is professional when he says, "The defendant attacked Mr. Edward Harper, who was seriously injured."
Not so fast. "It was an accident," I insist. "Mr. Harper had a couple of scratches."
The judge exhales loudly and asks me, "Where does a chicken fit into this?"
Here goes. "My client purchased a fully cooked roasted chicken at his local supermarket." My tone suggests he wandered into the upscale Safeway in the Marina District. In reality, Terrence patronized a deli on the blighted Sixth Street skid row just north of here. "Then he stopped at a nearby liquor store to purchase a beverage." King Cobra is popular on Sixth Street because it's cheaper than Budweiser and comes in a larger bottle. "He inadvertently left the chicken on the counter at the liquor store." Actually, he was in such a hurry to crack open his King Cobra that he forgot all about the chicken. "He realized his mistake and returned a few minutes later, where he found Mr. Harper walking out of the store with his dinner. He politely asked him to return it." Politeness is in the ears of the beholder. Terrence bears an uncanny resemblance to Shaquille O'Neal and outweighs Harper by more than a hundred pounds. They live in the same dilapidated residential hotel and have had several run-ins. Terrence probably told him to give back the chicken or he'd beat the hell out of him. "Mr. Harper refused and a discussion ensued, followed by some inadvertent shoving." In the world of criminal defense attorneys, shouting matches are always characterized as discussions and shoving always happens inadvertently.
Erickson finally stops me. "The defendant hit Mr. Harper intentionally," he says. "He attempted to inflict great bodily injury."
It's a legitimate legal point. The Penal Code says you're guilty of a felony if you assault someone with a deadly weapon or by means of any force that's likely to produce great bodily harm. In the absence of a gun or a knife, prosecutors usually argue the latter. Theoretically, you can be convicted of hitting somebody with a Nerf ball if the DA can show your action was likely to result in a serious injury.
I invoke a time-honored legal tactic used by defense attorneys and second-graders: blame the other guy. "Your Honor," I say, "Mr. Harper started it by stealing Mr. Love's chicken. My client had no intention of injuring him. Mr. Love simply asked him to return his dinner. When he refused, Mr. Love had no other choice but to attempt to take it from him, resulting in an inadvertent struggle." I'm laying it on a little thick when I add, "My client didn't press charges against Mr. Harper for stealing his chicken. Mr. Love also suffered a gash on his head."
It was a scratch, and it's unclear whether Harper inflicted the less-than-life-threatening wound. For all I know, Terrence could have nicked himself while shaving his bald dome.
From Final Verdict by Sheldon Siegel, copyright © 2003 Sheldon Siegel, published by G.P. Putnam's Sons, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., all rights reserved, reprinted with permission from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
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Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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