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William C. Altreuter
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Thursday, December 18, 2014

 Two years probation. When Lawrence and I first talked about his case I told him that the criminal justice system is a big, slow machine that only grinds one way. Mercifully, after six years his outcome has left him bruised and abraded, but not crushed or mangled. Make no mistake-- this is a big win. Nearly a hundred people in the courtroom-- it was packed. A big thing was that at the end, when Probation asked about installing monitoring equipment on his computer the judge said, No, that they could access his computer if only they had reasonable suspicion that his use of the computer violated his terms of probation. That's huge, I think-- it tells us that he got it, that he understood that whatever was on the hard drive was there through no fault of Lawrence's. I'll be elaborating on all of this in next week's edition of The Public, but one anecdote that I'll share here and not there is this: after the court adjourned and everyone filed out into the hall, one of the Marshals came up to me and asked if my coat was in the cloakroom. I'm no amateur-- I know to take off my outer things before I enter a federal courtroom, so of course it was, and my fedora, too. He walked me back to the cloakroom, and told me that people were going downstairs to the main lobby. "If it was me," he said, "I'd be going somewhere to have a party." It was a good insight from a guy who has seen a lot of sentencings, and in fact that's what we did. We went to Hallwalls and toasted the courage and endurance of Lawrence Brose.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Today Lawrence Brose will be sentenced. Here is my story for The Public about what has happened so far, and what we might expect.

Friday, December 12, 2014

In many ways I believe that the story of America is a story about the Law., and one of the concepts that underlies my Lawyers in Movies project is that we frequently misapprehend who the real heroes of the Law are.  Part of what distinguishes the Common Law tradition from other legal systems is that ours is a system that is based on narrative: "The life of the law has not been logic, but experience," says Holmes, and one thing that this means is that we learn what the law is by telling little parables about it. Poor Mrs. Palsgraf, or the embittered and litigious Mr. Marbury. Mr. Miranda, or the irresistibly impulsive Huey Newton, these people are characters in the stories that we tell about how the laws that our nation is supposedly a government of came about; perhaps blind to the irony that our government of laws, not men is composed of laws named after people. Dollree Mapp has just died, one of those people whose name we all know. Until I found this photo I had no idea what she looked like. Come to find out the Cleveland cops busted her the day after I was born-- something else I didn't know. Actually, there is a lot about Ms. Mapp I didn't know. All Mapp v. Ohio tells us is that her home was searched without a warrant, and the jurisprudence of Fourth Amendment Exclusionary rules extends to the states. I didn't know that she was engaged to Archie Moore, or that she was connected to Don King somehow. (The police came to her house on a tip, looking for someone who might have known something about an explosion at King's house. What the found was a trunk with what they claimed was obscene material inside.)  I get the sense that her life was not an easy one, but there she is, a person who gave her name to a legal principle that makes America a slightly better place. Is Dollree Mapp a hero of the American Legal Narrative? That's not how we are taught the story in law school. When we read Mapp v. Ohio what we take away is that Justice Tom Clark, who wrote the majority opinion,  and the Warren Court, which decided the case, 6-3, were the heroes, the men (because they were all men) who forged constitutional protections into our law of criminal procedure that keep the magistrates on the stoop outside unless certain niceties are observed. I like to think that the real hero might be A. L. Kearns, someone I know nothing about whatsoever, except this: he argued the case for Ms. Mapp. It's one thing to decide a case-- even if the decision is potentially controversial. It is another thing altogether to take the case in the first place, and to craft the argument that makes it possible for the bench to get it right. I will raise a glass this evening in memory of Dollree Mapp, but it's A.L. Kearns that we should remember. 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Sometimes I wonder just how many lies Americans can believe about themselves, and when I do I am never happy with the answer I come up with. Frankly, the Senate's report about CIA torture is not even the worst of it-- it sounds to me as though the Senate Intelligence Committee is scapegoating the Agency in order to give both Congress and the White House a little room. And another thing: for whom exactly is all this news? The United States tortured people-- I've know that for years. Torture did not yield useful information-- well, of course it didn't. Torture has detrimentally affected the perception of the United States abroad.   The perception! Godddamnit, the United States is a country with a policy of torture. That's not a perception, that's a reality. That's a reality just like the reality of our criminal justice system being so caught up in its own wonderfulness that it can't see the institutional racism which has compromised it since Reconstruction.

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Bobby Keyes and Ian McLagan in one week. Man, that's rough.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Dylan's closing song lately has been "Stay With Me" a Frank Sinatra obscurity written by Jerome Moss and Carolyn Leigh. (It is on Sinatra 65, a Sinatra side that is unfamiliar to me, but which comes from the period when he could sing the phonebook. It's got "My Kind of Town" on it, and "Luck Be A Lady", which establishes once again that Guys and Dolls was oddly cast.) Full Moon and Empty Arms, now this. As Louis Armstrong said, "Man, all music is folk music. You ain’t never heard no horse sing a song, have you?" As a faithful listener to Bob's radio show it is no surprise that he thinks that way, and after Christmas in the Heart can anyone be surprised by anything he puts out? In 1965 Dylan released Bringing It All Back Home and Highway 61 Revisited, indisputably two of the most important albums in American music, and certainly more significant than Sinatra 65, but all of these sides can be listened to today with pleasure, and why not hear what Bob hears in his head when he thinks of these songs? If he'd released a collection of Sinatra songs instead of Self Portrait, wouldn't that have been amazing?


Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Naturally I have been thinking about the grand jury's failure to issue a true bill in the Darren Wilson case. I’ve never done any grand jury work, but as a trial lawyer I know this: a good way to lose a case is to over-try it. Three months is a long time for a panel to consider the question of whether probable cause to believe a crime was committed exists. My former prosecutor friends tell me that one develops a relationship with a panel, and it is pretty easy to read their intentions. This could have gone in quick and easy, but instead it went in long and hard– and now the DA’s office has an anonymous Grand Jury to stand behind. The smart play would have been to go for jury nullification at trial, but nobody said they were looking for smart.

Paul Campos notes that there are some peculiar aspects of Missouri law at work here:
The relevant law here consisted of Missouri’s statute regulating the use of deadly force by police officers, as modified by Supreme Court decisions that put limits on how much freedom states can give police to use such force. On its face, Missouri law still follows the old common law rule that it’s lawful to shoot and kill a fleeing suspected felon, even if the suspect doesn’t pose an immediate danger to the police or the public. That rule was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court nearly 30 years ago, but Missouri hasn’t yet revised its statutes to reflect this. Because of that Supreme Court ruling, the grand jury in this case was instructed that—under current Missouri law—Wilson could have legally shot and killed Brown only if Wilson “reasonably believed that [Brown] was attempting to escape by the use of a deadly weapon or would endanger life or inflict serious physical injury unless arrested without delay, and [Wilson] reasonably believed that the use of deadly force was immediately necessary to effect the arrest of the offender,” to quote the standard jury instruction used in the state.
And now a word from Bob Dylan:
In the courtroom of honor, the judge pounded his gavel
To show that all’s equal and that the courts are on the level
And that the strings in the books ain’t pulled and persuaded
And that even the nobles get properly handled
Once that the cops have chased after and caught ’em
And that the ladder of law has no top and no bottom
It's all done in our name you know

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