Practicing Law in the Time of Covid; Criminal Defense in Southern California
Practicing law during Covid has been both good and bad for me. On the plus side, I haven’t been driving as much with advent of electronic appearances. This saves time, money and dry cleaning. But, kidding aside there have been some very good deals on the table under the guise of “Covid” offers and settlements. Additionally, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office has found itself dramatically understaffed for some time now.
What does this mean for my clients?
Clients can often take advantage of a lack of resources on the part of the District Attorney’s Office. This year had an offer on an attempted murder case downtown. The offer started at 12 years. Before setting the case for trial, my client was offered 3 years. Please understand, my client was charged with two counts of attempted murder, one count for each victim who was actually shot. He was also charged with two counts of Assault with a Deadly Weapon and Personal use of a firearm. He is facing life in prison.
He a much more modest case, I had a client who was charged with being a felon with a firearm. Before Covid, he was offered felony probation and 180 days in jail. After Covid hit, he was offered credit for time served.
More than one felony DA has complained to me that their office is understaffed. There appears to be a shortage of trial lawyers to handle all of the felonies in the county. This seems to have happened when DA Gascon took office and many of his line DA’s quit out of protest. Another group seems to have retired – also out of protest – leaving the office dramatically shorthanded.
The bottom line is something I’ve been saying for many years: Good things happen when we answer ready for trial. If you still don’t know what this means, it’s simple: Sometimes, when we force the hand of the prosecutor, we get rewarded when we find that for whatever reason, they are not ready to go with their case. When this happens, the settlement offers start flying.
But what if we can’t settle the case?
Jury trials during Covid are difficult. Jurors don’t want to be there. Witnesses don’t want to be there. If the court can’t impanel a jury, they have to declare a mistrial. If the jury doesn’t make it through the entire trial (i.e. someone gets sick) the court will have to declare a mistrial. If a mistrial is declared, the likelihood of a more favorable settlement is very real. And, if the DA doesn’t have personnel, then things could be even better.
Then, even if the case does go to trial, we are in no worse position than when we started. I think people are very sympathetic these days. I’m still not sure how jurors can assess the credibility of a witness who is wearing a face mask. But, just like the jury instruction says, if you have reasonable doubt, you must find the defendant “Not Guilty”. And that really is the end goal.
Get vaccinated, wear your masks, and stay safe. If you or someone close to you finds yourself in trouble with the law, call me:
Attorney Jeffrey Vallens (818) 783-5700 or email me at: email@example.com