I make no judgment here about whether the Worth County Sheriff is a good man, a good sheriff, or whether it was a good idea to lock down a high school and conduct a massive drug search of the student body without probable cause (he sounds like he has poor judgment). I write about whether he is guilty of obstruction for what he did to stop the GBI from interrogating his son. Based on what I read so far, I’d take his case to trial.

The Sheriff’s son was arrested for possession of marijuana with intent to distribute and criminal trespass. The young man, who was seventeen years old at the time, was being questioned at the Worth County Jail when the Sheriff and his wife (an employee of the Sheriff’s Department) burst into a room where the boy was being interrogated to advise him to invoke his right to remain silent. At this point, the GBI agents ceased the interview.

Under Georgia law,  “a person who knowingly and willfully obstructs or hinders any law enforcement officer in the lawful discharge of his official duties is guilty of a misdemeanor.” Yet, for a youthful suspect, the absence or presence of a parent is a factor for voluntariness. And the young man had a right to remain silent (I bet the agents read to the young man from a form that said he had a right to remain silent). If a lawyer had been present, a lawyer would likely have advised him to remain silent. Would an attorney, giving the young man the exact same advice, be guilty of obstruction? Or, had the sheriff told his son not to go to an interview, would he be guilty of obstruction? What is different about these facts?

Finally, the fact that the agents chose to cease the interview makes the whole thing an inchoate act. We really do not know whether the young man would have taken dad’s advice. It may well be that the interview would have run its course. I wonder if the attorney general will seriously charge the Sheriff with criminal attempt to obstruct an officer.

Also, does the presence at the Worth County Jail make the difference? Could GBI agents come to the sheriff’s home, enter the son’s room and interview him? If so, would the same interruption be obstruction?

It is not as if the Sheriff ran in and tackled the agents to stop the interview. Here, the sheriff came inside a room at his sheriff’s department and gave his son a solid piece of advice that would be perfectly legal for me to give him as an attorney. Indeed, it is my job to “obstruct” interrogations per the Fifth and Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution. How is it a crime for the Sheriff to do the same thing?

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that the Fulton County Sheriff may be held in contempt over the condition of the Fulton County Jail located in Atlanta. For the past several years, the Fulton County Jail has been under the supervision of the federal courts pursuant to a lawsuit involving inhumane conditions there.

Things don’t appear to be good. One of the more basic things that you would expect from the jail is working locks. Apparently the internal locks aren’t working so well, leaving inmates free to roam about. There are also insufficient beds for all of the inmates. When the population of the jail went below a certain number, the Fulton County commissioners would not approve outsourcing of the housing of inmates to other city jails, a measure that Fulton County had previously used to comply with federal court orders. Officials in Atlanta have not figured out how to pay for court-ordered renovations in years. According to the AJC:

Some say the Fulton County Jail on Rice Street has always been a problem — and an expensive one at that.The $48 million jail opened almost 25 years ago to solve the issues that plagued the old jail, such as overcrowding and dangerous conditions. But those problems remain today, critics say, despite the county being under a consent order that requires them to make significant renovations, limit the number of inmates and maintain an adequate staff.Because there aren’t enough beds, some inmates sleep on the floor. They roam where they shouldn’t because faulty locks can’t hold them in their cells. And not enough detention workers are on duty at any given time to stand guard. A federal judge has scheduled a hearing in early February in which the sheriff and the county must “show cause” why they should not be held in contempt.

I’ve gone to several events at the Georgia Dome this year. That facility is about as old as the Fulton County Jail. In fact, my son and I just went to the Chik-Fil-a Bowl there to watch the Texas A&M game. The locks seemed to work. We were only allowed into designated areas. It was cold and rainy out, but things were comfy under the dome. There were 67,000 people there, but there were seats to spare. Everybody seemed to have enough to eat and drink. There was ample security. You could text a message to a particular number if a problem arose. Little toy cows were parachuted to lucky fans from the rafters and from a remote controlled blimp. The City of Atlanta has kept things running well. And yet …

… And yet, local officials have found a way to fund and even better stadium. This one will be even cooler than the perfectly good one we already have, and the roof will open and close.

Meanwhile the Fulton County Sheriff prepares for another contempt hearing because his office can’t figure out how to get the locks to work in the jail.

Relay.jpgThe August break for the Supreme Court of Georgia is over. The Court is back in full swing next week with two days of oral argument to be followed by more argument the week after next. Earlier this week,famed convicted murderer Lynn Turner was found dead in her cell at Metro State Prison. What do these two events have in common? Georgia Supreme Court Public Information Officer Jance Hansen has reported on them both.

My ritual for Oral Argument at the Supreme Court of Georgia always include picking up on argument day and reviewing on the internet the fantastic case summaries that Ms. Hansen’s office provides. The summaries let me know who else is there and that kind of cases are going to be argued that day. I quickly figure out whether I want to go into the courtroom watch the cases before mine or stay in the lawyer’s lounge and monitor my turn in line from there. Invariably, the summaries make me want to watch them all, even the real estate and will contest cases.

The other thing I like about Ms. Hansen’s summaries is that she manages to make every case sound close and interesting. Every case is high drama in those summaries. Even when I am there with less than high hopes, those summaries make me feel like the case is close.

Back when Lynn Turner was on trial for the poisoning deaths of her husband and former boyfriend, Ms. Hansen covered those trial for The Atlanta Journal-Constituion. In the wake of her sudden death (cause unknown — toxicology tests pending), Ms. Hansen was interviewed by the AJC to recall her days covering Ms. Turner’s criminal trials.

Once again, she showed her command of the basic with her same open mind, remembering what it was like to consider the possibility of a defense verdict in both cases. She said:

I never presumed she was guilty or that she was going to be convicted. I always believed maybe the jury would hear something I didn’t know. Even when I talked to other reporters and they said, “you know she’s guilty,” I always presumed there might be something that would prove her innocence.

In this statement, I hear the voice of the person who writes those case summaries. Of course, she reports that Ms. Turner once offered her a piece of gum during a break at trial. And there we learned the limits of her open mind. She opted not to chew the gum.

What’s my point? Are you knee deep in a case that feels hopeless? Have you already made up your mind that you have a losing position but you’re headed into a trial or an appeal because your client insists or because there’s no offer on the table? Maybe it’s time to channel your inner Jane Hansen. Sit down and pretend you are writing a press release that conveys the story of both sides with just the facts. Are there two competing stories with a result still up in the air?

Maybe when you write it and read it, you’ll realize that it’s closer than you think. Jane Hansen does it with every case that’s argued, and they all look close on paper.