Hero to Zero in 12 Months Flat

Flag of the United States Army

Two of the values of this banner are respect and selfless service, and that means helping those who need it most. Image via Wikipedia

Deployments are the norm in today’s military. Depending on your specialty, location, and rank, you may find yourself in the Middle East every other year. At this same time, you may find that you never leave the continental United States. A massive bureaucracy, the military looks at its needs first. Compassion finishes a distant second.

Some folks weather the deployment storm with no problems. They compartmentalize the experience(s) and arrive back to their families with no mental issues, infirmities, or ailments. Aside from adjusting for climate and a renewed daily routine, they are substantially the same guy or gal. Others are not so lucky. Some lack the ability to compartmentalize. Others simply possess fragile mental abilities compared to others. Yet others entered the service with suppressed emotional or mental problems–just waiting for the wrong stimulus to trigger a psychological hailstorm.

When it comes to mental toughness and hardiness, service members are like the proverbial box of chocolates. You never know what you are going to get until something happens to show you what you got.

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The Core Of A Criminal Defense Lawyer

Brian Tannebaum

As most of you know from reading my past posts, I have a soft spot for what it truly means to be a criminal defense lawyer. Others share my passion.

Brian Tannebaum is one. Check out his latest blog post here. It encapsulates a lot of what we think. Brian is also the current president of the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

You Get What You Pay For: The Military Perspective

In the criminal justice system of Gotham City....

I don't care if they have Batman on their team, I'll never be part of this workgroup. Image by David Jackmanson via Flickr

In the last couple of days, criminal defense blogs have been en fuego because of the recent article by Hartley, R.D., et. al., Do you get what you pay for? Type of counsel and its effect on criminal court outcomesJournal of Criminal Justice (2010) highlighted by the American Bar Association.  The basic conclusion of Hartley is that public defenders have just as much success in representing their clients as private practice defenders.

Naturally, both private practitioners and public defenders have their own takes on this issue. Two great analyses of this article are from Scott Greenfield and Mark Bennett, and I encourage you to read their opinions (please note that Mr. Bennett’s analysis is contained in 6 separate entries, starting with this one and ending with this exclamation). The most notable gripe from those in private practice is that Hartley heaps praise upon the closeness of public defenders with their prosecutorial counterparts as well as the judiciary. His definition of good defense work causes the most consternation, and this definition defies what most members of the defense bar believe to be zealous advocacy. Hartley lauds the existence of a courthouse “workgroup” that facilitates smooth case processing and administration of justice.

Workgroup? Justice? Where do I begin?

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I am not an Army Ranger

U.S. Army Ranger Tab (embroidered)

This does not make me a Ranger, this makes me Ranger Qualified. There is a big difference.

This post is in recognition of the recent court decisions declaring the Stolen Valor Act to be unconstitutional.

I am not an Army Ranger, and I never have been.

Some of you will look at my “About Me” page and claim otherwise. After all, you can read it and see it. Right there, under awards and devices, it says “Ranger Tab” and the picture clearly shows a gold and black Ranger Tab affixed to my uniform.

That does not make me a Ranger. It makes me Ranger Qualified–showing that I completed the United States Army Ranger School (in 1997). Only members of the 75th Ranger Regiment (at Ft. Benning, Georgia; Ft. Lewis, Washington; or Hunter Army Airfield, Georgia) are actual Rangers.

I say this for two reasons. First, a lot of people ask me what it was like to be a Ranger. I try to explain the circumstances, but their eyes glaze-over after the first 30 seconds. Second, and more important, I want to address the rash of individuals pretending to be Rangers, SEALs, Green Berets, or having other specialized qualifications by wearing awards and devices they never earned. They are no different from those in Major League Baseball who use steroids. They want to be at the top of their profession. They don’t want to break the law, but the culture in the Army is such that they feel it necessary to do whatever they can to obtain an edge.

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Initial Thoughts about the Hasan Murder Case

I thought I’d post initially on the case of the United States v. Major Nadal Hasan. In the next few months, that case will begin to heat up in the courtroom as well as in the public forums. Before I begin, lets open with a few ground rules on what might become ongoing commentary by me.

First, I will attempt to avoid second-guessing the lawyers assigned to the case. This, of course, is an extremely tall order considering that there will be times when I will remark on various decisions by Major Hasan’s retained and detailed counsel. For instance, today I will discuss the open posture that the retained defense counsel adopted in the case and whether being so open with the case and his representation is advisable at this point. My goal is to never condemn. Rather, I will discuss the pros and cons of various tactical decisions.

Second, I plan to provide commentary on the proceeding itself. The acts giving rise to the court-martial are of no interest to me except that they are the subject matter. I am focused more on the nuts and bolts of criminal representation–not on the fact that murder is horrible and that what happened at Ft. Hood is a tragedy. I acknowledge that. No argument here.

Third, I have been asked several questions about military trial procedure. I intend to use this case to highlight several key parts of the military trial process that may be instructive to those with interest. For instance, what on earth is an Article 32 hearing? Don’t worry, we’ll get to that eventually.

Fourth, I have no inside information. I am not friends with the defense counsel nor am I friends with the prosecutor. I do not know them. Like many of you, I know what I know from reading media sources and the internet. The only thing that separates me from the average Criminal Defense Lawyer (CDL) is my immersion in military law for the last 6+ years. If you are looking here for breaking news, you are looking in the wrong place.

Fifth, I have never tried a death penalty case, and I have no aspirations to do so. These are few and far between in the military. I may occasionally comment on my opinion of the death penalty (I don’t like it). Also, I may analyze the economical feasibility of the death penalty (its really, really expensive). While much of the trial procedure will be similar to any other court-martial, much of it will also be distinct. For instance, the judge in the case will likely be much more liberal in the granting of continuances and other relief for the defense, and there are logical reasons for this. We will, hopefully, have a solid chance to discuss these logical reasons. However, when it comes to the death penalty, I have not “been there, done that.”

So, lets move forward.

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Choice of Prosecution: Military or Civilian

I’ve often been asked these two questions:

Why did _____ County take this case and not the military? Or,

Why did the military take this case and not ________ County?

The same also applies when you regard military vs. federal district courts.

The answer to these questions is usually one of the following: a. workload, b. law/sentencing guidelines, or c. ego.

Too often, the answer is C. Ego.

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Criminal Defense Attorneys: Know the Collateral Effects on Military Members

Joint color guard showing the organizational c...

Image via Wikipedia

All Criminal Defense Lawyers (CDLs) should understand, generally, the military systems for disposing of misconduct.

Yes, I know you are busy. Yes, I know that I am asking you to become generally familiar with a markedly different system of criminal justice. Trust me when I say it will pay dividends and allow you to better represent your clients.

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Have you been a Criminal Defense Lawyer?

Have you found beauty in those labeled ugly?
Have you found worth in the discarded?
Have you given hope to the condemned?
Have you found an abused child within a monster?
Have you seen generosity in the heart of a thief?
Have you found life in those who murder?
Have you touched humanity when all others recoil?
Have you given sweat to a losing cause?
Have you borne a burden no one else would bear?
Have you given love to those who have none?

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Riding on the Back of an Addict

Pre-war Bayer heroin bottle, originally contai...

Image via Wikipedia

Recently we had local primary elections in my neck of the woods. One of the more heated contests involved the election for the Republican candidate for County Attorney. In my opinion, one of the candidates was supremely more qualified for the job, and I leaned-toward voting for him, but I also decided that I should fairly consider the other two candidates, their records, and their positions.

I began by reading the various local headlines concerning the election and eventually moved to the individual websites and web presences for the candidates. One made me sick.

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Criminal Representation – The Way to Not Advocate

The more I observe the actions of others, the more I realize we can learn a lot from the Underpants Gnomes. For those of you who are not South Park savvy, these were small gnomes in one episode who adopted a very curious business model.

It goes like this:

Phase 1: Collect Underpants

Phase 2: ?

Phase 3: Profit

Here is a short excerpt of the gnomes briefing their plan to the South Park gang:

I’ve seen this model at work in legal representation.

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Why am I here? Part 2 (Being an Underdog)

Some of you have asked about the change in blog title. I went from the boring and mundane “Eric L. Mayer, Attorney at Law” to “The Military Underdog.” This ties in with my previous post about why I do what I do, and I hope to answer this fully and universally, though you will often note that I reference my niche, military law.

In short, it embodies a lot of what I love about my job.

Criminal defense representation is inherently an acceptance that you will be the underdog in every (or almost every) case. Why is this?

1. The prosecutors have a blank check. They are able to prosecute on behalf of the government without regard for the cost. I have seen tens of thousands of dollars spent on cases with shaky evidence. They don’t care. They don’t get a bill.

Defense can present their case, but most actions that cost money require asking permission from the government attorney, military commander, or judge. Whereas the government can secure an expert witness without notifying the defense ahead-of-time as to the nature and purpose of the expert, the defense must put all of this information in a written request prior to the expert being hired or retained to serve on the defense team. Even then, the requested defense witness may be denied in favor of a cheaper one provided by the government.

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Leaders like Prof. Hoeflich make a difference

The third year at the University of Kansas School of Law was no picnic for me.

During that year, my wife gave birth to my second child, I prepared for the bar exam, my family readied for a move to Louisiana, and my mother was diagnosed with Stage 4 Colon Cancer. I am my mother’s only child. As such, I became her caretaker during that time. Cancer is ugly, and as her caretaker, I witnessed the ugliness firsthand. I experienced things that most people only see in horror movies.

My family did what they could to keep me on track, and I particularly must thank my wife for being as solid as a rock despite the dynamic circumstances. However, it takes more than one friend to weather so many competing priorities. Luckily, I had that extra support from a professor at the University of Kansas School of Law, Mike Hoeflich.

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