How to represent yourself in bfd court case
June 28, 2008 4:37 AM   Subscribe

Chronic pain patient took to writing own prescriptions. This is frowned upon. Now, the poor woman Or should one spend 10K to an attorney to have the record expunged when otherwise, a criminal record isn't important to other areas of life?

Please, no fool for a client dismissal. This is a heartbreaking story of a woman easing pain to the point she could function, not jollies and addiction.

Any online help? Any general strategies? Any hope?

An attorney would likely have gotten her record expunged, first offense and all that. Can she achieve the same outcome by appealing to the merciful court?
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (24 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I find your language a bit confusing.

That said, I'm sure the people that can help you will want to know where this woman is.

Best of luck to her.
posted by taff at 4:55 AM on June 28, 2008

If she can't afford an attorney, she needs to get to the public defender's office, pronto. If she has been forging prescriptions she will have a very hard time convincing anyone she is not a addict. This may also affect her disability application, so she needs an attorney for that as well. She might be able to arrange a meeting with the judge beforehand to get his advice.
posted by TedW at 4:59 AM on June 28, 2008

Now, the poor woman must defend herself in court against five counts of Class D felonies, as she can't afford an attorney.

5 Class D felonies? The poor woman is in some serious trouble. In the State of Missouri, as an example, the poor woman could be looking at 20 years in jail.

Does the poor woman know her Miranda rights?

You have the right to remain silent and refuse to answer questions.

Anything you do say may be used against you in a court of law.

You have the right to consult an attorney before speaking to the police and to have an attorney present during questioning now or in the future.

If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you before any questioning if you wish.

If you decide to answer questions now without an attorney present you will still have the right to stop answering at any time until you talk to an attorney.

Get yourself an attorney.
posted by three blind mice at 5:18 AM on June 28, 2008

Take advantage of the public defender. This is precisely the reason that office exists. Alternatively, she could call some private practice criminal attorneys and ask for a sliding fee scale or that they take it on as pro bono work. I doubt they would take it - not high profile, not newsworthy, nothing in it for them. (IAAL, IANYL - or hers)
posted by MeetMegan at 6:27 AM on June 28, 2008

Public defender, aye. That's what they're there for.

If for whatever reason they won't, also try law schools; they often run free clinics.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 6:45 AM on June 28, 2008

It is in Missouri, but she's been assured that no one wants to have her serve time. She made more than $6K last year, so a PD is out of the question. There are some great law schools, maybe that's the way to go.

The DEA already has her confession on tape.
posted by wordswinker at 6:57 AM on June 28, 2008

She made more than $6K last year, so a PD is out of the question.

Huh? Says who?
posted by meta_eli at 7:13 AM on June 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

Directly contact the public defenders office. Don't rely on anything else.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:44 AM on June 28, 2008

she's been assured that no one wants to have her serve time

Prosecuting authorities and police lie about this sort of thing all the time. Does she have some sort of written assurance that she will not go to jail? If not, she shouldn't rely on anything without the advice of her own attorney (and perhaps even if she does). There are serious pitfalls here.

Hard times for all, but worst for the sick, she's been unable to work, filing for disability, has a sick child, husband gone all but three days a month.

It'll be even harder when she has five felony convictions and is possibly in jail. She has to get a lawyer. If you're really worried about the cost, and the public defender's office has already refused to represent her, find out how much a consultation will cost, and the lawyer will be able to advise her on what to do.

This is a heartbreaking story of a woman easing pain to the point she could function, not jollies and addiction.

The only heartbreaking thing about this story is that she is going to be railroaded because she doesn't have legal representation.
posted by grouse at 7:46 AM on June 28, 2008

$6,000 is about 30% under the national poverty guidelines for 2006. I find it very hard to believe they would not be eligible for a public defender.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:47 AM on June 28, 2008

Anyway, it's my understanding that anyone can get a public defender simply by swearing they cannot afford one. (Though if it's later determined that you can afford one, they'll bill you for the defender's time)
posted by meta_eli at 7:51 AM on June 28, 2008

From the Missouri application for public defender services:


I think, given her problems, she probably qualifies. She might have to pay something afterward, but she shouldn't just assume that she doesn't qualify. Unless she already checked into this and they refused her, in which case, that's shitty.
posted by goatdog at 7:52 AM on June 28, 2008

I don't know about your assertion that attorney could have gotten her record expunged, I mean this is a first offense, but five Class D felonies is quite the first offense. She needs to call the public defender or tell the judge in her case she wants an attorney. The 6k thing does not sound right to me at all, I've seen plenty of people with jobs get public defenders (not good jobs, but jobs). Also, generally they will just appoint you an attorney and then after the trial will determine whether you can pay anything or not to reimburse the state. She shouldn't be going without an attorney either way.

Was she mirandized before that confession? She needs a lawyer and don't be so sure she isn't an addict. Legitimately needing pain medication does not preclude also being addicted to those pain meds. I think calling law school clinics in your area is a great idea. You may run into a little bit of a problem given that its summer and I don't know how many new cases clinics take in the summer when they are understaffed, but it is definitely worth trying and from my observations law school clinics generally do a very good job. Also if they can't take the case, they can probably give you excellent advice about who else you can try. IANAL Good luck!
posted by whoaali at 8:47 AM on June 28, 2008

It is in Missouri,

lucky guess on my part!
posted by three blind mice at 9:36 AM on June 28, 2008

The only advice I have is to re-evaluate whether you can get a court appointed attorney. I do not believe for a second that you can't get a court attorney if you make $6000 a year.
posted by Justinian at 10:41 AM on June 28, 2008

This kind of prosecution is shockingly common, and your friend very well may may go to jail, possibly for a very long time, if she does not proceed carefully. That means finding an attorney who has specific experience on these types of criminal drug cases, even if it costs money. Debt is less scary than actual prison.

There are nonprofit organizations dedicated to helping people persecuted for seeking pain medication. Try the Pain Relief Network or the Pain Foundation. They should be able to recommend attorneys who work on these sorts of cases or give her an idea of how to proceed; they see many, many cases like these. They may (though I am not certain of this) be able to provide financial assistance, and they will be able to give advice about using the media if appropriate.

You also may want to try any one of the dozens of drug prohibition reform organizations, such as the Drug Policy Alliance or the November Coalition. Because don't kid yourself; the prosecutor's office views this as a serious drug crime and your friend as a serious drug criminal, and that's how they'll present this to the judge or jury. These organizations may have additional advice on how to deal with the drug crime aspects of it.
posted by decathecting at 10:53 AM on June 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

No one's heart is going to be broken by an impoverished prescription forger representing herself in court in Missouri. You will be sent to prison.

Here is my advice: Figure out a way to get a private attorney. If you need to do the math, calculate what it will be worth to you not to spend years in prison - years where you will receive no narcotics and will suffer in pain daily with no sympathy from anyone around you. Beg, borrow or steal your attorney's fee.
posted by ikkyu2 at 12:05 PM on June 28, 2008

I do not believe for a second that you can't get a court attorney if you make $6000 a year.

Clarification: she made more than $6K last year. Presumably, she thinks that $6K is the cutoff, which does seem ridiculous.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 12:18 PM on June 28, 2008

That's true, dnbb.

OP: Assuming you make a bunch more than $6000, then, I advise you to hire an attorney regardless of expense. Do what you have to do; if you have two cards, sell one. If you have cable TV, get rid of it. If you have vacations planned, cancel them (hard to vacation from jail anyway). If you have savings, spend it. Etc.

Make whatever sacrifices are necessary to get an attorney. I assure you that a little extra cash will be small consolation to you if you're spending a couple years in jail.
posted by Justinian at 12:23 PM on June 28, 2008

two cards = two cars. Hah!
posted by Justinian at 12:23 PM on June 28, 2008

The FAQ of the Missouri Public Defenders Office. It looks like the person would have to pay if able to, but won't have to pay up front. That of course makes a big difference. And the charges seem very reasonable to me, though I don't know if they multiply it times the number of felonies as well as their seriousness.
posted by Jahaza at 12:40 PM on June 28, 2008

Chronic pain patient took to writing own prescriptions

You don't just take to writing your own prescriptions. You steal a pad. You know what drugs to write out. You know what sig codes to use and how to sign it. This sort of fraud takes homework to pull off. You just don't write 'Vicodin plz' on a piece of paper and hand it to the pharmacist.

This kind of prosecution is shockingly common

It's also unshockingly a FELONY to forge prescriptions.

She needs to plead no-contest. This is indefensible.
posted by pieoverdone at 6:33 AM on June 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

First, records don't get expunged easily. There seems to be some magical thinking here that the problem can be made to vanish. It can't. Felonies are serious business. Talk to anyone with a felony far in their past; felony convictions impact life in many ways. It's one reason for the high recidivism rate.

Second, don't think that the judge is going to believe this person is not an addict. This is someone who risked their family and freedom for drugs - that's addiction behavior. It may be addiction that started with chronic pain, but it's addiction nonetheless.

Third, judges hear lots of heartbreaking stories. Plenty of people commit crimes out of desperation. While the judge may have empathy for the situation, it's still a crime. If I understand the question, the person is going to say - I knew this was illegal, but I really needed these drugs. That's not going to sway a judge any more than, I knew theft was wrong but I really needed that money.

Those three points made, here is my advice. Get a lawyer any way that you can - public defender, legal aid, some of the resources decathecting suggests, borrow money from family, whatever. Maybe multiple counts can be combined; maybe there is a lesser plea available. The person who will know that is a lawyer. It sounds as though you're looking for some hope in a bleak situation. The most I can offer you is that a lawyer is your best chance.

Also, expect that lawyer to recommend drug treatment and the court to require it. A drug treatment program may be an option to stay out of prison.
posted by 26.2 at 8:51 AM on June 29, 2008

She needs to plead no-contest. This is indefensible.

She needs to plead whatever her attorney advises her to plead, which will most likely, at least initially, be not guilty. And her behavior is far from "indefensible." I can think of many ways to both defend the behavior itself and to defend against the legal charges being leveled. The asker hinted at some of them. Should this go to trial, this woman's attorney will likely employ some of them in an effort to get her acquitted of the charges.

The fact that you think she is a very bad person who shouldn't have done what she did is irrelevant to her current legal strategy, which is the subject of this question.
posted by decathecting at 10:54 PM on June 30, 2008

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