Author Archives: Patrick R. Woolley

About Patrick R. Woolley

Attorney Patrick Woolley earned his J.D. from George Mason University School of Law in Arlington, VA. Mr. Woolley helped forge Blitz Legal so that he could protect the constitutional rights of individuals in Northern Virginia. Mr. Woolley enjoys working in the courtroom, providing counsel during trial, and especially working opposite prosecutors. He has represented clients charged with a wide range of misdemeanor and felony charges, such as drug possession, underage alcohol possession, larceny, shoplifting, robbery, DWI/DUI, and reckless driving. Mr. Woolley focuses his efforts in representing defendants in criminal cases throughout northern Virginia but has also handled wide range of civil matters for clients in Fairfax and Arlington, Virginia. Although his education in his undergraduate education initially focused on political science – for which he was well prepared by his training in the theatre – Mr. Woolley soon became disillusioned with politics, and began thinking of a way to focus his career on helping people protect their constitutional rights and limit the actions of the government and politicians. The result has been a strong focus on defending clients charged with criminal offenses, and Mr. Woolley is very happy to be doing what he is doing now. Since his early childhood, Patrick has had a way with words and argument. His parents predicted he would be a lawyer from the beginning because as soon as he learned to talk he refused to give up an argument. Since his childhood he has, fortunately learned to filter a substantial portion of his speech. Patrick enjoys good literature but finds that he has more time to enjoy good television. His favorite shows are (probably) “The Wire”, “The Sopranos”, and “Mad Men” (probably) in that order.

I Love my Job!

I love my job.  There are lots of reasons.  It’s hard to list them all.  I love trial, advocating, arguing, researching, investigating—especially investigating—thinking about crimes and cases and evidence and testimony and examinations, educating judges (and prosecutors), and I love saying “Mr. Woolley on behalf of the defendant.”  I love upholding the law, the rule of law, and the Constitutions of the Commonwealth of Virginia and this republic.  I love walking into a fight knowing that I’ve probably invested more time and research, and effort and passion into a case than my opponent.  I love walking into that fight knowing I’m probably about to lose.  I just love walking into a good fight.

I don’t think that’s why I love my job as much as I do though.  I love all of those things, and they provide me with quite a bit of job satisfaction.  I think the thing that makes me love my job as much as I do is that I have an opportunity everyday to help people with matters of serious importance in their lives, and I take my duty to help them seriously.

I’ve never had any serious issues with “self-esteem” or confidence.  I always thought I was going to be a good lawyer, and until recently I was never scared of being a bad lawyer.  I haven’t been out that long, I’m a real gunner, and I hung a shingle.  At first it just seemed like a really ballsy move.  Then I started getting a taste of what it’s like and I started to worry that I wasn’t going to be a good lawyer.  I saw a lot of bad lawyering and there were, and have been, a lot of situations when I realized I didn’t know what to do because I’d forgotten to ask or I didn’t know I should ask someone who had been in that situation.  But there is someone who has been in that situation; and you come to realize after a fairly short period of time that if someone who has been there before cares enough about you, or justice in general, to give you advice, that person is a good lawyer.  Then you can see who the good lawyers are, and you come to realize over time that what makes you good lawyer is that you care about what you’re doing.

A good lawyer is someone who takes a fiduciary’s responsibilities seriously, someone who takes the duty to uphold the law seriously—even too seriously—someone who isn’t only willing but wants to shed blood, sweat, and tears over any and every case.  Above all a good lawyer is someone who cares about the job and, moreover, cares about the client.

So I may not have the most experience and I may not know all the statutes by heart but over the past several weeks I’ve realized that I am a good lawyer and there’s no danger of me becoming a bad lawyer.  It’s not because I got a high LSAT score, or went to the greatest law school, or got the best training, or know the most stuff.  It’s just because I care.

There are a lot of reasons I won’t do some of the things that some of the bad lawyers do, but the most basic reason is that I feel that every day when I appear in court, or even answer an initial phone call, my actions have a real and lasting effect on the lives of the people I work with.  I think that is what most people mean when they talk about job satisfaction.  I think that deriving happiness from what you do means that you take what you do seriously and you appreciate the impact that your job has on the world and your little corner of it.  (I’m reminded of an especially cheesy episode of “M*A*S*H”.)

I’m not writing this in hopes of receiving more clients.  I don’t think blawging is a particularly acute way of bringing in more business.  If I were to guess, I’d say that most criminal defense blawgs are read by other criminal defense attorneys and the friends and family of the attorney who blawged it.  I’m not writing this because I want my friends and family to know how much I love my job (I totally love it by the way).   I’m writing it hoping that some young attorney will read it and will realize what I’ve realized, or that some distracted and jaded attorney will read it and remember what it’s supposed to feel like.

All I’m really trying to say is that if you care about what you do, you’re not only bound to get better and better at it, you’re bound to really enjoy it.  I’m really lucky to have a job I care so much about.  I love my job.

 

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Trial and Error, or Just Error?

Last week the New York Times picked up on one of my favorite subjects, the innocence problem (seen here) and I couldn’t possibly help but comment.  Not because the reporting was insightful, mind you, but because—as is more and more common in the news—it ain’t NEWS.  I was all ready to write a scathing article about how badly they’d missed the mark because defense attorneys in academia and practice have been trying to tackle the issue for at least 30 years but then I saw this blog piece which made my point; and kinda stole my thunder.

In some jurisdictions over 99% of charges are resolved by a guilty plea.  That’s the statistic that makes a lot of us pretty certain that people are pleading guilty to crimes they didn’t commit.  I like to think that I do my job correctly 99% of the time, but I’m pretty sure I’m the only one who’s that good and  I’m certain that less than 99% of police get it right 99% of the time.  Lots and lots of papers have been written about the innocence problem:  some people try to argue that innocent people aren’t pleading guilty, the more reasonable papers explore why it might be happening, and there are even suggestions for how to fix it and more skeptical papers about how fixing the problem would be too light on crime and, therefore, politically unfeasible.

One aspect that no one seems to discuss much is that trial is a really valuable thing. Not only is it a constitutional right and all that mumbo jumbo, but it’s a very effective way to train police; to help them get closer to that 99% mark.  Criminal defense attorneys spend a lot of time decrying the police for their dishonesty in court, but it goes a lot further than that.  Police need to be trained to really pay attention to what’s happening and take good notes on it right away so that they have the opportunity to be honest about what they observed rather than trying to recollect something a few weeks after it happened and pick the story that makes them out to be a hero.

Now I’m sure a lot of you are thinking that that’s what police academy is for.  I’m sure they try, but I can tell you from personal experience that normal police training is not getting the job done.

Just last week I encountered an officer that could use some good on-the-job training.  His story was silly and his actions were anything but reasonable.  He told me at one point that a Ford F-150 had driven right over a median that is raised four feet from the rest of the road.  Did I believe him?  Of course not (I happen to know that those medians aren’t raised any higher than a sidewalk for starters).  The suggestion was ludicrous and obviously untrue:  even putting aside the fact that the officer’s account disregards the laws of physics.  If something similar to what he “observed” had happened there would be a lot of physical evidence to back it up, but the truck that was involved was unscathed as was the sidewalk-height raised median.

It gets better.  After this truck somehow jumped a four foot embankment the driver was stopped and the officer spoke to the occupants.  One was highly intoxicated and emotional:  screaming and crying and flailing about.  The other was the driver who took and passed several roadside sobriety tests and didn’t talk much.  The officer decided the sober driver was lying about everything and the hysterical drunk was being completely forthright and honest.  The driver said he understood he wasn’t supposed to make a U-Turn (the cop didn’t ask about the median thing), but that he had done it because his hysterical passenger was grabbing the wheel and he was approaching a very busy intersection, but the cop didn’t like that story and chose not to believe it.  Instead he chose to charge the driver with a criminal offense.  In short, this young cop either misremembered everything he was supposed to observe and report or he just lied about it to try to distract from the fact that he took the story of the hysterical drunk (who refused to testify about the events) at face value and disregarded the simple and reasonable explanation of the sober driver.  Either way, that cop needs additional training.

I think the best training he could have been made to endure is the Blitz Legal/Patrick Woolley style of cross examination that is designed to make stupid foolish lies appear to be stupid and foolish.  Had a decent trial attorney had the opportunity to cross examine this officer he would probably react differently the next time a truck uses its hyperboost to jump over a wall and a drunken psychotic screams about unfounded accusations.  As a former law student, I firmly believe that public embarrassment is a strong motivator and a quick way to teach a lasting lesson.  After saying foolish things once and being called out for it in a public forum, one is much less likely to say foolish things in the future.

Unfortunately for me, and for that cop, and for everyone who has to deal with that cop in the future, this case didn’t make it to trial.  The unfettered discretion that prosecutors have (that the NYT is suddenly so concerned about) can be used both ways.  Rather than ratcheting up the charges or something—which would have encouraged the driver to go to trial—the prosecutor gave the driver a deal that was so light he couldn’t refuse it.  Did the driver plead guilty to something he wasn’t guilty of?  Probably, but it was worth it for him.  The real tragedy I see here is that, because prosecutors tend to take cops’ statements at face value, the cop in this case didn’t get the on-the-job training that he desperately needs:  he was simply patted on the back for his good work and service.  One of these days, I’m sure an experienced attorney will train that young cop up a little, but until then he is going to treat citizens the same way he treated that driver, because he has no incentive to do otherwise.


Shocking Justice

You may or may not know about Paul Bergrin’s illustrious career.  You may think he’s the greatest (or Baddest) trial lawyer in Jersey history, or you might think he’s a thug/conspirator/criminal lawyer.  You might think his decision to represent himself is stupid or crazy or foolish, and initially I would have disagreed:  I mean if you’re really the best at your job, why not be the one doing it when the stakes are highest?

Judge Martini really changed the calculation though, when he ruled that Bergrin will have to wear an electric-shock ankle bracelet during the trial.  That’s right folks, the attorney for the defense will be subject to painful electrical shocks if he steps out of line at trial.  This strikes me as a questionable request/order from individuals who took an oath to uphold the constitution, but let’s think it through one step at a time.

If you are accused of a crime you have the right to have an attorney assist in your defense, or you can choose to represent yourself if you’d like to.  You also have a right to have your case heard by a jury of your peers who is supposed to presume your innocence so that they aren’t prejudiced against you.

But apparently, at least according to Judge Martini, it’s okay for the court to prejudice the jury against your attorney.  So if you choose to represent yourself they might just tell the jury that you are dangerous—so dangerous in fact that you have to wear an ankle bracelet and receive electrical shocks if you do something the court doesn’t like.  How exactly is Martini planning to bring this up:  “the defendant is accused of being a dangerous man.  You are to presume his innocence.  I however do not have to presume his innocence, nor do I.  I believe he is very dangerous and therefore I have authorized the government to administer electrical shocks if the accused does anything foolish.”

It’s not really clear what the standard is for when Mr. Bergrin should be electrocuted.  The government’s argument is that the bracelet is merely to limit his location within the courtroom, but if that’s the only reason for it, I wonder why the four armed U.S. Marshalls in the room are insufficient.  Furthermore, Judge Martini’s admonition that Mr. Bergrin will receive a shock if he does “anything foolish” seems to indicate that his location isn’t the only thing the court is trying to control.

So who is to decide if Mr. Bergrin “does something foolish,” you may be wondering.  Well, it’s the U.S. Marshalls.  Not the judge, not the jury who is supposedly being protected, but the government that is prosecuting him.  Constitutional issues aside, this is obviously not in the spirit of an open and honest adversarial system.  The Feds have investigated Bergrin and are now prosecuting him.  The Feds requested that he should have to wear an electrocution-torture device, and now the Feds are in charge of deciding when he gets electrocuted during trial.

I’m quite confident that I’m not the only person that sees some pretty serious problems with this.  In fact I’m positive that (ifff Bergrin is able to get an interlocutory appeal of the decision or he can later prove that this absurd decision had a “material” effect) Martini’s ankle bracelet decision will be overturned.  Given the standards for interlocutory appeals and harmless errors though, I’m pretty sure that he’ll just have to accept the court’s decision, take all the pundit’s advice, and hire a frickin’ lawyer.