Articles Posted in Misc

fingerprints2-216x300Any time several folks get together to form a group, there’s always a risk bad things will happen.  One of the minor annoyances of people “organizing” is that they’ll end up developing their own corny lingo.  Not only do I dislike this sort of thing, but I’m more guilty of it than most (I’m not offended by my own hypocrisy, of course.  Why not aim for good things, even if you don’t attain them every single time?).

My first violation of the English language involves church stuff.   I belong to a church that is guilty of “Christian speak.”  Trust me, if you haven’t heard Christian speak, its annoying.  At its core, this language is basic virtue signalling.

For example, no one calls themselves a Christian  anymore, Christian-speak now has us referring to ourselves as “disciples”, with everyone busy working on their “ministry”.  Yes, this is virtue signalling at its finest.  That being said, this never stops me from poking fun at celebrity virtue signalers.  My church is minor league versus Hollywood.  Just try getting thru a talk show without either the host or guest explaining their commitment to various “causes”.  Again, virtue signalling.  Heck, even me telling you I belong to a particular church qualifies. Yes, I’m a hypocrite.

SIDE BAR: Jesus didn’t use Christian speak, so I’m not sure why churches have adopted such un-Christ-like attitudes.  For example, Jesus promised the thief hanging on the cross next to him that “Today you will be with me in paradise“.   Did this thief chanting some magical Christian speak that opened the doors to paradise?   Most religions claim you can only get to paradise if you belong to their church, their faith, following their rules.  Nobody gets into paradise but us.  We’re the only club members who know “the Truth”, right?  Hum.  I don’t see any of that in Jesus’ words in Luke 23:43.  Most religions have added text to Jesus’ words here, and would now claim that the thief who was promised paradise today couldn’t–actually–get there without doing some mission work, being baptized, and of course the big one–belonging to the correct religion.  Read Luke chapter 23 and I think you’ll agree that Jesus is pretty generous with his paradise admission policy–no magic words and no special religious memberships required.  I’m just saying.

Anyway, science has its own battles with language, and its own battles with the truth.  This plays out quite frequently in the criminal courts, where we have rules on what is considered “science,” and what isn’t.

One interesting battleground for science in the courtroom involves fingerprints.  Its been a few years since I’ve ranted about the so-called science of matching fingerprints, but suffice it to say that an “expert” cannot go up in front of a jury and claim that one fingerprint “matches” another fingerprint.  I know what you’re thinking, I’ve seen a lot of movies, and admitting fingerprints is never a problem, right?  Wrong.  It’s a problem. Continue Reading

Why are some defense attorneys so expensive?IMG_2925-e1508532095556-300x239

Willie Nelson has a great answer to a similar question: Why is divorce so expensive?

Because it’s worth it.

Several decades ago, my friend was the best criminal defense attorney in Orlando–charging $15,000 down on a misdemeanor.  In today’s dollars, that would be $43,447.  Yikes.

Who throws around that kind of money on a misdemeanor?

And, who has the balls to charge that much for a misdemeanor?

That being said, a Hermes Birka bag will set you back $65,000.  Yes, a purse for $65,000.  If you were to try to go buy one now–you can’t.  Sorry to get your hopes up.  As the story goes, Hermes pretends to be sold out even though the store always has a couple new Birka bags in the back.  Hermes purse pricing strategy is similar to my friend’s pricing strategy–except that my friend was worth every penny.

Ok, back to my very expensive defense attorney friend.  He “had it all.”  A house in Windermere? Check.   An expensive boat? Check. An airplane? Check.  No, he wasn’t secretly some closet personal injury lawyer (that’s where all the money is–for those of you who know anything about criminal defense work, this isn’t a get-rich-quick scheme).

So, after years of commanding top dollar, my friend’s fees dropped dramatically.

A first time misdemeanor DUI that may have cost $20,000 was now running $7,500.  And a year later, that same first time DUI fee plunged to $2,500.  I’ve been charging about $2,500 for a first time DUI for over 15 years, go figure…. Continue Reading

IMG_0476-e1456765765191-300x225True confession.   I “secretly” hope is that you read these articles and say “Hey, John knows all about my situation, I’m going to hire him.”   The opposite is also true: why write an article that would hurt business?  Well, I’m in a generous mood.

Here’s the situation:  Every criminal defense attorney has received the panicked mom call.  My heart goes out to mom’s, they bare the brunt of their children’s shenanigans.  Anyway, the call goes something like this: “My son’s on probation, he’s at school.  His probation officer just called to say he is coming by the house to search our home.  I’ve searched first, and found drugs.  What should I do with these drugs?

Moms being moms, they want to be the good Samaritan and hand over the drugs to the police when they arrive.   Hum.

Bad idea.

That’s what happened in the real life case of Stanton v. State746 So. 2d 1229 (Fla. 3d DCA 1999).  Stanton was a recovering addict, and his former drug dealer gave Stanton some cocaine to get him hooked again.  Nice guy, this dealer, right?  It would be like Marlboro offering free cigarettes for those who have quit.  Chantix users get two free packs while supplies last.

Anyway, Stanton’s old drug dealer was offering free cocaine samples to his recovering ex-junkies.  Pure evil.  And, what is the world coming to that coke dealers are begging recovering addicts to come back like my old cell phone company?  Continue Reading

commandments-e1479328886963-225x300There seems to be a trend toward labeling everything, so that stuff we deem unhealthy is now considered a “disorder”.  For example, it used to be that some people were just skinny, and some were fat.  Now, if you eat too much or eat too little,  we call this an eating “disorder”.

It used to be that some kids were simply more energetic than others.  Now, we say these energetic kids have Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD).  Back in the day, these kids may have simply been funneled into activities that would burn off that energy, like dancing, for example.  A good teacher knew how to handle such kids.  Now, pharmaceuticals tend to be the preferred method of addressing ADD.  Sad, I think, but I’m no doctor.

And, it used to be that if someone was an asshole, we would all just acknowledge that the person is an asshole.  Now, we have something called Empathy Deficit Disorder (EDD).  You’re not a jerk now, modern science claims you just have a disorder.  I liked the old label better.

IMG_4434-e1502116891803-225x300Sometimes, less is more.

It is said that, when comparing business cards, having only a few words on a business card signals that the person is mighty important.  For example, the business card of the old Cuban dictator Fidel Castro just says “Fidel Castro Ruz.  Primer Secretario Del Partido Cumunista De Cuba”.  That’s it.  No phone number.  No email.  No fax line.  No web address.  No “find me on Facebook”.  No Instagram.  No Snapchat.  Definitely no Snapchat.   My card, on the other hand, gives away the fact that I’m not that important of a guy.  I list twenty ways to contact me.  My office number.  Another office number.  My fax number.  My web address.  My email.   You name it, I list it.  I’m an attorney–and I’m just not as important as other folks.  But, this brief moment of humility reminds me of a recent news story.

I don’t live near the beach, unless living an hour away from the closest beach qualifies as living “near the beach”.  I grew up in St. Louis and to a Midwestern kid, driving one hour to the beach is, like, walking-distance to the beach (remember that song, “All the leaves are brown, and the sky is grey…”,  St. Louis is kinda like that song).

Can you “know” the truth by reading a few words?  think-300x224

Often, truth cannot be reduced to words, its just something you feel deep down (Are we talking about feelings already?  And you thought you were going to learn some legal stuff?  Patience, Dear Reader).

For example, I truly knew my beloved youngest brother.  And, I could write a book containing everything about him, all of our good times, his heart felt laughter, his date of birth.  This book could describe every moment we shared, but those words on a page will not, ever, adequately describe who he was.  What he meant to me.  Words just don’t cut it.

Without getting too fuzzy here (too late?), the good news is that the truth can be conveyed without words.  Maybe a kiss.  Maybe just the touch of a hand (Yes, I stole that from a song).   Think about spiritual practices, for example.  Many people have experienced profound truths that cannot be reduced to symbols on a page.  My pastor always says that you get things in church that you just don’t get anywhere else.

The same goes for music, it can deliver truth where mere words would fail.  Have you ever heard a song a thousand times, only to have it jump out and reveal a truth you hadn’t heard before?  My youngest brother, for example, was a big Grateful Dead fan.  Yes, concerts and everything (that’s what I mean by a “big” Grateful Dead fan, he followed them around).  I never got it.   Then, a few years ago, “Scarlet Begonias” came on the radio.  I’ve heard this song a thousand times.  I like Sublime’s cover better (blasphemy?), but I’ve listened to this Dead song for, like, thirty years.  The song came out in 1975.  In 2016 the lyrics just jumped out at me.  I got it.  After all these years.  Odd, right? Continue Reading

st-louis-airport-300x225I was going to title this article “How Target Knows You’re Pregnant Before You Do”, but my mom mentioned to me that my titles never truly match what the heck I’m talking about.  This article is going to be a rare exception to that rule.  Thanks Momma.

The predictive power of computers–once they have enough data–is fascinating.  My preoccupation with data began when I learned that supermarkets were getting in trouble for  sending out ‘suggestive’ coupons after crunching a customer’s shopping habit data.   The prime example of this, I believe, was Target.  Target was sending women coupons for baby stuff before these women knew they were pregnant!  Imagine the father of a high school daughter getting maternity clothing coupons in the mail?  [for a great article on this, check out How Target Figured Out A Teen Girl Was Pregnant Before Her Father Did, Kashmir Hill, Forbes, Feb 16, 2012].   Similar problems are created at home when criminal defense attorneys start sending “Arrested? Hire Me” letters to that same daughter–somebody’s going to start asking questions.  Sure, kids think that they can hide their shenanigans by intercepting the mail before Mom & Dad get home, but “kids helping out” can be even more suspicious than overly suggestive attorney solicitations.

Anyway.  How does Target know a woman is pregnant?  Well, we humans are rather predictable.  No, I’m not talking about you, dearest reader–you are unique, different, and “nobody understands you.”   Target’s computers were able to anticipate the shopping needs of women based upon changes in their shopping history.  Once a computer knows you’re buying luggage, you’ll be buying “travel size” deodorant and toothpaste at any moment.  Same goes for pregnant women.  The data points were, apparently, more sophisticated than the old myths regarding pickles & ice cream.  It was important that Target figure out when a woman was pregnant before it is made public, because, “birth records are usually public, the moment a couple have a new baby, they are almost instantaneously barraged with offers and incentives and advertisements from all sorts of companies.  Which means that the key is to reach them earlier, before any other retailers know a baby is on the way.” [from an excellent article entitled “How Companies Learn Your Secrets“, by Charles Duhigg, New York Times, Feb 16, 2012]  Duhigg’s NYT article provides some clues on how this works, noting that: “One Target employee I spoke to provided a hypothetical example.  Take a fictional Target shopper named Jenny Ward, who is 23, lives in Atlanta and in March bought cocoa-butter lotion, a purse large enough to double as a diaper bag, zinc and magnesium supplements and a bright blue rug.  There’s say, an 87 percent chance that she’s pregnant and that her delivery date is sometime in late August.”  Continue Reading

Two thousand years ago, there was a great Rabbi named Akiva.  Akiva was heading home late one night, when the darkness and fog caused him to make a wrong turn.  Rabbi Akiva ends up at this massive Roman outpost.  As Akiva approaches, he hears a wrestling on top of the wall, and a soldier yells down “who are you, and what are you doing here?jump-for-joy-219x300

Akiva responds, “Excuse Me?”

The guard yells, again, “Who are you?  What are you doing here?”

franklin-graham-award-winners-e1484091990549-225x300When you first become a lawyer, it’s a special feeling.  Everything is new, and egos are out of control (new lawyers are the worst, trust me).   Back in 1993, I joined Joe DuRocher’s Public Defender’s office and was thrust into a glorious pot of new attorneys, many of whom are now judges, friends, or both.  Jimmie “David” Gentle was in that group, and we have been friends ever since.   David has taken a different path of late, which we’ll get to eventually.  First, why are we talking about our old boss?

Well, I’m getting more and more sentimental these days.  My morning routine involves listing a few things I’m thankful for, and rather consistently, I have deep gratitude toward my old boss Joe DuRocher.  Joe passed on in 2012, and I miss him.  Also, I owe him.  He gave me not just a job, but a great career.  I’ll never be able to repay him for that.  The problem is, I struggle to recall all the stories Joe had for we attorneys, so, I did what I always do when I need to know something–I Googled Joe Durocher.  I didn’t find much.

I decided to call David, hoping he could recall some stories.  Joe had great stories.  The problem is, many of the stories were told during our monthly PD staff meetings.  I was “too busy” with my PD case load to pay much attention  (as much as I try to make myself look good via this blog, I have to admit that ‘being busy’ simply means that things were out of control.  In that sense, and in a financial sense, I don’t miss the life of a public defender).  Anyway, I do miss Joe’s stories, so, can I get some help here?  Yes.  That’s where David Gentle comes in. Continue Reading

[This is Part 2 of my cut & paste Kindle highlights of the wonderful book Fooled by Randomness, by Nassim ponce inletTaleb]

Observational data is important to science, and Fooled By Randomness  by Nassim Taleb cautions us that we should not take scientific data so seriously.  We live in a random world, and data can only get us so far in life.

To understand the white swan problem, let’s start with the basics (actually, we’ll end with the basics too, but you know what I mean):

At some point in history, a biologist of the binocular sort (other biologists are of the microscope sort, right?) decided to prove once and for all that “all swans are white”.

He started proving “all swans are white” by observing lots of swans, and documenting his findings.  The first year, he observed 1,000 swans, and all of them were white.  Even with a thousand observations under his belt, he was not ready to publish his results in “Nature”, as more data was needed.  So, he observes another 3,000 swans the next year.  Same result–all the swans were white.   The question is, how much data must this biologist collect before proving that all swans are white?  And, as this biologist collects more and more data, how much more confident should we be in the theory?  Will another 10,000 observations of white swans make us pretty sure that all swans are white?  How about another 100,000 observations of white swans?    Continue Reading