Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Railroaded

My preliminary hearing took place this past Thursday (10/15), and the result was the worst case scenario I had envisioned going into it – I was railroaded, and my case was rubber stamped for criminal trial by a hostile judge.

While preparing for the hearing, several friends advised me to consult legal counsel, so I looked into it. I did not qualify for a Public Defender (I am too “rich”), but I couldn’t afford a private lawyer without significant financial hardship. The procedure for a preliminary hearing looked pretty straight-forward – it’s very limited what a defendant can do – so I thought I would just do my best to represent myself. In the worst case scenario I could then imagine – that the hearing would be presided over by a hostile judge already familiar with my case and against me from the beginning – it wouldn’t matter if I had legal counsel or not. I would just be out whatever money I had paid the lawyer to represent me.

Lady Luck was not in my corner that day. The presiding judge (Hawley) was clearly already familiar with my case. After I told him that I intended to represent myself, he said, “Let me tell you right now, Mr. Edge: I will not allow you to use this courtroom as a political platform, and if you attempt to do so, I will hold you in contempt of court.” This was Hawley’s introduction to me, and things only got worse from there.

Most of the questions I had prepared were deemed legally “irrelevant” by Hawley. Whether or not the minors were allowed to leave: irrelevant. Whether or not the minors’ arrests were a precondition to mine: irrelevant. Whether my arresting officer was familiar with the curfew ordinance and with “contributing to the delinquency of a minor”: irrelevant. On this last point, the judge himself objected. He said, “Mr. Edge, I assure you that we’ve had cases of ‘contributing to the delinquency of a minor’ in this City before, and I am familiar with the law.” This was stated with a sneering, annoyed tone, along with most of Hawley’s other comments.

Regarding Nelson’s knowledge of the curfew law, I asked him if, according to the ordinance, minors were to be given the opportunity to leave. He answered, “If they violate the curfew, then they are to be detained.” I asked again, “But does the curfew not state that minors are to be given the opportunity to leave before they are detained?” Nelson repeated the same answer. At this point, Hawley interjected again: “Look, Mr. Edge, a police officer doesn’t have a lot of authority over the law while he’s out on the street. All he can do is use his discretion to some extent about whether to enforce the law in a particular situation. He even told them to leave, when he could have just detained them.”

“Your Honor,” I said, “the curfew ordinance directly states that minors are to be given the opportunity to leave before being detained,” and I read to him the relevant lines from the ordinance.

He replied, “Well, he told them to leave, and they refused, and he used his discretion in detaining them.”

The whole thing seemed really bizarre. In some instances the judge would initiate (and, I assume, sustain) objections to my questions completely independent of the prosecution. In others, the prosecutor would say “objection,” and Hawley would cut him off to explain, and sustain, the objection.

Hawley frequently interrupted the proceedings to argue in favor of the prosecution or to badger me about my ignorance of legal procedure. When I asked Nelson if anyone had told him that I instructed them to break the law, Hawley cut in to say, “You don’t have to instruct anyone to break the law, you just have to entice them, and this [referring to the protest flier I had handed out prior to the event] looks like enticement to me.”

Nelson did acknowledge that no one ever told him I had instructed anyone to break the law. He acknowledged that he never questioned anyone about whether I knew how old any of the protesters were. He acknowledged that he never questioned anyone about anything related to my case at all -- before, during or after my arrest. What it came down to was the protest flier. The very fact that I distributed the flier, regardless of whether I specifically targeted any age group, was deemed sufficient evidence for the judge to bind my case over to trial. Nelson even acknowledged that the young men he detained did not have any protest fliers in their possession. That Major McLaughlin of the Greenville City PD had been sent this flier the day before my arrest, and that officers on duty that night (including Nelson) knew about the protest beforehand, apparently were not factors taken into consideration by Hawley when weighing his decision.

I had seen Hawley preside over traffic court a few weeks earlier, and the calm, reasonable man I met at that time bore no resemblance to the indignant, annoyed, belligerent judge who presided over my case. He had his mind made up before he walked into that courtroom. He was doing his worst, not only to argue in favor of the prosecution, but to embarrass me in the process.

While unable to cow me into submission, Hawley did accomplish a few things: he succeeded in looking like an asshole lording over an innocent man from high atop his throne. And he proved that corruption comes in many forms.

The more I think about this, the more angry I become. So I’m wrapping up this blog post for now. Unfortunately, no transcript was made at the hearing. I felt that I needed to chronicle my side of things while the experience was still fresh in my mind.

Thanks for reading,

--Dan Edge

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Judges hate it when you defend yourself. That fact alone would predictably annoy any judge. To him you looked like an arrogant fool before you ever opened your mouth.

Anonymous said...

Dan,

I agree with your decision, expressed in your subsequent blog post, to forgo most, if not all, future comments on your case. You could provide ammunition for the prosecution and jeopardize your case.

Also, get a lawyer, even if you can't afford it. Figure out a way to do it. As you probably learned, legal procedures have their own methods, and you must have an expert guide you through it.

You are still in charge of your case and you should find a lawyer who is 100% on your side. But you definitely need a lawyer.

Lawyers have a saying, "The person who represents himself has a fool for a client." It really is true. Even if you *should* win your case, you can lose because you are ignorant of the law. And reading a few cases does not give you the knowledge you need to properly represent yourself.

Dan Edge said...

I agree entirely with the preceding comment. There was never any question in my mind as to whether I would get a lawyer for a criminal trial, that was only an issue for the Prelim.

Thanks,

--Dan Edge

Anonymous said...

Dan, After talking with some rather reputable attorneys, I have been told that they are in agreement with you and your case as we have talked about before. They are also in agreement between themselves that in many cases regarding constitutionality, local magistrates will very, very rarely rule case law on the issue so that it can be appealed to a higher court for ruling and case precedence. From my understanding, and this is new to me too, many of the local judges know that what you are fighting is the right way according to Constitution and in several cases, even persuade attorneys and/or defendants to seek a higher court decision because it will definitely get overturned. Whether this judge had it out for you or not, which I personally think he did, I think he knows you are going to win. I think the prosecution knows you are going to win, and I think they want to see if you are going to "roll-over" or whether you are going to see this through to the end and actually make a difference in how laws and ordinances are passed and legalized. They themselves, as the prosecution, may be using your case as a platform to see whether a curfew ordinance will be allowed in S.C. as I don't know of many, if any that do exist. Either way, I think you are the first to challenge one here and they need a S.C. high court ruling to determine Constitutionality. I know.... I know without a doubt Dan, that you will win and you can do this successfully and make a difference. I stand behind you all the way, as a Patriotic American who fights for freedom and values. I would maintain my interest in a 1983 suit, if anything, for the restitution of your name, your efforts, and your sacrifices you have placed in your patriotism!

~Force

Jason said...

Good luck Dan! Remember, no matter how badly it goes (and I too think you will win) that you are doing what you think is right and that regardless of the outcome, you will be a better person because you refused to move even an inch on your principles.

~Jason