Friday, July 30, 2010

The Office

My current means of support is working as a paralegal/legal assistant/receptionist. I fell into this after running into an acquaintance I used to work out with, who was also a single mom, and was working as a paralegal and thought I'd like it. I figured, “Hey, why not?” and enrolled in the paralegal program at my local junior college. Keep in mind, I chose my college based on its school colors.

So I finished school, while working one full time job and at least 3 part time jobs, and found my first paralegal position immediately after I completed the program. I’m on my third job in two and a half years, after being laid off of one job and ran screaming from the boss of another, so I guess all the hype about always being able to find a paralegal job is true. I’ve been at this office for little over a year, and while it’s not perfect, it’ll do pig, it’ll do.

My current employer’s focus of practice is employment law. Pretty basic stuff. Most of the cases follow a usual pattern and I spend a lot of time making templates and proofreading. I deal with a lot of misplaced apostrophes. So I usually know what to expect.

Yesterday, however, was an exception.

The firm took a CJA case before I was hired. Without going into too many details, our defendant was involved in a HUGE drug conspiracy, involving a HUGE amount of crack. He was due to be sentenced over a year ago, and it fell to me to write his Sentencing Memorandum. The Sentencing Memorandum is basically a document submitted to the court that contains the arguments as to why your guy should get time off or have his sentence reduced. Because his sentencing was delayed for over a year, I had a lot of time to educate myself in drug sentencing.

Here’s what I learned: The Reagan administration sucked.

During the big “Just Say No” campaign and the “war on drugs” during the eighties, the Reagan administration passed laws that had to be intentionally racist. Sentencing statutes were passed that had the effect of giving crack offenders the same jail sentence as someone who possessed 100 times the same amount of coke. The irony of this is that crack does not exist without coke. It’s made from coke. There are no chemical differences. The difference is that crack was perceived as a “black” drug and cocaine, a “white” drug. This resulted in sentences that were way too long for most offenders, which later led to overcrowding, etc. I won’t go into how the breakdown of the prison system, look it up.

I also learned that I would use algebra in ways I never imagined.

When I went back to school, I had to take algebra, because as an art major, I was not required to set foot in a math class, and had no math on my college transcript. I actually didn’t hate taking it, and it turned out, that the instructor was the father of one of The Big One’s classmates. Lucky I took this class though, because I had no idea how much math was involved in drug dealing.

The sentencing laws basically work like this: Marijuana is used for the starting point of all other drugs. So x amount of pot is worth x amount of meth or heroin or crack or coke, etc. Sentencing is based on the amount of the drugs involved. So I had to convert the amount of crack to its pot equivalent. Then I had to convert it from ounces to grams. Then I had to figure out its coke equivalent at a 100:1 ratio. Basically, I was trying to get the amount of drugs down as far as I could to benefit our defendant.

I also learned that there were a couple of bills and case law in place that agreed that the disparity in sentencing was racially motivated and went around and around and around researching all that. On the day I finally submitted my document to the court, Congress passed the Fairness in Sentencing Act of 2010, which, when signed by the President, change the ratio from 100:1 to 18:1. Hopefully, this will be to the benefit of our client.

Anyway, the funny part was when I was trying to do the math to convert the amounts to an 18:1 ratio. Lot of good that algebra class did me. “So if the original amount was 4.5 kilos of crack, what would that be in coke with the 18:1 ratio?” Ended up that we called Kathy with a K’s math-whiz daughter, and she gave me some formula. Just give me the answer, I don’t know how to remember to solve for x. So we figured it out and hopefully it will matter come the sentencing next week.

I do actually feel bad for our guy, even though it was a HUGE amount of crack. Weighed about as much as a six-month old baby.

We also had an interesting client meeting. Again, I can’t divulge much, but I learned that exotic dancers have to pay the house to work each shift, pay for their music, have to sell a certain number of drinks per shift, have to tip out the house for each dance, have to have a license from the city and are fined for infractions.

Not my typical workday.

No comments: