Josh Gordon

Browns Wide Receiver Gordon Arrested For DUI

Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon was arrested for driving under the influence over the Fourth of July weekend after he was pulled over at 3 a.m. for driving 50 mph in a 35 mph zone.

The drunk driving arrest is just the latest incident in what has been a tumultuous offseason for the troubled wide receiver. Earlier this summer Gordon’s league-administered drug test turned up positive for a substance banned under the NFL’s drug policy. First time offenders face a four game suspension for violating the policy, but this wasn’t the first time Gordon failed a test. He tested positive last season, and although he had his suspension reduced from four games to two, the league likely isn’t going to take a second violation lightly.

A second positive test means that a player is subject to a one-year suspension, so Gordon was already facing the possibility of missing an entire season prior to his latest arrest. It’s a sad fall for a player who appeared to be on a meteoric rise, as he led the league in receiving yards in 2013 despite missing the first two games due to his suspension.

Drunk Driving Arrest

According to the police report, Gordon was driving PJ Hairston’s car when police stopped him. Hairston, the 26th overall pick in this year’s NBA draft, is no stranger to controversy. Authorities asked Gordon to take a breathalyzer test that revealed he was operating the vehicle with a 0.09 blood alcohol content, just barely over the 0.08 legal limit.

Adding to his troubles, the DUI arrest wasn’t the first time he’s ran into problems this offseason while driving a car. Back in May, Gordon was issued a speeding ticket in Ohio. Not that big of a deal, until you consider that one of Gordon’s co-pilots was found to be in possession of marijuana.

So between Gordon’s troubles at Baylor, his two failed drug tests, his DUI and his known association with drug users, it’s safe to say the receiver isn’t going to get much leniency from the league or a judge. Geoff Saltzstein, criminal defense attorney and avid Cleveland Browns fan, had this to say about Gordon’s arrest.

“Between Gordon driving drunk and Johnny Manziel rolling $20’s in the bathroom it’s safe to say that it hasn’t been the ideal offseason for my beloved Browns. Johnny Football aside, Gordon needs to get his act together. The one thing he has going for him is that all these incidents occurred in a rather short time period.

What’s most likely going to happen is that Gordon will, at the recommendation of his family, friends and attorney, voluntarily check himself into rehab. Self-admittance to a rehabilitation center shows the league and the court that he wants to get help. He already faced a 16-game suspension from the NFL, so the DUI bust will probably only strengthen the NFL’s case, but it’s possible he could have missed the entire season even without the latest incident. As for the DUI, he was barley over the legal limit, and if he does indeed check himself into rehab I doubt the judge will lay down the hammer. I’m guessing a fine and some community service.

So while I don’t think we’ll see Gordon in the league this season because of his second failed drug test, I don’t believe he’ll go to jail over the DUI arrest.”

Related source: USA Today

Duluth body cameras

Duluth Police Begin Wearing Body Cameras 

Just last week we suggested that Minnesota could reduce officer-involved incidents and complaints if they would simply outfit police officers with body cameras. One department has implemented that suggestion, and we believe both the authorities and the public will benefit from the move.

All Duluth police officers have been outfitted with body cameras to record interactions with the public in hopes that the video evidence will cut down on investigation times and provide a third-party account to corroborate incident reports.

The Duluth PD said the video is uploaded at the end of each shift, but the department will not be conducting random viewing of the tapes unless it is necessary for an investigation. They also noted that they have trained their officers to hit record prior to any interaction with a civilian, as the camera does not record 24/7.

All things considered, outfitting the entire force with cameras did not break the bank. The department said the devices cost about $300 a pop, and with 97 uninformed officers on staff, the total bill came in south of $30,000. That’s a small price to pay considering recent evidence suggests that cameras reduce complaints and lawsuits against the department, which can result if 6- and 7-figure payouts.

If the program is successful in Duluth, look for Minneapolis to follow suit. The Minneapolis Police Department has already stated that they have begun buying cameras for their officers, but they plan to roll out the program on a much smaller scale on a trial basis, assuming there are no hiccups.

Avery Appelman Comments

As a purveyor of justice I am glad to hear the Duluth Police Department has outfit all of their officers with body cameras. Far too often in the court of law you run into a case where it’s a client’s word versus the word of the cop. The wrong judge may be predisposed to take the word of the officer over the word of the citizen. If an officer knows he can get away with something because his word will be held in higher esteem, they can bend and break the law as they please.

The cameras will provide an objective, third-party account of any interaction between an officer and a citizen. If there is a question as to who escalated the incident or if the suspect was resisting, all the court will need to do is review the tape.

Lake Minnetonka

Minnesota Man Leads Police on High-Speed Boat Chase

A Minnesota man led police on a high-speed boat chase on a busy lake over the Fourth of July weekend.

Police eventually apprehended Ryan Krueger, 33, after a five-minute long chase on Lake Minnetonka. According to the police report, authorities were tipped off to a possible domestic disturbance around 9 p.m. As a police boat got near the alleged disturbance, Krueger punched the throttle and attempted to outrun authorities.

Doug Ellefson, who lives on Lake Minnetonka, said the boat was traveling between 30-40 miles per hour as it attempted to elude authorities.

“It was exciting. It’s relatively quiet with the no wake zone,” said Ellefson. “He raced by us with two sheriff boats chasing him. It’s certainly something we don’t see every day.”

Cause For Concern

While the elusive escapade may have been entertaining for Ellefson and his family, the high-speed chase put many boaters in danger. Ellefson said the chaotic scene took a scary turn when he spotted a baby on board the boat.

“With that amount of craziness, and a little baby involved, it was frightening,” said Ellefson.

Authorities pursued Krueger into nearby Maxwell Bay where he was cornered by two other police boats that joined the chase. He now faces felony charges for fleeing an officer, and the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office is investigating the domestic matter.

Avery Appelman comments

It’s never a good idea to run from the authorities, be it on foot, in a car or on a boat. You’ll only make it worse.

The best thing you can do is pull over, talk to the cops in a polite tone, and respectfully decline to answer any questions until you can speak to an attorney. Doing this will put you in a good light with the court system, and it will give you the best chance to beat any potential charges.

Related source: KSTP

4th of July DUI

Minnesota Adds DUI Patrols During Deadly Holiday Weekend 

Fourth of July was the deadliest holiday weekend on Minnesota roads in 2013, and authorities are keen to make sure it doesn’t happen again by adding extra DUI patrols all across the state.

Statistics released by the Minnesota Department of Public Safety Office of Traffic Safety found that the Fourth of July holiday weekend resulted in seven traffic fatalities in 2013, more than Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Eve combined. It also ranked ahead of Memorial Day (5) and Labor Day (4), making it the deadliest holiday on Minnesota roads last year.

“In the summer, we experience fewer crashes than in the winter, but along with the warmer temperatures, people tend to drive at higher speeds and crashes are more severe, which results in more fatalities and serious injuries,” said Donna Berger, Office of Traffic Safety director. “In addition to always buckling up, driving at safe speeds and paying attention to the road, the high number of DWI arrests is a call to action for all Minnesotans to plan a sober ride home before going out to celebrate.”

The holiday driving statistics may be a little misleading, as the data compared the Fourth of July weekend to single day holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas, but it’s worth noting that the Fourth was deadlier than other three-day holiday weekends like Memorial Day and Labor Day.

DUI Attorney Avery Appelman said the Fourth of July is unique in that it tends to feature more evening activates compared to other three-day holiday weekends, meaning more people often make the poor choice to drink and drive.

“Personally I know a lot of people who use these three day weekends to get up to a cabin or cottage, but unlike Memorial Day or Labor Day, the Fourth is often peppered with fireworks shows, community barbeques and perfect boating weather,” said Appelman. “These activities can lead to people imbibing in a few too many cocktails before being tasked to get back home. If they don’t plan appropriately or if they think they’re ‘too far north’ to run in to the law, they may be in for a rude awakening.”

An average of six people have died on Minnesota roads on the Fourth of July weekend each of the last 10 years, and 58 percent of those fatalities have involved alcohol. Appelman said he’s surprised the fatality numbers aren’t higher considered the state has handed out over 5,300 DUI citations during the holiday over the past 10 years.

“Make good decisions this weekend, for yourself and for others on the road,” said Appelman. “We’re here in case you screw up, but a perfect weekend would be one where our phone didn’t ring once.”

In the event you need an attorney, be it for DUI, traffic ticket or any other offense, Avery and Geoff can be reached toll free at 888-988-5521.

Related source: MN DoT

Violent Crime mn

Violent Crime In Minnesota On The Rise

Authorities believe a growing drug trade in Minnesota is the main reason why violent crime increased in 2013.

The findings are part of a comprehensive crime report released by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension on Tuesday. After comparing the data to 2012 findings, the MCBA discovered:

  • The murder rate increased 21 percent in 2013.
  • Although burglaries were down, the value of the stolen items taken during a robbery or motor vehicle theft increased in 2013.
  • There were 559 more narcotic-related arrests last year than in 2012.

Mower County Sheriff Terese Amazi believes the last statistic is the reason violent crime is increasing across the state.

“I think the violent crime is definitely drug driven,” said Amazi. “I think the methamphetamine obviously plays a role in that, but I also see that the heroin and prescription painkillers are definitely driving that as well.”

Amazi said the issue is two-fold. She noted that more drugs are entering Minnesota, and released convicts aren’t getting the necessary counseling to rid them of their habits.

“Probably about 95 percent are in jail because of drugs, alcohol, or a combination of both,” Amazi said. “We don’t very often arrest sober people.”

Amazi said the first stage of intervention needs to come from family and friends, but that can be problematic if those individuals abuse drugs too.

“Only the first names are changing in our jail and that’s probably the biggest issue,” said Amazi. “The family is definitely the biggest issue in combating drug abuse.”

To see the 183-page report in it’s entirety, click here.

Related source:

Police Body Cameras

Police Body Cameras Would Cut Crime

If you’ve been following the debate over whether or not police officers should wear mounted cameras while they are out on patrol, you’re probably familiar with the experiment in Rialto, California.

Back in 2012, officers in Rialto decided to equip themselves with body cameras for one year to see if they would help reduce complaints and provide stronger evidence in “he said, she said” situations. At the end of the year, the Rialto police department crunched the numbers and found:

  • Use of force by officers dropped by 60 percent (61 compared to 25).
  • Complaints against officers fell by 88 percent (24 compared to 3).

Video evidence collected during citizen encounters was also used to support an officers re-telling of events in many cases. In all, the body camera trial was a rousing success.

So Why The Hesitancy?

Despite the findings in the Rialto study, precincts and departments are still leery about outfitting their officers with cameras. As the Associated Press puts it, “most law enforcement officials [say that] the lack of clear guidelines on the cameras’ use could potentially undermine departments’ goals of creating greater accountability of officers and jeopardize the privacy of both the public and law enforcement officers.”

To us, that just sounds like an excuse to bury the issue under a gob of bureaucratic red tape. Rialto police chief Williams A. Farrar had the right idea when he said, “When you put a camera on a police officer, they tend to behave a little better, follow the rules a little better. And if a citizen knows the officer is wearing a camera, chances are the citizen will behave a little better.”

It’s a no-lose situation. Citizens don’t need to fear excessive force or an officer who doesn’t know the law, and officers don’t have to fear a frivolous suit by someone looking for a payday.

Attorney Mel Welch extrapolated on the point, saying that there were a few key reasons why body cameras would be beneficial.

“It is a win-win for all involved to have law enforcement wear cameras: there is objective evidence to corroborate their accounts of an incident,” said Welch. “It keeps law enforcement honest, which is important because:

  • They have guns; and
  • They have the authority to use those guns;

Also, this will help expedite the wheels of justice because those accused:

  • Will not have their backs up against a proverbial and literal wall as a result of police abuse; and
  • They will be able to rely better upon the objective account of evidence in coming to terms with the accusations.”

You can make the case that the cameras are too costly, and in some cases they may be, but don’t tell us it could “undermine accountability.” When you factor in the money they’ll save by preventing frivolous suits, it’s not hard to see how the cameras could quickly pay for themselves.

Related source: AP, Web Pro News

ALF Scholarship

Announcing the $1,000 ALF Scholarship Award Winner 

Late last year, we at Appelman Law Firm decided that we wanted to invest in the future of a prospective law student by offering a $1,000 scholarship to a student interested in pursuing a career in criminal justice. While we could have simply asked students for their GPA and an essay about what they planned to do after college, we decided to put a unique twist on the scholarship.

Those of you who know me best know that at one point in my life, I was chemically dependent. I have been sober for 11 years, but taking a walk on the wrong side of the tracks certainly gave me a new perspective on right and wrong, and how it can be difficult to overcome obstacles during this journey we call life. If I was going to give out $1,000, I wanted it to go to someone who had traveled down a similar path and triumphed over their past mistakes.

We decided to offer a scholarship to a law school student who had overcome a run-in with the law in their past. We asked for an essay describing their experience and how it affected their future pursuits. We also took into account GPA and work experience.

We received 35 applications, all of which had fascinating stories to tell. We wish we could feature them all on our blog, but we didn’t want to delay the announcement any further.

So without further ado, I am pleased to announce the Lia Rottman is the winner of the $1,000 Appelman Law Firm Criminal Defense Scholarship.

Lia’s story stood out from the rest for a number of reasons. She got into serious trouble with drugs and alcohol, but she put her mistakes behind her and has thrived ever since. Her 3.75 GPA and work with the Tulsa County Public Defender’s Office and U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma prove that she is working extremely hard at school and in the legal community.

I held a videoconference with Lia late last week. I told her that she was a finalist, and that I wanted to learn a little more about her. Little did she know that our panel had already selected her as the winner. After talking for a bit and explaining more about the scholarship, I informed Lia about the committee’s selection. She was grateful for the scholarship, and she told us a little more about herself. You can check out the video call below.



So now that the scholarship is over, I just want to take a moment to thank everyone involved. Thank you to all who applied, and a big thanks to all the universities and counselors who helped spread the word to their students. Overall, the scholarship contest was a rousing success, and it’s likely we’ll offer another scholarship in the future. Best of luck to all those pursing a career in law, and don’t ever let a mistake stop you from chasing your passions.


Avery Appelman
Appelman Law Firm


ALF Law School Scholarship Essay #5

We’re currently in the process of narrowing down finalists for the $1,000 ALF Scholarship, and we thought it would be a great idea to share some of the best essay submissions we’ve received on our blog. As part of the application process, entrants were asked if they would allow their story to be shared on our blog, and if so, how they would like to be attributed. Today’s essay comes from E.W.

My start in life was less than ideal. I grew up in an abusive home with a weak support system as our family moved seven times before I turned fourteen; until college, I had never attended the same school twice. By the time I was sixteen years old, my home life had deteriorated to the point that I was forced to leave home with my fourteen year old younger brother for our own safety. In addition to my coursework, I worked two jobs through my junior and senior years of high school to support us. To make matters worse, my brother developed a hereditary mental disorder, making caring for him even more challenging.

The culmination of the tremendous amount of responsibility I assumed in late high school, the lack of parental guidance, and the unresolved issues I had developed from my abusive upbringing resulted in unhealthy behaviors in my personal life. In 2010, when I was twenty years old on spring break, I chose to drink excessively which resulted in my being cited for disorderly intoxication. The charges were later dropped, but this experience left a far reaching impact on my life that would not be fully realized until a year later. In 2011, I was once again cited for intoxicated behavior, this time by the Florida State University housing department. The turning point came for me with the resultant university mandated alcohol awareness class at the Thagard Health Center on campus. The class prompted me to evaluate my alcohol consumption and with it, the coping mechanisms I had developed as a teenager. I have since developed healthier methods for dealing with stress, by avoiding high risk situations and channeling my energy into proactive solutions, such as exercising and building solid support systems.

Presently, I am active in the gym, my church, and my community which helps me to manage stress properly. Due to my experience with abuse and the emotional repercussions of it, I choose to serve my community by mentoring teenagers with similar backgrounds. Working with high risk high school students through the Big Brothers Big Sisters Mentor 2.0 program, I act as a mentor and a safe adult resource which gives me the opportunity to use the challenges I overcame to prevent abuse and facilitate positive life outcomes for others. In the future, I will continue this work through the Florida Guardian ad Litem Program by acting as legal voice for children from abusive homes and ultimately, by becoming a foster parent.

Part Two

Since elementary school, I knew I wanted to attend law school. Some of my friends wanted to be ballerinas or firefighters; I wanted to be an attorney. My inspiration to pursue law school at such young age was born out of the necessity of advocating for the wellbeing of myself and my younger brothers throughout our volatile home life. Working toward this goal, I studied hard in high school and was accepted into college at sixteen through a dual enrollment program. After I graduated from high school, I paid for college with two jobs, one waiting tables and the other as a peer tutor for other college students.

The academic focus of my legal interests originated during the spring semester of my junior year at the University of South Florida (USF) when I began my first constitutional law class with Professor Lawrence Morehouse. His class focused on the way in which case precedence shapes public policy, and mimicked traditional law school classes by employing dense reading assignments coupled with argument based written exams. Professor Morehouse’s exhaustive curriculum cultivated an environment of intense academic discussion, developing my interest in the intersection between law and public policy.

Professor Morehouse’s course inspired me to apply for the Tallahassee Internship Program (TIP), a competitive experiential learning program offered by USF comprised of a two month long intensive course focusing on state government and legislative policy followed by an internship during Florida’s legislative session. I was accepted to the program and, during the class, researched and wrote on the structure of Florida’s state and local government, current policy issues, and related legal proceedings. During the 2013 Legislative Session, I was delegated the responsibility of managing the education priorities for the office of Senator Jeffery Brandes, which exposed me to legal professionals working in governmental relations and became the catalyst for my career focus in public policy and administrative law.

In January of 2014, I transitioned into a professional role as a research analyst with the nonprofit research institution Florida TaxWatch whose mission is to provide independent analysis of state and local government policies. Currently, I research and analyze Florida statutes, legislative history, administrative procedure, local governmental policy and budgets, and Florida Supreme Court rulings. In conjunction with my research, I recently authored a report aimed at informing and shaping the dialogue on municipal pensions. This work builds upon the foundation of my undergraduate studies, advancing my understanding of policy as well as strengthening my skills in research and analysis.

Encouragement and guidance from Professor Morehouse and the many other civically engaged professionals I have worked with over the past two years has developed my aspirations from a childhood interest in attending law school into a professional interest in obtaining a legal education from the Florida State University College of Law. I hope to use my legal education in the fields of administrative law and governmental relations to promote informed policy creation and responsible governance.

Fake ID

ALF Scholarship Essay #4

We’re currently in the process of narrowing down finalists for the $1,000 ALF Scholarship, and we thought it would be a great idea to share some of the best essay submissions we’ve received on our blog. As part of the application process, entrants were asked if they would allow their story to be shared on our blog, and if so, how they would like to be attributed. Today’s essay comes from B.C.


I desperately scrambled to the top of my concrete bunk in order to escape the torrent of urine seeping into my cell and covered my ears to drown out the racist slurs echoing throughout the halls from the white supremacist in the next cell over. I should have been studying for finals and preparing for my graduation from a prestigious university less than two weeks away. Instead, I was cowering in a Compton jail cell. This was just the beginning of a journey that taught me valuable lessons in discrimination, tenacity, humility, compassion, patience, inequality, leadership and maturity. Ultimately, this journey has led me to discover my true passion in life of becoming a public interest attorney and helping the less fortunate and disadvantaged.

The 5 days I spent in jail opened my eyes to the rampant discrimination that occurs in the criminal justice system. Upon my arrival, I overheard my arresting officer instruct a guard to “give me the royal treatment because I went to a prestigious university and probably had money and could sue.” I was given my own cell and was not stripped searched, and for the most part I was segregated from general population.

I learned tenacity after I was released from jail and lived with my father for several months in the desert. I was convicted of 2 felony counts of forging the Seal of the State of California for manufacturing fake IDs for college students and sentenced to 3 years of probation and 250 hours of community service. My active felon status made finding work particularly difficult, so I had to go beyond my comfort zone and work manual labor jobs that I once thought beneath me in oppressive 105+ degree heat.

I learned humility through my living situations after moving back to Los Angeles to seek better job opportunities. When I first arrived, I slept on the ground in an 8ft x 4ft section of a squalid 300 ft studio apartment. I shared the space with a Bangladeshi immigrant and a middle-aged failed comedian who was addicted to painkillers. The conversations I had with the tenants opened my eyes to the unique struggles and sacrifices immigrants go through, and gave me a window into a life full of strife and broken dreams, allowing me to witness first-hand the constant struggle that a drug addict goes through.

I learned compassion during my struggle the find a stable job. During much of this time I was forced to go on food stamps, and at one point had to scavenge for expired food in the dumpsters of supermarkets. There I developed friendships with other homeless men, and this made me realize that many of the homeless were not lazy and did not choose to be homeless, but rather suffered from serious issues that they had no control over, and with the right sort of help may be able to overcome.

I learned patience through completing the requirements of my probation. I had to complete 250 hours of hard labor doing landscaping and picking up garbage on the side of active freeways. There was a single van, and on rare occasions 2, that would pick up participants from a line of numbered spaces laid out in a parking lot Monday through Thursday. There was far more demand for spaces than supply, so participants had to arrive around 4am to secure a spot. There was no community service on days when it rained, and the vans would randomly never show up for the day. For these reasons it took me over 2 years to complete my community service hours.

The people that I encountered during community service allowed me learn about the rampant inequality that persists in the criminal justice system. I met a woman named Rosalina, an undocumented immigrant who came from Mexico 10 years prior to escape an abusive husband and find work. She was given 100 hours of community service as punishment for stealing baby formula to care for her infant. That contrasted greatly with a 23 year old graduate from a prestigious university who came from a wealthy family and could afford the best attorneys to defend him. He was convicted of manslaughter resulting from a drunk driving incident and received just 300 hours of community service plus some time in rehab. Rosalina’s life has arguably been ruined because of a petty crime committed with good intentions, whereas this entitled, irresponsible man who actually killed somebody essentially received the same punishment.

I learned about leadership, maturity and passion during my career in marketing and time volunteering at a legal aid non-profit. At my first full time position I learned leadership when I was promoted to Marketing Manager overseeing a team of 12 employees as well as redeveloping the company’s entire marketing program. This prepared me for my current role where I learned maturity. My current career has honed my leadership and management skills, taught me how to analyze and present complex data, sharpened my creativity, showed me how to work effectively in a team, and taught me invaluable time management skills. However, my marketing career has left me unsatisfied, and the experiences I had after my conviction made me understand the challenges low-income people face, particularly within the criminal justice system, and convinced me that my passion lies in legal advocacy for the disenfranchised. Volunteering at a legal aid non-profit solidified my decision to pursue a career as a public interest attorney and one day create my own non-profit legal aid organization with a focus on criminal defense to help the indigent. My non-profit would ensure that they get the attention their cases deserve, and at the same time would free up resources for public defenders so that they could argue their cases more effectively.

I would have never guessed that manufacturing fake IDs for college students would take me on a journey that would reshape my life and give me a completely different perspective on the world. Through this journey I have met good people that the legal system has failed, and witnessed firsthand the pernicious unfairness and inequality that exists within it. The journey has revealed to me injustices that I would have never imagined had occurred, and crystallized my resolve to change the system through being a legal advocate to the disenfranchised.

Law Scholarship


We’re currently in the process of narrowing down finalists for the $1,000 Appelman Law Firm Scholarship, and we thought it would be a great idea to share some of the best essay submissions we’ve received on our blog. As part of the application process, entrants were asked if they would allow their story to be shared on our blog, and if so, how they would like to be attributed. Today’s essay comes from Justin C.


From the perspective of an outside observer, it would be fair to characterize my life as composed of two distinct stages: before and after law school. Before law school, I had little regard for society’s rules. To be sure, I wasn’t a punk — I never hurt anyone, and most of my teachers from K-12 would say I was a genuine pleasure in class. That said, I was a bad kid by almost anyone’s definition: At age 12, I was arrested for possession of marijuana in school; at age 18, I was arrested for possession of an illegal knife; at age 19, I was arrested for throwing a 300+ person party, complete with food and alcohol, at the restaurant where I used to work; and at ages 20 and 23, I was arrested for shoplifting. Now, at age 28, having gone five years without breaking the law, and after graduating law school magna cum laude, I look back on my life and wonder, “What was I thinking?” It’s hard to say exactly, but I do know that what sparked the dramatic change was my close call with jail time.

The punishment I received for most of my crimes was rather typical: fines, community service, and probation. However, one experience in particular stands out. The last time I was in court (for shoplifting groceries) the prosecutor was ready to send me to jail. After all, I had a lengthy criminal record, and it was my second offense for shoplifting. Until that point, I had thought that there was no way any prosecutor was going to send an educated, middle-class white kid to jail. I was dead wrong, and when the prosecutor requested a six month term of incarceration in front of the entire court room, my life flashed before my eyes. I was pale and stricken with terror, and I realized the mistakes I made in the past had finally caught up with me. Fortunately, I had a very persuasive public defender and a sympathetic judge, so I didn’t serve any jail time, but I finally understood that I had to make a change.

Attorney Advice

After court was finished, my public defender asked me if I would join her for coffee, and I accepted her invitation. I spent the next few hours getting chewed out harder than I had ever been before. She told me I was an idiot, that I was about to throw my life away, and that if she hadn’t stuck her neck out for me, I’d be in jail. But she didn’t just yell at me. Rather than viewing me as a criminal, she saw me as a person who simply needed some guidance. Thus, she gave me her personal phone number, and took me under her wing as a mentor. To be clear, we didn’t have a YMCA/big-sister kind of relationship, but she helped me understand that being a criminal isn’t something to be taken lightly. She encouraged me to think about my future, and how my criminality could affect the lives of the people I love: my mom, my brother, and my future wife. Indeed, my public defender even introduced me to the therapist who helped me understand my criminogenic needs and taught me how to overcome them. Simply put, my public defender changed my life. (And it was because of my experience with her that I decided to pursue law.)

But I didn’t get off with just a stern talking-to. Beyond the realization that I could actually wind up in jail, and what I learned from my public defender, I was given a hefty sentence of community service — 80 hours working for the city park. I arrived for my first day at 6 a.m. in the middle of a severe snow storm, terribly underdressed and unprepared for manual labor. My task for the day was to shovel and salt all of the sidewalks and walkways in the park. After eight hours of backbreaking shoveling, practically freezing, and no lunch break (because everything was closed due to the weather), I finished my first day of community service with the feeling that I was truly being punished. It was a humbling experience. Over the following months, however, I was fortunate enough to be assigned to garbage duty, rather than backbreaking labor, with a man named Tyrone. Tyrone is an excellent human being, but he’s not proud of being a garbage man. When I first met him, he made sure to tell me about the mistakes he made that led him to be a garbage man, and he urged me to consider that if I continue my mistakes, I may end up the same way. I soon understood why he engaged me to change my ways: When people would come by the park or club house and see me hauling garbage, they would look at me with a strange mix of disgust and pity. I will never forget what it feels like to be the garbage man that everyone looks down upon. This was the final nail in the coffin of my criminal behavior.

After narrowly escaping jail, and being transformed through my public defender and community service experience, I realized it was time to make something of my life. Thus, I enrolled at Rutgers Camden School of Law, with the dream of becoming a public defender. After all the second chances I was given, I realized that the only reason I was not in jail, or on the path to being a garbage man, is because someone — my public defender— thought I was worth saving. I hope to return the favor to another troubled youth some day.

During my 1L summer, I worked at the Federal Office of the Public Defender in Camden to see if it was what I truly wanted to do. There, I saw first-hand the injustices of the federal system, and the many unnecessary hardships that criminals must endure: from being overcharged by U.S. Attorneys, to facing draconian sentencing enhancements for trivial acts. To be clear, I am not a fan of criminals, and I understand how they hurt society, but, speaking from experience, I know that retributive punishment is not only unjust, it is also ineffective. Therefore, my goal is to use my law degree to do exactly what my public defender did for me — to give criminals the defense, and guidance, they deserve, so that they may do something meaningful with their lives.

Now, after graduating law school, I am taking the steps necessary to become a federal public defender. In September, I will be clerking for the Honorable Maria Valdez, U.S.M.J, in Chicago, and in 2015, I will be clerking for the Honorable Freda L. Wolfson, U.S.D.J., back in New Jersey. After that, I hope return to the Federal Office of the Public Defender, and perhaps enter private practice some day. In the mean time, however, I am struggling with over $140,000 in law school debt, both private and federal, and I am currently torn between studying for the bar full-time and picking up extra shifts as a waitor in order to make my monthly student loan payments. A scholarship from Appelman would thus be an incredible relief, and allow me to focus on passing the bar.


Justin C.

by Appelman Law Firm