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Archive for the month “February, 2012”

Why I left the District Attorney’s Office? ( I am still not certain)

Some of you may be wondering why someone would leave a position that had a good salary, which was stable, that provided a certain level of recognition in the community and become a defense attorney. Well I have been asked that question many times as I approached my last day in the office. Many times I did not have a response that I felt was adequate, despite the fact that my inquisitors appeared satisfied with my various responses. I have a wide range of emotions about my new career move: Fear, Excitement; Relief; Sadness and Elation. Fear obviously for the unknown. Not Fear of the work I know that very well. Prior to becoming a Deputy District Attorney I spent time in the Public Defender’s Office as an intern where I worked in the Central Misdemeanor Unit and had my own case load with clients. The Fear pertains more so to the idea of change. I have made a leap of faith, based on a belief that at this point in my life I need this change. Excitement. I am excited for the possibilities. The possibilities to work with people I had to avoid before as a prosecutor. Excitement to have the freedom to do what I want to a certain extent. The excitement to set my own goals and achieve them. Relief. This is a weird emotion that I did not expect. However, as the anxiety of leaving the District Attorney’s Office built up there was a sense that the world did not end that day. Sadness. It was a very solemn experience to pack up my office for the last time. As a Deputy District Attorney I had packed up my office several times to begin the process of transferring to a new assignment, however packing for the last time was very somber experience. I thought back to all of the many relationships that I made over the years. I further thought forward as to how many of those relationships will change forever because of my decision. I thought back on all the experiences I had in the office. All of the things that I learned over the years about the law, the life, the court system and many more things. Elation. I have been elated about the possibilities, the amount of support and encouragement and positive feedback I have received about my new endeavor.

Donte T. Wyatt


My First Time

February 21, 2012 will be my first time. No I am not  virgin, physically, emotionally or in any other way. However February 21, 2012 will be my time. Tomorrow I will go to court for the first time in ten years and when my case is called I will not be saying ” Donte Wyatt on behalf of the People of the State of California.”  I am not quite sure how I am going to feel after I cross this final frontier. Actually, I have answered up on behalf of a defendant before, but tomorrow will be my first time after ten years as a Deputy District Attorney. I wonder how the judges and my former colleagues are going to respond. Unlike most  people that leave the office I did not send out a massive goodbye email, nor did I want an happy hour, that has never been my style. As a Deputy District Attorney I believed in just quitely doing my job. I was never a big fan of being on television or in the paper. I actually had to report myself to my supervisor once for refusing to speak to a reporter about case I was handling.  Therefore I  am almost certain there will be some people in the courthouse that will discover my recent career shift as I am making that court appearance.

One of the of the interesting things that I have been wondering  about is who from my old office is going to be friendly, who is going to  be distant, and who is going to act as if I committed a crime against nature.  As a prosecutor I was always had a friendly relationship with the defense bar. It was and continue to be my belief that you should always treat your advesaries with respect and conduct your self with a high level of integrity. Hopefully at teh very least that is what I will find tomorrow.

How a young black revolutionary became a Deputy District Attorney

One interesting thing about being a Deputy District Attorney of African descent, is the fact that from time to time someone out in the community (usually another African American) would ask me “How Can You send your black brothers and sisters to prison?” I heard the question so often I actually had about three or four pre-written scripts to answer the question. However, now that my time as a Deputy District Attorney is over I have been thinking more and more about how I got here (no here isn’t a bad place, but that doesn’t rob the question of its relevance.)

I grew up in Los Angeles and I graduated from high school in the early 90’s. Therefore I spent the most formative portion of my adolesence in the Los Angeles of the 80’s and early 90’s. I was primarily raised in a middle to lower middle class neighborhood. My family wasn’t necessarily poor, but we had financial issues from time to time. Sometimes the financial issues were severe, sometimes the issues were minimal. I generally stayed out of trouble as a young adult. I was more of the class clown type than the criminal type. However, I knew my share of drug dealers, gang bangers, wanna b’s, has been’s, and never was’s. I was an average athlete at best, but athletics like most other things in my life at the time suffered from my general lack of committment to anything. Historically I have blamed my lack of committment on the fact that the first ten years of my life I was an army brat moving every few years as my father was transfered from base to base. We finally settled down in Los Angeles in the early 1980’s. This movement caused me to place little significance to forming bonds of attachment to people, places or things. I am not sure how much of an effect that my early life as an army brat has had on me versus how much I have simply used that early life experience to excuse my less than desirable behavior. So that is a brief synopsis of my early life, now let me try to fill in some more details regarding what I was like from a political perspective standpoint while in High School and College. As a student I was very liberal, borderline radical and definitely antiestablishment. As a young adult I personally had several negative experiences with police officers that left me less than confident in their ability to be fair and impartial executive officers. ( i will go into those incidents in future post, maybe) Hence my early distaste for law enforcement was initiated by personal experience. However, the flames of my distrust were further fueled by reading and discovering the history of law enforcement’s interaction with African American people over the years. I read extensivesly about the history of the civil rights movement, and everything from J. Edgar Hoover’s COINTELPRO to Bull Connor’s exploits. As I am reading the works of Eldridge Cleaver, Baldwin, listening to the speaches of Malcolm X the Rodney King incident happens. I know at this point you must be thinking how in the heck did this young man end up spending ten years as a Deputy District Attorney.

Well overtime I gradually calmed.  I began to understand that the world around me was evolving before my eyes, but I still wasn’t ready to aid in what I still viewed as the further persecution of “my people”. I entered law school after I graduated from college. I thought I would probably become invoved in either business litigation or criminal defense.  I actually interned at the public defenders office on two ocassions while in law school and I became intoxicated with the idea of being in the courtroom.  That experienced drove me away from the idea of pursuing a career in business litigation. In addition, to enjoying my work in criminal law I also had an opportunity to talk to several practicing business litigators. My conversations with those litigators pushed me closer to a career focused on criminal law. Most of the business litigators I talked to very seldom went to trial. They spent the bulk of their time doing depositions and answering interrogatories, two activities I did not find particularly exciting.

So now (about 12 years ago) I was firmly targeting a career in criminal law, but I had not yet considered working as a prosecutor. I actually had never even given it a second thought.  The idea first crossed my mind when I was confronted by a closs associate that was working as a Deputy District Attorney. The first time we discussed  the idea I did not take his idea of me joining the District Attorney’s Office serious. The second time I was confronted by the same associate I responded by saying that l obtained my law degree so that I could help people. My associate quickly responded that the best way that someone like me could help people is as a Deputy District Attorney. Initially I did not follow his logic, but he continued by saying a Deputy District Attorney has the power to help victim’s by bringing there victimizers to justice, help the innocent by making sure they are not falsely accused and even help defendants by insuring they are treated fairly and justly by the criminal justice system. Now I was finally following his logic and it made a lot of sense to me. It made so much sense that I dedicated the first ten years of my working life to trying to live up to the standards he laid out for me. I had an opprotunity to form some of the most meaningful relationships of my life, I learned an immeasurable amount about the law and I had the opportunity to help many people. So why did I leave? Because the opportunity to help people as a Deputy District Attorney is limited because of the many obligations and requirements of an heirarchical structure of a bureaucracy, but I will expand on that later.

Life, Law, and Opinions

I began this blog to create a venue for my thoughts ideas and opinion about current events in the world and specifically in the legal community. I have spent the last ten years of my life working in the criminal justice system and I intend to continue in that pursuit. I hope that my blog will serve as an outlet and meeting place for ideas to be expressed, discussed and digested.

The criminal justice system is a mystery to many people. I have walked through the halls of the San Diego Superior Court and I have always been astonished by the number of people who find themselves lost among those few floors. The people are not lost because they do not know where they are, or where they need to go. They are lost because they do not fully understand what is happening to there loved ones and sometimes even themselves. I would often stop when requested and try to explain to the best of my ability what is going on. However, I was often limited by my position as a Deputy District Attorney. I could not give legal advice, opinions or interpretations of the law. Although, that would never be my intent, I had to go further and insure that what I said could not be interpreted in such a way. So what do you do when an elderly woman that reminds you of your grandmother looks up towards you and asks you for your honest opinion? You see the piercing look in her eyes pressing towards your soul. You stand their thinking what if I was behind those bars and my mother, grandmother, wife or daughter was in this hallway looking for answers. Well for years I would have to say I am not sure; I do not know; I can’t give you legal advice. I said these things knowing inside that I wanted to say Ma’am this is what is likely to happen. These are the possible results in this situation. However, instead I am left there wondering why does are system allow people to wander lost in these hallways.

Now today is the last day I will have those limitations, for better or for worst.

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