The Austin Criminal Defense Lawyers’ listserv was filled with replies and answers recently when someone inquired about the best way to make an offer of proof. As these things often do, there was a tangential question asked: “Anyone aware whether the Judge can require that an offer of proof be made after he goes on break?”
I’d never seen it done in county or district court, but it reminded me that it had happened in an ALR. I replied:
Some ALJs do it.
I had an Administrative Law Judge try to leave the room once – after dismissing the live in person officer/witness that could have just answered the one and only question that had been objected to, and sustained – while he finally allowed me to make an offer of proof. (There’s only a tape recorder, not a real live court reporter of course in ALRs.) I’m pretty sure he quoted me chapter and verse on why he was allowed to leave, or it was better for him to leave the room, or something.
I managed to get out "I anticipate that Officer So-and-So would have testified that the marijuana was found in the glove compartment" (which was almost all I wanted to ask on the subject) and concluded the offer of proof before the judge was able to storm out of the room. Unfortunately for him, although he wanted to make a point to me about how unimportant and/or irrelevant my offer of proof was, he had spent enough time lecturing me on the subject of "No appeal court will overturn my ruling" that I was able to get the Q&A in before he reached the door.
In my own defense, I still think it’s relevant to the issue of intoxication – and even the officer’s determination of probable cause to believe DWI blah blah blah – that the connection or nexus between the defendant and the marijuana was remote. (And, to be fair, in his defense, the standards on appeal for ALRs are so ridiculous that he was right about the chances of appellate success – we didn’t even bother appealing it.)
To put it in context, my client had been charged with both possession of marijuana and DWI. In an ALR hearing, DPS is required to ‘prove’ that the officer had probable cause to believe that my client was intoxicated. Since the state can charge you with being impaired on either substance, or a combination of the two, the officer’s belief about my client’s ‘marijuana intoxication’ was at least marginally relevant.
Looking back on it, I think both the judge and the lawyer (yes, that was me) were being somewhat childish. After my email to the listserv, another attorney ribbed me about bothering to go through the offer of proof motions in the first place. I texted him back:
Yeah, basically I was RIGHT and the judge was wrong and I tried to tell him why it WAS relevant, and he wouldn’t listen so I wanted him to have to listen to the answers, then it would become clear that I was right, but then he wanted to take his basketball and go home and leave the room, but I beat him to the punch by getting it out before he could leave.
I can be very mature.
Still, you’ve got to let judges know you know how to preserve the record for appeal, even if there’s not going to be one. They may give you a little more latitude in the future with your questions.
And since one of the primary purposes of ALR is to depose the witness for the upcoming DWI case, the more questions you are allowed, the better.
I might have been able to go a little further, if allowed, and elicited testimony that the officer couldn’t or didn’t know whether my client knew about the marijuana in the glove box. Which certainly would have been useful for the possession charge.
I didn’t have a good faith basis for including that in the offer of proof; and it would only have done me good if I had gotten the officer’s sworn testimony under oath. My Q&A in an offer of proof would not have been admissible of course in the criminal trial.