The “I no know” defense

Now why am I suddenly remembering an incident from years ago, involving a particular criminal case on which I did a little work? After all, Sidebar is about civil, not criminal cases. Could this incident be somehow relevant to other legal situations? Am I reminded because of … ?

Well, who knows, but let me lay this out for you and maybe you’ll find it applicable to characters or situations in your own lawsuit.

The first lawyers I worked for were criminal defense attorneys.  Crime. Small time, big time, often drug crimes. Usually drug crimes, in fact — although one unforgettable federal case involved smuggled, deep-frozen prize bull semen. (Lots of compulsive jokes popped up over that one. Boy, was that fun!)

At some point in the late 1980s, J., the lawyer I was working for, picked up a federal drug case involving a shitload of cocaine from South America.

Big drug-bust cases such as this one, with multiple defendants, were usually split up among a lot of lawyers so that each defendant had his own attorney. J.’s assigned defendant was a woman, one of a group arrested after a task force raid on an apartment in one of the boroughs, maybe the Bronx.

When the raiders burst in to the apartment, this is what they saw: a number of people, part of the same family, sitting around a kitchen table upon which was heaped kilos of cocaine. Some of the family members were, if I remember correctly, in the act of weighing and packaging the coke.

J.’s client was sitting at the table, too, and was arrested with everyone else.

When J. met her for the first interview, he explained what he knew of the charges against her, and gave his evaluation of her situation. Her only response was, “I no know.” Over and over.

Interpreters are always provided in cases where a client doesn’t speak English. J. did speak a little Spanish but no interpretation was needed. “I no know,”she kept saying complacently. “I no know, nada.”

Finally, he told her this: “You were sitting at a table where several kilos of coke were being handled right in front of your eyes. As your lawyer, it is my advice that ‘I no know’ is not an adequate defense.”





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