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 David Baum: Anatomy of a Criminal Case

Staffers learn the Anatomy of a
Criminal Case

By John Masson
Aug. 17, 2012

At Michigan Law, it's not just the students who come away with newfound legal knowledge.

So sought-after are some of the "brown-bag" informal legal talks given by faculty and administrators that one was organized Aug. 17, especially for members of the Law School staff. The talk featured David Baum, a former Assistant United States Attorney for the District of Columbia, discussing the anatomy of a criminal case.

Usually, Baum explained, the purpose of the "anatomy of a case" sessions is to introduce 1Ls to some of the day-to-day nuts and bolts of practicing law. First-year students are immersed in doctrinal classes—learning how to think analytically and studying time-honored subjects such as civil procedure, contracts, property law, torts, and Constitutional law, among others. These presentations give them a chance to take a brief break from those subjects and consider how their newfound doctrinal knowledge will serve them when they begin to practice.

That's one place where Baum, a 1989 Michigan Law grad, can help. He worked as an AUSA for five years after law school, until he joined Michigan Law 17 years ago. He now serves as assistant dean for student affairs and special counsel for professional skills development.

Back in 1995, Baum was working on U.S. v. William Woodard, a case he prosecuted in which a bouncer—actually an off-duty D.C. police officer—was accused of assault with a deadly weapon for pointing a gun in the face of a young man who was out partying with three friends at the Macombo Lounge in Washington, D.C.

Baum spent the first few minutes explaining the unique legal environment in Washington, which differs from most states because the local criminal justice system is served by a federal prosecutor instead of a district attorney. He went over the stages of prosecution, from presentment and grand jury investigation through indictment, arraignment, trial, and sentencing.

He also went over some of the strategies and ethical issues at play in a criminal trial, and took a number of questions from the audience throughout the talk—just as he does when his audience comprises 1Ls, not staffers.

One thing remains the same, he said, pretty much wherever you are. Whether you're a prosecutor or a public defender, if you're working on behalf of the government in the criminal justice system, you're busy. Baum said he usually had 130 or 140 cases on his desk at a time.

"If I was lucky I would have a phone conversation or two before a trial," with the victims and witnesses in his cases, Baum said. "Not as much time as I would have liked."

In the end, he said, the off-duty police-officer-turned-perpetrator was convicted. He faced up to 10 years in prison but was sentenced to probation instead. He also lost his job on the city's police force.

Afterward, Baum said the opportunity to share his experience with staffers was rewarding.

"I really enjoyed presenting this case to the Law School staff members," he said. "They asked great questions, were extremely attentive, very thoughtful, and highly engaged—very much like students are when I talk about the Woodard case with them."

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