Monday, September 09, 2019

Roy Altman to start trial this morning in the pro se Chinese trespasser case (UPDATED)

The pro se Chinese national charged in federal court with trespassing at Mar-a-Lago starts trial this morning.  The Miami Herald has this profile on Yujing Zhang in advance of the trial.  The Federal Public Defender's Office will be standby counsel. 

Judges and prosecutors hate pro se defendants.  It's a tough tight rope of giving them the benefit of the doubt and not letting them take advantage.

From the Herald:
Zhang, who has spent the past five months in pretrial detention, has been charged by indictment with two federal crimes: trespassing on restricted property and lying to a federal agent. Next week, a jury will determine how at least that part of her story ends during a trial that begins Sept. 9.

Though she has not been charged under the Espionage Act, prosecutors have filed classified evidence in Zhang’s case, indicating the existence of an ongoing, parallel investigation into matters regarding national security that potentially involve her and others. The FBI’s counterintelligence squad is investigating whether the Chinese national was working as an agent of the Chinese government or had been in contact with officials in Beijing before her trip to Mar-a-Lago, according to sources familiar with the probe.

Prosecutors have suggested they could bring more charges against Zhang in the future.

Currently facing a maximum of six years in federal prison, Zhang’s best possible defense seems premised on presenting herself as a bumbling foreign tourist lost in an unfamiliar world. Experts on Chinese espionage say it’s an act they’ve seen before — and that playing the role of a misguided, Trump-obsessed businesswoman could be the perfect cover for a spy. Mar-a-Lago and other Trump properties — where the president is known to loosely discuss national-security affairs — present perfect targets for foreign infiltration.

UPDATE -- jury selection appears to have been ... interesting (via the Miami Herald):

On Monday morning, Zhang appeared in a courtroom at the Fort Lauderdale federal court house in a brown inmate uniform. She is representing herself despite a judge’s plea that she accept attorneys from the Federal Public Defender’s Office, and is facing a maximum of six years in prison on charges of entering restricted property and lying to a federal agent.

Seeing the under-dressed defendant in court, U.S. District Judge Roy Altman asked Zhang why she wasn’t wearing her civilian clothes.

Zhang, speaking in Mandarin, told Altman that she didn’t have any “undergarments,” or underwear, such as a bra and panties, although in fact she had been provided with clothes she brought with her from China before her arrest.

The judge quickly dressed her down.

“You have no undergarments in your cell?” he asked.

“No,” said Zhang, who is being held in a Broward County jail facility while in federal custody.

“You should wear your civilian clothes so the jurors don’t see you in your prison garb,” Altman explained.

Zhang said she didn’t understand the judge’s English, and Altman told her to listen to her Mandarin interpreter or “we could be here for a year.”

Finally, Assistant Federal Public Defender Kristy Militello, who is still advising Zhang though her client fired her before trial, intervened. Militello told the judge that Zhang had the appropriate undergarments along with a silk blouse and skirt and could change into them.

In that case, the judge said, Zhang should change out of her prison garb.

About 15 minutes later, Zhang returned in a blouse, peach-colored jacket and khaki slacks.

The judge told her that he was going to introduce her to prospective jurors. She said she didn’t want to be introduced because she thought the trial was canceled.

“You are obviously unprepared to proceed,” Altman said, then “strongly recommended” that Zhang go to trial with the public defender by her side.

Altman asked her one last time if she wanted Militello to represent her.

“I don’t think so,” she told Altman.

And with that, the jury candidates were brought into the courtroom. The two sides must pick 12 of them plus a few alternates for trial.


Politically Incorrect said...

The problem here is that as soon as they finish voir dire, in a few hours they will want to do it again.

I crack myself up.

Anonymous said...

Patience judge, patience.

Anonymous said...

The public defender should get out of the damn way.

Clearly, this woman WANTED to wear the prison jumpsuit. Maybe, just maybe, she is trying to draw sympathy from the jury as some poor dumb foreigner who doesn't know the ways of the big sophisticated USA, and got caught up in something she doesn't understand.

If that is her strategy, the public defender did not help the defense strategy. To make matters worse, the public defender was expressly fired. So, the public defender is screwing up the defense of a defendant that doesn't want her there - ie, doing the prosecution's job.