Spotlight On: Augustus W. Hutting

Editor's note:  We learned with regret that Mr. Hutting passed away on October 10, 2011 and express our sincere condolences to the family and friends.

You recently retired after many years as an Assistant Pro-secuting Attorney in the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office.  Please tell us about your background, and how you came to be a prosecutor.

 I grew up in a small town in the Thumb, Caro, so I have a lot of "small town" values.  I went to the seminary for high school and college to become a priest.  I left after college.  I worked for four years at the Department of Social Services and then started law school at night at the Detroit College of Law.  I graduated in 1975 and took the prosecutor's test.  Normally, I wasn't a great student, but this test I aced.  It was fate and Terry Boyle [former prosecutor with the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office, and former Recorder's Court Judge Terrence K. Boyle] that brought me to the office.  It's the only legal job I've ever had and I feel very lucky and blessed to have had such a wonderful and fulfilling job.

What trends, if any, have you noticed over the years in the criminal justice system?

 Things are tougher for defense attorneys these days.  Today, the pay isn't much better for them than it was in the late 1970's and early 1980's.  Cases still plead out at about the same rate.  In certain areas like discovery we've made the defense attorneys job a little easier.  We need to foster more of that.  I turn over my entire file as soon as possible so there can be a fair and complete preliminary examination and then a fair exchange and discussion of the case at the arraignment on the information and calendar conference.  Let's figure out where we are going (plea and sentence bargain, evidentiary hearing, and trial, jury or waiver), and move down that road as quickly and as soon as possible.

What improvements or changes do you think are needed in our criminal justice system?

 I would like to see more live line-ups.  Soapy Williams [former Governor G. Mennen Williams] was right: there should be a preference for a live line-up.  I know "6 packs" are easy to do, but there is something about seeing the perpetrator in person.  I know the Defense Bar hated the 9th Floor [9th floor at Detroit Police Headquarters, 1300 Beaubien], but it gave us a viable pool of people to choose from so that a live line-up could be held in about every case where identity was at issue.  Photo line-ups, to me, just don't stand up to live line-ups and I think more misidentifications occur at photo line-ups, and once you have a misidentification things get locked in place.  Maybe with the new jail or police headquarters we can get back to live line-ups.

Have you seen any common or repeated errors by defense lawyers?

 Excessive cross-examination on collateral issues or the issues that really do not play an integral part in the case.  Stupid objections, e.g., objecting to the defendant's statement as hearsay.  If you have valid legal objections, make them, but do not pepper the record with frivolous objections that make you and your client look bad in front of the jury.

What are some things criminal defense lawyers do that you think are effective? 

 I've seen good effective, well-prepared cross-examination by many defense attorneys.  Know what your defense is, put it forth and stick to it; don't get sidetracked on collateral issues.  Read and study the file and figure out what the evidentiary and witness problems are with the prosecution's case and pound on those issues.  In serious cases that are going to trial consider asking for an investigator.  Consider an actual visit to the crime scene.  Photos and videos can be helpful, but an actual scene visit, if practicable, can be enlightening.

Do you have any advice for criminal defense lawyers?

 It's a tough job.  You can get grief from all sides, prosecution, judge and your client.  If you and your client make trial strategy decisions, get him to sign off on them.  Protect yourself.  I think you need to be paid more, but with the financial crisis the County and State are in that's not going to be easy.  I always thought that the least that I could do was to cooperate with you on reasonable requests, so that your difficult job could be made easier.

by Neil Leithauser
Associate Editor