Tuesday, March 22, 2005

WARNING: Rant to commence. Nothing rational will follow.

In a post over at Blonde Justice, a commenter points out to the public defenders that most of a PD's clients are guilty.

(gasp) No.

That doesn't bother me. What bothers me is that a purported lawyer states, "You're fooling yourselves if you think you're usually on the side of justice." Well well well. Apparently, somewhere in my crim pro class, my professor forgot to tell me that justice is for INNOCENT people. That must be one of those things hidden in an obscure amendment.

Blonde Justice is collecting bad prosecutor stories. Of all the blawgers out there, Blondie's one of the cheeriest and friendliest. She doesn't curse. She doesn't badmouth people. She discusses her clients, her food deliveryman, and prosecutors all with the same curious observation. She's not delusional.

I can appreciate that not everyone is cut out to do defense work, particularly criminal defense work, and even more specifically, indigent criminal defense work. I don't want everyone to be cut out for it, frankly. I happen to love it and thus believe that it is a job that requires nothing short of the most highly skilled, intellectual, and passionately committed individuals. I'd like to think that not just everyone can do it.

But to tell ME that I've lost perspective because my clients are GUILTY really boils my blood. When I worked for a public defender this summer, I didn't LOSE perspective, I GAINED it. I went into my PD internship uncertain of whether I wanted to do defense or prosecution. Actually, I was really leaning towards prosecution. Two weeks into my internship, I changed my mind and have never looked back - EVEN THOUGH I worked for a DA's office full-time this past fall. I've seen both sides, and I've made an informed decision.

I want you to sit down with a 14 year old minority male whose primary concern is the health of his grandmother, who's been locked up for 23 out of 24 hours every day, who gets beaten by the 20-something white male guards every time he goes to court, beaten so badly that he has to see the PRISON NURSE when he gets back. One time he asks the court guards what he ever did to them. "What did I ever do to get you so upset with me?" He pleaded with them, blood running down his ankles from their harsh steps on his shackles, head throbbing from being thrown headfirst into a concrete wall. They cackled in his face. "You're breathing, and that's enough," one says to him. Does the kid every tell anyone? No. Does he tell the judge? No. His attorney? No. The prison nurse? He doesn't have to tell her what happened. She knows when the court bus has returned. How do I even know it happened? I heard it from someone else who saw it happen and was remarking on how bad he felt for the poor kid. The 'littl uns,' my informant said sadly, don't understand yet that that's how things work. Those people hate you, he explained. They don't need a reason. You get used to it. Report it? "Why would I report it? Ain't nothin' gonna happen, and I'll jus' get my ass beat harder next time."

You tell him that he's on the wrong side of justice. Tell him that justice isn't for him. Tell him that justice is for the people he hurt by possessing marijuana. All those VICTIMS of his drug crime are the ones entitled to justice, right? Not him.

Is there a right side and wrong side of justice? My own idea of justice always seemed to be cohesive, round, all-encompassing. Guilty people should not be on the wrong side of justice. Guilty people have every right to justice as innocent people do.

Do you think prosecutors are fair and impartial? That they haven't lost their perspective? Or do they not need the same 'perspective adjustment' that defense attorneys need, by virtue of their place on the 'right' side of the law? What about cops? Do you think they're carrying around their pocket Constitution? Do you think they care whether they're respecting your Constitutional rights? I've worked with cops before - both as an ally / co-investigator, and in an adversarial position - and in both circumstances, I can tell you that the cops don't give a sweet fuck. Not all cops are bad people. But is what they do 'justice'? Jumping out and pinning kids against the ground, patting them down, looking for drugs? Cops do it every single day, and then it's the one kid who gets caught with drugs that has to try and argue that what the cops did was wrong. And your response to that is, "but he's guilty"? Cops lie. Prosecutors lie. Defendants lie.

My own take on what Blondie is doing, in her own corner of the world, is pointing out that we're all fallible. We're all human. We all err. We all lie, or stretch the truth. We do things that we probably shouldn't. There are bad apples and good apples. Cops and prosecutors are no different. But no one stops to take a second look at them, because they're on the right side of justice.

I dare you to spend one day in a juvenile correctional facility, and then tell that to one of my kids.

Goddamn I can't wait to get started.

3 comments:

Gideon said...

It's a little amusing when people (and attorneys and prosecutors) forget about this thing called the Constitution.

The most frequent - and most annoying - question I get is: "how do you defend your clients knowing they are guilty?"

I don't know? Maybe because I believe in the presumption of innocence?

carpundit said...

You're right about one thing you mentioned on my site: There is at present a large gap between our views of the world.

I don't think there's anything wrong with your working your best to help your clients. Indeed, you're honor bound to do it. And that will probably make you suspicious of police, and prosecutors. But -by and large- your clients are the ones who do the robbing, thieving, assaulting, and killing that the cops are -by and large- trying to prevent.

Sure there's crap on both sides of the system, but only on one side are the principals actually striving to do good. (And those aren't the principals you're defending.) So the holier-than-thou stance so many PDs take (and I see you've already picked up), is a bit hard to take sometimes.

FWIW, I've spent a lot of time in juvenile facilities, and a lot of time in adult facilities. I didn't see a lot of sympathetic characters in either place. Prison guards included.

(Oh, and marijunana possession is not a victimless crime, whatever the merits of current drug law.)

carpundit said...

You're right about one thing you mentioned on my site: There is at present a large gap between our views of the world.

I don't think there's anything wrong with your working your best to help your clients. Indeed, you're honor bound to do it. And that will probably make you suspicious of police, and prosecutors. But -by and large- your clients are the ones who do the robbing, thieving, assaulting, and killing that the cops are -by and large- trying to prevent.

Sure there's crap on both sides of the system, but only on one side are the principals actually striving to do good. (And those aren't the principals you're defending.) So the holier-than-thou stance so many PDs take (and I see you've already picked up a bit of), is hard to take sometimes.

FWIW, I've spent a lot of time in juvenile facilities, and a lot of time in adult facilities. I didn't see a lot of sympathetic characters in either place. Prison guards included.

(Oh, and marijuana possession is not a victimless crime, whatever the merits of current drug law.)