Thursday, June 01, 2006

The land of the free....

The ol' content has been a little slow in coming these past couple of weeks, largely due to the press of work. Since my job involves dealing with clients, and since there are ethical concerns, I can't really swing for the fences and vent with regard to the frustrations involved in representing folks who are staring down a stretch in the penitentiary. Too much detail could lead to a breach of confidentiality, and I'm not interested in turning the personal crises of my clients and their families into blogfodder.

Now, I know what you're saying..."Frustrations? You're not the one on a fast-track to Durance Vile!" True enough....the judge very rarely sends me to the pokey at the end of the case. But as a cog (not particularly well-greased, but a cog all the same) in the criminal justice system, there are certain things that grind on me like nails on a chalkboard. Chief among these irritants is a certain prosecutorial insistence that people be sent to prison for victimless crimes.

In the little blurb to your right, I point out that most of the people I know are criminals. I don't use the word "criminal" in any pejorative sense; when my college roommates and I were peddling reefer to cover the rent, we were criminals. When I bought crack on a dare at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Central Park South, I was a criminal. (Hey, you don't get that slice of the Big Apple on the Gray Line Tour....) The odds are good that you, too, are a criminal to some degree. Makes no never-mind to me, any more than if you're short, tall or left-handed.

My point (and I do have one) is that the people who sentence our fellow criminals to spend months or years in a "correctional facility" often see these people as being so fundamentally different and dangerous that society can only be protected from them by locking them up. The prosecutor, for example, has typically never had a conversation with someone accused of a crime, much less actually represented a criminal defendant. And yet, he stands straight-faced and recommends that a fellow citizen be sent to the penitentiary for 2 or 4 or 6 years for vending some vegetation to a willing neighbor. When I stand next to my client before a judge, I usually know him or her better than anyone else in the room. But because I am an "advocate", my arguments are tainted with the perception that I somehow shouldn't be taken seriously when I say that some sanction short of imprisonment is adequate to redress the public grievances against my client.

I understand this attitude. I work as hard and argue as passionately on behalf of the murderer and the molester as I do on behalf of the nickel-bag dealer; my obligation to my client demands nothing less. (You may be surprised, by the way, to know that the defense attorney is the only guy in the system who has no obligation, and little opportunity, to see that justice is done. Our job is to give our clients a zealous defense. "Justice" is left to the judges and prosecutors, who all too often equate "justice" with "retribution.")

So, anyway, that's why I have been lax in posting. I've been grinding out deals and preparing for trials on behalf of my clients. I stole a little time at 5 a.m. to throw this scribbling at the wall. I'll have more on this topic later, when/if things slow down at the justice mill.....


  • Yours is a job few would want, I'd guess. Sure, it wouldn't be so awful defending petty criminals (aside from the frustration you mention vis-a-vis the needlessly crowded prisons). But, whenever you get a truly cold-blooded MF-er as a client... I don't know if I could consistently assume that dispassionate stance and get through the proceedings without my feelings interfering in some way.

    I guess I've got a little of that bloodlust you mentioned a few posts back.

    That's also a quality, though, that would make me your best friend in some cases. For example, I've always maintained that if I were on a jury where, say, some guy shot another guy for what I subjectively considered a damned good reason (such as, say, avenging a rape or something), well, I don't think I'd vote to convict him.

    Kind of brings the Menendez case to mind. (I'm sure there are loads of better examples, but as a non-lawyer, I'm only recalling the famous ones.) If it's true (which is questionable) that those two brothers were consistently raped over their entire lifetimes by their parents, well, I could understand how they'd have been driven to murder. (As I recall, that defense didn't ultimately work, though.)

    I suspect many of your clients get what's coming to them in the end. A friend of mine is a lawyer who went back to law school in his 40s. He tried his first case not too long ago & said his greatest challenge was getting his clients to "shut the fuck up." He said he totally lost his cool during his first trial and shouted at his client, "Would you just shut your damned mouth?! You're not helping yourself here!!!" Must have been a funny scene.

    By Blogger Blowing Shit Up With Gas, at 10:35 AM  

  • I agree. I don't think I'd have the temperment either, though you never know.

    Interesting point about being the one who knows the defendent best when everybody shows up in court. Never thought of it that way, though it should be obvious since your client and the prosecutor aren't going to be meeting mornings for coffee.

    By Blogger Kevin Wolf, at 11:44 AM  

  • Hey! I spent some time in Durance Vile, Arkansas, back in the Eighties! Do you remember Dirty Joe, who ran the diner? What a character!

    Anyway, my company transferred me to High Dudgeon, Ohio, in '91, and I've never looked back. Do miss the old place though, sometimes. Good times, good times...

    By Blogger Neddie, at 2:07 PM  

  • Dirty Joe Sanchez? HE'S MY UNCLE!!!

    By Blogger roxtar, at 6:59 PM  

  • I've been a criminal more days than not since I was a teenager in some way or another.

    I honestly fucking resent it. I'm ridiculously principled and idealistic and it really gets under my skin that I'm supposedly a bad guy when I watch the "good guys" fuck people over on a biblical scale.

    I always wonder if tomorrow will be th' day that some copper finds a spliff in my cigrit pack. And what'll happen.

    By Blogger Bobby Lightfoot, at 9:55 PM  

  • In your experience as a criminal defense lawyer, do you see any decrease in the "bloodlust" among prosecutors, judges and juries to send decent people like Lightfoot to prison for the spliff in his cigarette pack? And do they, I wonder, take the same harsh attitude toward someone who got shitfaced drunk and destroyed property or hurt others?
    I've always thought that the penalty for smoking a gentle joint and mellowing out vs. the non-penalty for drinking a pint of whiskey and getting mean was surreal in our society. When I was a young thing, I figured by now we'd have ironed this one out.

    By Blogger Blue Wren, at 10:10 PM  

  • I see a lot of police reports, and I can assure you I've never seen anything along these lines:

    "The victim stated that her boyfriend came home, sparked up a joint the size of a panatela, and proceeded to smack the shit out of said victim."

    By Blogger roxtar, at 2:35 AM  

  • Thanks for the reply, Roxtar. I've posted my further thoughts on the subject over at my blog.

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