Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Sad, Self-Defeating, and Sad

a public defender links to a depressing and short-sighted post by yet another defense attorney who fails to understand how fundamental to the long-term acceptance and legitimacy of the criminal justice process that this blogger serves is the public perception that the ultimate outcome of the process should be justice, not that the process was performed as defined by the self-serving participants. The blogger explicitly denies that justice is relevant to his/her actions and that it’s the job of DAs (who never have anyone who clearly adopts this non-justice view on the other side, cough). I realize that this crap is part of the perverted and amoral legal training we’ve had in this country for decades. I also realize that the conspicuous distrust of the players and the constant effort by policymakers and voters themselves to take away the players’ discretion and control in favor of injustice does nothing to deter those players or make them re-think just what the he-l they’re doing. Too many of them see it as proof that everyone else is wrong, not them.

I’ll say this one more time (well, actually, more times in the future): A process in which no one takes responsibility for justice—neither the judges pro forma accepting and processing the pleas, the prosecutors machoing counterproductive stories into public reps, nor the defenders conspicuously saying right and wrong don’t matter—is a process that will lead us to our current state of affairs—too high crime rates, overextended prison budgets, anger from victims and their families, offenders and their families, and, most bad, policymakers and their constituents, continuous and accepted cheating and corruption throughout our society, and finally an overall lack of trust in each other and our institutions that threatens to bring down our entire experiment in self-government.

IOW, you end up with this:

Corey Lakes has been arrested three dozen times, says the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. His list of offenses goes from the relatively benign - drug possession and theft - to the heinous - rape and kidnapping. Until now, Lakes spent little time in custody. Since July he has been in jail with no bond. Lakes, 31, is another example of a system that police, judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys agree is in trouble. He is one of many offenders who are arrested time and again. "I don't know if it's getting worse or getting better, but we run into the same people over and over," said Atlanta police Chief Richard Pennington. "[These criminals] learned how to manipulate the criminal justice system."

Police say they make the cases and it's up to prosecutors to punish the people they arrest. Prosecutors say they need evidence and they have to balance the astounding numbers of nonviolent cases - which most likely have addiction or mental illness at their core - against the lower numbers of violent crimes. Defense attorneys seek the least punishment for their clients and rarely have time to consider whether mental health services or drug or alcohol treatment would be better long term. Judges say they cannot make decisions based on what might happen but only on what has occurred.

Says public defender Carl Greenberg: "We're overloaded. The case load is crushing so you can't spend the time that's necessary [] on individual cases." Says Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard: "A number of defendants are arrested repeatedly for small property crimes and drug-related offenses. Our system is faced with a dilemma and that dilemma is what to do with them. The question becomes how much prison space do you afford to someone arrested for theft by taking or whether or not you reserve that space for somebody who is a more violent offender?" (h/t Criminal Justice News)

This is not hyperbole. It’s everyday reality. Shame on the people, practitioners, academics, pundits, anyone, who defend it and think it’s okay and that, even if it’s not, it’s not their responsibility. It makes you hope there is a heaven (like for Gideon at a public defender). And a hell (you know who you are).

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