The rantings of a Public Defender constantly fighting against society's pervasive Police Industrial Complex. Enjoy the unique perspective of one whose life's work is to fight the system through the system.

Monday, November 29, 2004

Great Moments in the Life of a Public Defender

Have I mentioned before that I love my job? Only 10,000 times? Well, let me mention it again. So why am I leaving it in January? God only knows, I mean, I guess I have to try this new gig out to see if I like going private, and I'd be lying if I said that money didn't matter at all to me, so I guess I'll hope that I don't lose any of the great social and personal aspects of my job when I leave the office. But, I digress.

I'm meeting with the son of a client who's brought some stuff by for his dad's case. Client is facing 13 years for hitting his wife, his grown son is trying to help his dad out (the victim is his step-mom, but she can't be more than 10 years older than him). I'm in the office talking with the son, and while I'm there I get about 4 other calls related to work. A couple of DAs, and we discuss our cases, I posture to them how I'm going to kick their butts in trial if they don't back down, stuff like that. I also have a couple of clients or doctors call and I discuss the case. The client's son is still sitting there, watching the whole thing, mouth agape.

I finish about 20 minutes of calls and the client's son (a really cool guy who I just enjoyed hanging around with because I he was so interesting to talk to) says "you have the absolutely best job ever!"

I sort of grinned, and said to him, I really do. Afterwards I was thinking about it, and I don't think this is PD or private speaking, but I really do have a great job. It is so cool to have this responsibility given to me where people entrust me with their lives, and I can fight for them without concern for anything except helping them out (I guess that's sort of limited to PD life, as I'm going to have to be more concerned about money when I'm private). It's just a great job.

Civil lawyers out there who hate your jobs, take heed. This is the best job in the world.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

The Drug Scourge - Moral or Practical Problem?

From Catastrophic Victory:

For those of you who have HBO, and are addicted like me to just about every show they make, you are probably also fans of The Wire. I think this is just about the greatest show I've ever watched. Generally, it follows a group of Baltimore police officers (they were all at some time in the same unit, but have scattered over time), and a few different drug gangs in Baltimore.

In the present series, a Major who is in charge of the western district decided that he'd had enough of the idiotic cyle of policing and violence that he'd dealt with in trying to stop the drug trade in his district, a battle he realized he was losing. After having one more series of citizen complaints about the whole area being controlled by drug dealers who prevent people from leaving their homes safely, he finally decided on a radical solution. He found 3 neighborhoods in his district that were uninhabited, and he pushed all of the dealers in his district into those 3 neighborhoods (the local kids called it Hamsterdam, when one of the officers pushing them there mentioned Amsterdam and the dealers garbled it). The result, that area turned into hell, with every ill you could imagine in the inner city bunched up into one area with the police turning a blind eye to all except crimes of violence. The 95% of the rest of the district that he pushed them out of? Paradise by comparison. Citizens are writing letters thanking them, crime's dropping by 15% in just weeks, people are able to go outside in the middle of the day, everything is just peachy.

This got me thinking, I've been in favor of legalizing drugs for a long time, but here's the question that The Wire raised for me. Do most people believe that drug use is a moral or practical problem. Here's the difference. Murder, rape, robbery, theft, these are all moral problems. Whether or not you personally are victimized, all of society is hurt by those actions, and they are clearly a moral wrong any way you look at it. Therefore, if someone only murders, or rapes, or beats their wife in the privacy of their own home, it is still a moral problem.

What about drug use? Is that a moral problem, in that someone smoking a joint or shooting up in the privacy of their own home (and not doing anything else wrong in their life), or is that only a practical problem, in that practically, it leads to future moral problems? You see, if you ask the question about murder, one would never say we can't allow murder because of the practical implications: the practical implications are that a moral wrong is occurring that destroys the fabric of society. But, drug use? Can we say that the use itself is the evil society is trying to prevent, or it leads to evils we wish to prevent, like murder, rape, etc....?

If drug use is a moral problem, then there is only one solution, we must fight it like we fight other true evils like rape. But, if it is a practical problem, then it is like
traffic, or pollution, or drinking (and driving, which is drinking's big attendant problem). If it is a practical problem, shouldn't we find a practical solution, rather than a zero sum game solution that involves either winning completely, or losing completely? What if we compromised so as to reduce harm as much as possible?

If drug use is a practical problem, then the solution would be to try and reduce the problem as much as possible, not to go to war. Methods of reducing harm are so obvious, too, that it hurts to see us chase our own tails trying to "fix" things by doing the dumb stuff we're doing. Now, instead of being able to focus on moral problems, we've created a greater market for moral problems, and we focus greater attention on the practical problem of drugs than we do with the moral problems of true crime.

Clearly this could be a rallying point for liberals and conservatives alike. I just don't see how it can be considered to be a moral problem what people do in the privacy of
their own lives that doesn't specifically hurt someone else. Will we ever get real on this?

Friday, November 12, 2004

MSNBC - Scott Peterson convicted of murder

MSNBC - Scott Peterson convicted of murder

I told you so.....
It was a no-brainer, and all those who thought he'd walk, puuuleeeeese.
Not in the real world. He's not a celebrity, no special treatment. He's done.

It will be even tougher for him in penalty now since they argued he didn't do it. It's one thing to argue for mercy in that the homicide was accidental, and that's the issue in the case, or heat of passion, or insanity, or something where you are arguing mitigation in the case in chief, but at least where you admit the fact that the defendant did the action alleged (and the issue is intent or state of mind).

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Prop 66 (3 Strike Reform) RIP

Well, I knew it was too good to be true. I couldn't fathom the state making 3 strike less severe, no matter what the polls suggested. In this day of right wing radio (and elections, for that matter), I didn't see how common sense would prevail over pure emotion and lies.

In the end, our governor, Arnold, stumped big-time for the end of 3 strikes. One of the best reasons I saw that prop 66 would pass was that there were so many big-money propositions on the ballot, including all of the Indian Gaming initiatives that Arnold opposed so much, I thought they would drown out prop 66 and it would slide under the radar. It did, for all but 2 weeks of the campaign. In the end, lies won out.

What lies? Well, Arnold went on wall to wall TV suggesting that 27,000 violent criminals, like rapists and murderers, would be released under prop 66. As I explained earlier, this is a complete fabrication. First of all, no one convicted (in the present offense) of a violent crime was eligible for release consideration, only people who may have that in their past (and it could be way in their past). The opponents of reasonableness found a few people who had done really bad things in the past, done their time, gotten out of prison, and now were serving time for minor offenses enhanced due to their prior convictions and alleged that "murderers and rapists" were getting released. Well, guess what, they were already released and weren't murdering or raping (that we know of, or yet, I guess they would retort), they were doing small time thievery or using drugs.

The other large lie was that 27,000 of these people were going to be released. A judge in Sacramento had already struck that language from their argument against the initiative on the sample ballot mailed out to voters. The true amount was about 4,000 (perhaps as much as 7,000) non-violent offenders would possibly be released under this law.

Ultimately, though, complex discussion has no place on 15 second ads (in a true testiment to the intelligence and honesty of our governor, he couldn't even come up with 30 seconds of lies, and had to restrict his ads to 15 seconds so as not to give too much information to the voters). I have TIVO, so I rarely watch commercials, but I was watching a rerun of Columbo (the greatest detective TV show ever) the night before the election and happened to stop and see an ad, so I looked out for them, and guess what, they were wall-to-wall anti-prop 66 ads. Sometimes I saw 2 or 3 ads per commercial cycle, they were so short they couldn't have cost that much to run. I'm sure that it was the same on other channels. I've always held that you could probably try to pass an initiative called "Tough on Crime, mandatory Dog-shit eating" proposition, and it would pass by virtue of the name. Hell, execute all murders, all felonies, all crimes, all traffic infractions, they'd all pass far as I can tell.