Is Life without parole the same as death?
Here's a hint, most defense lawyers would say that having a client executed is about the worse thing that can happen to you as a lawyer. But, I'm wondering. Do you think that most defendants would prefer the death penalty to life without parole?
I just had my first in depth conversation with my latest special circumstance client today. He is clearly a good candidate for the death penalty. Both the type of case and his history make him the class of defendant that the prosecution could decide to seek death on. Furthermore, with his history and his type of case, I really think that a jury could sentence him to death, no matter what I try to do on the case. My goal here (he appears to be dead to rights in the guilt phase due to DNA, but we'll see about that as the case progresses, but as it stands, he has a very difficult guilt phase, to put it lightly) is to save his life and prevent him from getting the death penalty, even if it results in a sentence of life without parole.
What does he say? He doesn't really care. His attitude is that he's spent much of his life in prison already, will probably spend the rest in one form or another, and why not spend it on death row. He's in his late 30s, and it takes 20 years to get people from court to the chamber in California, so what the hell, get death, what does it functionally matter? He's probably going to die a natural death in prison anyways. And life on the row is better than life in the highest security modules he would otherwise be housed in if he's given life without parole.
Of course, this is a nightmare for me, I don't want to have someone on the row. Logistically, even if he never goes to the chamber, I will have my life turned upside down trying to fight the case, and dealing with all of the obvious complaints of ineffective assistance of counsel, having to recreate the case dozens of times for the state and federal appeals, and the habeaus corpus proceedings. All in all, a death verdict would be terrible. And that doesn't even deal with the feelings it would cause in me of "what if," and "why not this," and guilt over my performance. No, I don't need this to happen to me.
But, is it better for him? How do I convince him to try for life over death? Is it in his best interest? Is this being selfish, all about me, screw what he feels?