Friday, January 27, 2006

Huge blogosphere blowout over 2 criminal law article series

In case everyone has missed it, there have been 2 criminal justice related series in 2 different newspapers that have been just outrageous in the manner in which they explore the criminal justice system.

The San Jose Mercury News has written one thoroghly exhaustive series about the criminal justice system in San Jose which excoriates just about everyone in the system for failings that have led to serious injustices.

The St. Petersburg (FL) Times has written a 3 part series that I'm far less fond of where they follow around a baby Public Defender as he starts his career in the office. I'm less fond of this one because the PD in question is hardly a stellar example of PDs that we hire, in my office, at least. This one looked to the PDs office as a last resort, and said in his interview that he wanted the job because the prosecutors weren't hiring. Some of his co-workers are serious prosecution tools, who make it their business to please prosecutors wherever possible (just like our clients accuse us). The word I've heard from a PD from a nearby Florida county, and who used to work in that office in Tampa, is that the head PD is a pretty pathetic PD, pays his lawyers very little, is always looking for new people because they burn people out so quickly, and generally don't have very high standards of representation. Evidently the top person has surrounded himself with many former prosecutors as his fellow supervisors (not exactly an office full of people dedicated to the "mission").

This is diametrically opposed to the bulk of the PDs that I know. In my area, PD turnover is very low, people stay on the job for decades because it is highly fulfilling, and the jobs are highly coveted, with hundreds of applicants per position. Also, we are paid the same as prosecutors.

These articles have received extensive attention on several of the other public defender blogs, only a few of which I have actually perused up to now, but you can clearly find more starting with these (2 of which - Blonde Justice & Skelly Wright's Arbitrary & Capricious - are my favorites). Read Skelly's take here, and Blonde's take here. Also check out Tom McKenna's blog, Seeking Justice, and his post here. Political blog Transparent Grid (who also appears to work in the criminal justice field, but I haven't read enough of his stuff to find out exactly how) also has a post about the series. Finally, group that I haven't yet given a huge shoutout to (note the yet), the PD investigator (they can make or break your case) is represented on PD Investigator blog with a great post here.

All of these sites, and others of course, are really burning up over these 2 news series. Go read the series, read the commentaries, comment back here and elsewhere. I'm curious about all different views that come back, from fellow PDs, but equally from law enforcement, prosecutors (like Patterico, where are you commenting on this stuff, or have you already and I just didn't notice it) and all other members of society. What do you all think about the actual construction of law enforcement now that you have some details. Are you satisfied? Do you want it done differently? Whaddya think?


ACS said...

In South Florida, all three counties (Dade/Broward/Palm Beach), have elected public defenders who zealously defend clients and hire top notch attorneys as assistants.

As a longtime ACLU member and former journalist, I am happy that the St. Petersburg Times accurately portrayed the excesses of many assistant public defenders in other parts of Florida. If this horrid situation is never uncovered, how could it ever be rectified? That PD should be ashamed. No wonder that it is out of Tampa that a man just walked after 24 years in prison for a crime he didn't commit. I hope I'm not the only one to make that connection: inadequate representation equals injustice and, in fact, costs more money in the long run (thorough excess jail and payments to the wrongly convicted), than simply hiring good PDs in the first place.

I, for one, am never concerned when a client brings a concern that I am a 'real' attorney that cares about the case and them. I am happy to prove him or her wrong, when they feel jaded about PDs, and improve his or her view of public defenders. But I would be lying if I implied that everyone is like me because not only are there many better, there are also quite a few worse.

Many of us took this job because its important that poor people aren't always stuck with wanna be prosecutors who can't pass the bar and don't care about their clients.

Although we are happy when clients praise us and tell us we're great (or, if they are experienced, that we're the best PD they've ever had), this sometimes reminds us of the low standards of some PDs.

For example, when a client begs me to visit his county to help him there because his PD there tried to force him to take 13 years but when he hired a private and got 3 years, that's scary.

But hard work pays off when a client says that I care. They should plea or lose at trial not because they had a bad attorney who doesn't care but because they were guilty. How could a defendant accept punishment when they are or feel railroaded? I know I couldn't. When that happens, the system is broken.

Whenever I lose a trial, I apologize to my client. So far, they've all say 'no, don't worry about it, you did a great job.' I've never had someone say 'you did not try hard enough' and I never pressure a client to take a plea.

I don't expect to win all the time, but I do expect to do a good job for most clients. The fact that my clients are satisfied is not the end all (some clients can be unreasonable), but it is a good ideal to aim for. There are hundreds of PDs that I have personally met with that aim in mind.

Frank Discussion said...

As a defense investigator, I have often wondered if the attorneys from whom I take direction are on medication or under the care of a mental health professional. After reading the article about the tyro PD (St. Petersburg Floridian, Jan 22, 2006) I can see that it is apparently worthly of a mention but not concern. Have to go now. One of the attorneys has just asked be to get up on the roof and see how long it takes a man to fall nine stories.

Christopher King said...

I think you guys will get a kick out of my recent post where I discuss the glorification of cop and DA shows, while giving PD's none of the same respect:

I ask the question:

Where are the shows that celebrate people like me whipping that young prosecutor butt, as you can read about here and see in the "background" video (at my website?)

Well there aren't any, and there won't be any. Instead we watch these police shows that repeatedly depict Bill of Rights violations of First, Second, Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Amendment Rights, so that we are desensitized to such violations when they occur in real life.

Y'all know it's true.

Christopher King said...

PS to acs: I too, am a former photojournalist as you may infer from the imagery on my blawg. Be sure you read the Kunen materials if you have not already. He is one down brother, on point, for certain.

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