Wednesday, November 12, 2003

I've received a lot of great feedback lately, and I really appreciate it. Keep the comments coming (even if they're critical, which they haven't been of late, I'm used to having people take potshots at me, only usually it happens in court where a DA in robes is abetting it).

Reader/commenter Brett suggested that to get myself up for even the most basic of trials I get angry.

When I first started this job, especially when I worked misdemeanors, I used to get pissed off all the time. At that time, I was frequently defending people charged with things that either I had done, or friends of mine had, or things that just didn't seem to matter. I mean, how can you really be upset at someone who wants to sell their body for $5 (I'm not joking, in the inner city, you'll frequently see $5 as the going rate for sex)? You feel that it's pathetic, and you want to hug the person for having such a pathetic existence that $5 is all they consider their value in life.

When the vice cop gets up on the stand and lies, or exaggerates, or even worse, writes in his report how he tried to negotiate down from $10 to $5, you just want to punch him (he could agree on any price and get a violation of this idiotic law, what kind of human so wants to demean these women that they'd try to negotiate them down to $5 for sex and then arrest them?). It is not difficult to get angry quite frequently.

Under the influence cases are just as bad. I'm not talking about driving under the influence, attacking someone under the influence, being a nuisance under the influence, I'm talking about walking down the street, minding your own business, and having a cop stop you because he thinks your gait is a little off, and suspects you of being under the influence of drugs, and drags you in. They do these stupid little tests (like look at your pupils, gauge your nystagmus, which is your eyes twitching, look at your demeanor), and then they demand a blood or urine test. Refusal is taken as consciousness of guilt at trial.

The mandatory minimum sentence for a conviction of this offense (Health & Safety Code Section 11550 for those who don't believe me) is 90 days in county jail. 2nd, 3rd and subsequent offenses frequently garner a year in jail or more, due to overlapping probation violations.

Did you all get that? Walking around high gets you a long time in jail! Beat the crap out of your wife a few times, you may not see the inside of a cell, drive drunk off your ass and get caught a 2nd time, you may not serve more than 48 hours. I've had many people who committed robberies get less time than these menaces walking down the street minding their own business high on heroin (boy that's a dangerous one, I've yet to see anyone committ an assault while high on heroin).

So, much of my time in misdemeanors was spent pissed off just for the fact of these filings.

That changed in felonies. I'm not saying all cases are serious, the DA frequently enough files bogus cases as felonies. I've yet to understand why anyone should face criminal sanction for pumping their bodies full of those drugs who's makers don't have enough money to lobby their former user George Bush to decriminalize it. That being said, quite a few, probably the majority, involve some action generally more serious than driving drunk or slapping your wife, and I can't get pissed off at the fact of someone being so charged (I've never slapped my wife, and I haven't robbed a bank, so there's very little empathy there from me when I encounter those situations - sympathy, yes, but not empathy).

I can still get plenty pissed off at the manner in which someone is charged, the police tactics in bringing someone down, the extraordinarily high sentences frequently give out for minor violations, police who elicite false confessions, questioning them even though they've invoked Miranda, and finding sly ways to not to even give Miranda. Or, as you can see from my last trial, finding reasons to be pissed off is not important.

That being said, felonies, which has encompassed the vast majority of my career now, are clearly more serious than misdemeanors, and don't elicit the same sympathy on my part towards defendants that misdemeanors did. That's fine, I still do a great job, I still fight hard, and I don't need to empathize with a client to want to get them off, even if I "know" they are guilty. I have a job to do, to competently represent a client. This means that I do everything they would do to defend themselves if they had the legal knowledge to do so, as long as I don't jeopardize my bar card or my career. There's enough injustice going around that I still get my blood boiling, and sentences in this state are so out of control severe that this allows me to brawl on without pause.

This keeps me churning, fighting, and ready for the next day as if it was my very first.


Anonymous said...

Don't let that stuff get you down. Based on what I've read, you're definitely helping our society though most people won't acknowledge it. If nothing else, you've inspired someone to become a PD someday.

Anonymous said...

yes, public defenders fighting "the good fight" are very inspiring.