Friday, June 28, 2013
I had previously written a couple of blog posts on this subject, and made some predictions back in April of 2012. Now, the Florida trial has begun. And, we will see how this plays out.
Most of what I said back in 2012 still holds true today – except… I predicted that this case would never go to trial. I was wrong. My feeling at the time was that the stakes on both sides were too high for the gamble. Why? The prosecution had much to lose, prestige-wise, with an acquittal; and George Zimmerman had much to lose in not accepting a plea bargain – if offered. I’m not sure it was ever offered. Especially in light of the Pit Bull prosecutor, Angela Corey, getting involved and her political career hanging out there like John Wayne Bobbitt at a nude beach.
Perhaps some of you are not aware of the following:
· Ronald Thompson, an Army veteran and long-time community volunteer, including his work with the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Florida, was convicted for the crime of firing two shots into the ground to scare off some belligerent teenagers – using a gun for which he had a ‘concealed weapon’ permit (2009). You can read more about the case on line. He was offered a plea deal to serve three years, but refused because he felt that he had done nothing wrong. He ultimately received 20 years in prison. A judge subsequently opined that the sentence was unconscionable and misdirected. An appeals court changed Thompson’s sentence to three years. The Pit Bull appealed the court’s decision and Thompson’s 20 years sentence was reinstated. Thompson, likely to die in prison, was 65 when convicted and in poor health.
· Marissa Alexander, a Florida woman, was given 20 years in prison for firing a ‘warning shot,’ into the wall, as she demanded that her known abusive husband leave her residence (2010). Marissa was, at the time, staying at her mother’s house, where she had taken refuge from her husband. Marissa was offered three years in prison by Angela Corey’s office, in exchange for a guilty plea to a lesser offense in that shooting incident. Marissa declined and they went to trial. Marissa Alexander was convicted and sentenced to twenty years in prison.
Now, Ms. Corey might blame these excessive terms in prison on Florida’s Minimum Mandatory sentencing. But, don’t be fooled. Much of this has to do with the prosecutor’s self-serving motives. The prosecutor often decides the seriousness of the crime to which the defendant will be charged. Example: Zimmerman could have been charged with something like Manslaughter or Negligent Homicide; but instead was charged with Murder in the Second Degree which dictates a sentence of life in prison.
Six female jurors whose identities have not been revealed will evaluate the presented evidence. Interestingly enough, the six selected knew little if anything about the George Zimmerman – Trayvon Martin case, prior to their selection. Where do they find these people?
One other thought, I would advise that Zimmerman testify. He needs to show the jury that he has the backbone to defend himself. He will need to be truthful; and more importantly he must appear to be truthful and likable.
I’m not sure that his defense attorney got off to a very good start in the likable category with his ridiculously unfunny knock-knock joke. Oh-my-gosh, I couldn’t believe that. It just made me cringe.
Sunday, June 16, 2013
Perhaps, I was a little too hard on defense attorneys. It’s a dirty job. And, as they say, someone has to do it. But noble, I don’t think so.
On the other hand, prosecutors operate under the guise of the shinning public servant, dedicated to bringing justice to the doorstep of those who commit crimes. However, it has been my experience that prosecutors are much the same as defense attorneys, which many of them were originally. They have now eased themselves into a government job. Nonetheless, they are still attorneys by training and disposition. Again, the goal is winning. If a few defendants get overly waxed during a resulting trial – well the defense should have been better prepared or accepted the offered plea deal. Justice is but a quaint, rather dysfunctional concept to prosecutors.
Plea deals are what prosecutors do primarily. Only a small percentage of the accused actually get a trial of their peers – the legal standard that is so highly lauded in the criminal justice system. Trials are expensive and time consuming. Prosecutors normally try to avoid trials unless there is a high degree of public interest, or as some might say ‘sex appeal.’
It goes something like this. A burglar is caught at night, by the police, inside a local Plaid Pantry. The defense attorney approaches the prosecutor and asks what they can work out to avoid a trial. The prosecutor looks over the circumstances of the crime, and the alleged burglar’s criminal resume, and then says something like, ‘I’ll let him plead to First Degree Theft, 90 days in jail, and probation.’ The defense attorney counters with 45 days in jail. The prosecutor says, ‘OK, but you owe me lunch.’
High Profile Example: During the Jodi Arias Trial, the Prosecutor Juan Martinez seemed, at times, on the verge of righteous hysteria in his condemnation of Jodi Arias. This is largely theatrics. Besides, he has put a lot of effort into the preparation for this case; and he has no intention of wasting the spotlight. His political future hangs in the balance.
To be continued…
Thursday, June 13, 2013
Louisville, Kentucky Courier-Journal (6-3-13): ‘Studies have shown that attorneys are six times more likely to commit suicide than the general public.’ Why would that be?
I’ve spent the bulk of my career working for and with lawyers who practice in almost every aspect of the law profession. I have some thoughts on those experiences with lawyers that some of you might find interesting, even concerning.
There are many specialties in the practice of law, and the following generalities / opinions do not pertain to all lawyers; but I would say a majority of them.
Attorneys, by nature or training, look at life through a prism in which they perceive that almost everything in life is relative, negotiable, and transitory. Often very intelligent and egocentric, a lawyer’s fluctuating moral compass takes them wherever and whenever money beckons. Now, to be clear, I am principally speaking of ‘trial lawyers,’ criminal and civil.
Of the ones that I have worked with, some I liked and some I didn’t. As their investigator, some expected me to shade my investigation to benefit their client or legal position. Not lie, you understand; but, if possible, accentuate the positive. If not that, at least to look hardest in the areas that might benefit the client. That’s the nature of the game; and it holds true whether you are working for a prosecutor or a defense attorney, or a civil attorney representing either the plaintiff or the defendant. Some might say, what’s wrong with that? After all, it is the client who is responsible for the tab one way or another. Yes, I suppose there is some validity to that. However, we are attempting to examine some of the stresses, issues, and conflicting moral questions that attorneys deal with on an almost daily basis. You should understand that the court room is generally not about unmitigated truth and justice. Fortunately, justice is often, even usually, an incidental outcome of the proceeding. But, for attorneys it is principally about winning.
In that most of you are probably the most familiar with the work of criminal defense attorneys and prosecutors, I will discuss them first.
Criminal Defense: This must be in the running for the worst job in the law profession. The work is relatively easy to find in that most criminal defense attorneys take ‘court-appointed’ or indigent cases. Said cases don’t pay well, but they are readily available and a good training vehicle for those attorneys interested in that type of work. Court appointed cases constitute an inexhaustible stream of clients representing, almost always, the dregs of humanity. Conservatively speaking, 95% of those who fall within the criminal justice system are guilty as charged. Maybe 4% of this group has been somewhat, let’s call it ‘over-charged,’ being guilty of a lesser charge under the same or similar statutes. So, 99% of those who find themselves standing before a judge have broken the law. Furthermore, the majority of those individuals have committed many other despicable acts for which they were never prosecuted: assault, child abuse, wife abuse, rape, illegal drugs, theft, burglary – you name it. Yet a criminal defense attorney has to attempt, with all his or her ability, to exonerate their client from the latest misdeed; even though they know their client is guilty. How would you like to face that day-in and day-out? How would you like to spend a preponderance of your working life socializing and thinking about people who, under normal circumstances, you would avoid? What if, by chance, your work set a rapist free to offend again? Would the thought ever cross your mind that you are accomplishing nothing of any real importance to society? Would your law professor’s pep talk about the nobleness of your profession sustain you? Could you hang on to the belief that everyone is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law? Would the money be worth it? What is the meaning of life? Why am I here? Is there a god? And, why am I doing a job that I cannot candidly and happily describe to my children, my grandchildren? Or would you decide that a bullet to the brain is a faster and more sensible resolution to your doubts?
To be continued…