Hi Rump. We are a State Attorney And a Public Defender and we decided to take you up on your offer to write something for Sunday.
Each of us feels, for different reasons that we cannot reveal our identity. On the PD side, there is a culture of being against “sleeping with the enemy” (not that we’re sleeping together) and the PD here feels s/he will have the friendship held against him/her.
On the Prosecutor side of things, the fear is much worse. There is no outspoken rule against fraternization with the other side, but as we have seen this past year, prosecutors have been fired for less.
There is as you have written, "a palpable sense of fear" in the hallways of the State Attorneys Office. If you are content to sell your soul, if not your ideals, and act as an unreasonable, unfeeling automaton, then you can do just fine here at the SAO. Make unreasonable offers, refuse to compromise, don’t listen to reason or sympathy, or the particular facts of any case that might necessitate a lesser plea offer, and you will not run afoul of the administration and the myriad of “chiefs” that sit above you. They just wind me up, send me to court, and I parrot what has been written down that my supervisors have approved. I couldn’t even begin to tell you what discretion is as a prosecutor, since I have none.
And the psychological toll this takes on a person is devastating. If you are so inclined to use your legal skills to create a path of destruction on the lives of people who might otherwise deserve some sympathy , then you sleep well at night. If however, you have a conscience, then things get a bit rough.
Before the ASA here signs off, I want to highlight something that was reported in your (Rumpole’s) beloved NY Times on Saturday.
40 years ago, Joseph Pannell was young black teenager in Chicago. Confronted on the way to school by a white police officer, Pannell pulled a gun and shot him in the arm. Officer Terrence Knox was wounded and suffered permanent damage to his right arm. Pannell took off and fled to Canada, where for the last 40 years he has lead an upstanding and law abiding life as a husband, father, and librarian.
Pannell returned to Chicago and pled guilty to a reduced charge of aggravated battery in exchange for 30 days jail, 2 years probation, and a $250,000.00 donation to a charity that benefits the families of wounded police officers in Chicago. This extraordinary deal was obtained because reasonable people were able to look at Pannell’s life on the whole, and reward him for the way he lived his life.
Now I am not saying my office might not have done the same thing. I am way too low on the totem pole to have any input into a decision like that.
Here’s what struck me: Had Pannell shot an officer in Miami today, and been caught, he would have been prosecuted, convicted, and sentenced to a mandatory life in prison. That is what troubles me. We have no ability (and this is a criticism of the criminal justice system, not my office) to try and look beyond the circumstances of a crime and see what is fueling it. There is limited discretion beyond warehousing people for decades. The way things are progressing in this state, by the time I am ready to retire, DUI will have a ten year minimum mandatory. I just don't have the stomach to continue sending young black men to prison for decades. When my committment is up, I am outta here. I don't know where I'll work next, but I can promise you this: I will work at a law firm that allows me input and where I feel my knowledge and experience are worth something.
Ok, I’ve said my piece. Help me with the link Rump- the Times Article is HERE
OK Rump- the PD here. There is no question my office treats me better than my counterpart. I am better paid, and I have more discretion. However, beneath the surface, there are tensions here as well. Many of us view the coronation of Carlos Martinez as a continuation of policies that we think have resulted in a bloated and top heavy office. Beyond the silliness of this blog, many of us were really hoping Bill Barzee was going to run.
We have some great experienced lawyers who are out there every day helping us. Oliver Morales comes to mind immediately. I think my chief complaint is the emphasis on trying cases. A trial is not always the best thing for a client, and there is a tension here between your career and your client. The best of us negotiate that tension very well and settle the cases that need settling, and try the cases that need to be tried. However, not all of us do that very well, and sometimes the clients suffer for it.
Well Rumpole, that’s all we have for you now. Thanks for the opportunity.
Just call us Perry and Mason.