This the 4,310th blog post, This is the first time I am not using the "royal we" or writing under the pomposity of the Rumpole character I have developed.
I am disheartened by the verdict in the Derrick Chauvin case, and I am having trouble sorting out my feelings. As a criminal defense attorney I have handled hundreds of cases where the racism of the arresting officers was apparent. One homicide detective I have known for decades, during a break in a deposition, made a reference to people like my client (an African American young man) as "animals".
I once stood in a Broward court room representing a young black man beaten by the police after a bad stop. The judge decided to have some fun with a Dade lawyer and called my case out of order first, on a Monday morning with a jury box full of police officers. The officers in the box jeered; they objected to my questions; they would yell "overruled" when I objected and the Judge lets it all happen. Afterwards I held the young man's mother as she sobbed into my arms. We were both shaken by what we had experienced.
Like countless defense attorneys, I have seen booking photos with my client's eye swollen shut. Once, in a case I tried I had a blow up of my client's booking photo- his eye swollen shut. The officer had - I kid you not- a broken fingernail. The plea offer for a young African American man with no priors was five years in prison. NG. But no one should be charged and have to endure a trial on such facts.
I am aware of the rage of decades of police officers killing young black men and being acquitted. James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner, were arrested for registering black votes in Mississippi in the summer of 1964. The police drove them to the edge of town and then handed them over to the Klu Klux Klan who murdered them. Several officers were indicted and the case was assigned to Federal Judge W. Harold Cox, an avowed racist. Seven defendants were convicted. Four were sentenced to three years (for murder!) one to six years, and two to ten years. In the the words of the judge, all they did was "kill a n(word) and a Jew". Such injustice, pain, and racism burns deep in the collective conscience of our country. It is a stain upon our national soul.
Derrick Chauvin murdered George Floyd on video. His use of force was excessive. He used his knee to squeeze the life out of a man who was considered kind and gentle and who was claustrophobic and was afraid of being handcuffed and placed in the back of a video.
My colleagues, who venerate John Adams successful defense of British soldiers who fired into a crowd in the Boston Massacre case were applauding as loud as President Biden and President Obama who praised the verdict. So much for the chances of an appeal and a re-trial. Public Defenders who never want to see anyone convicted have been rejoicing. Feeling against racism run up against the legal principles we so revere. In this case, our principles have been discarded. "We got the bad guy" is the rallying cry of the world.
The ENTIRE WORLD wanted Derrick Chauvin convicted. And this offends me and worries me. The pressure for a conviction and a severe sentence is beyond anything I have ever seen in any criminal case. The defense was laughably bad. Where was the cross examination of the expert doctor witnesses about whether they know what it feels like to kiss their family goodbye in the morning and not know if they will return at night? How many of them have ever tried to effectuate an arrest of a suspect who outweighs them by 50 or 75 pounds surrounded by a hostile crowd? Where was the evidence of Chauvin's commendations and the times he has put his life on the line to do his job? Where was a Richard Sharpstein, slashing at the state's case, witnesses withering on the stand under a professional, experienced cross examination. Where was the Gerry Spence, telling a story about how dangerous it is to be a police officer and developing a theme of the case? My colleagues are nowhere to be found on this case. No, this was not a defense. It was a slow, public plea of guilty under the guise of due process.
My friends of color, who have endured the decades of pain and rage do not care. "He got more due process than..." fill in the blank of many black defendant's wrongfully convicted, or the many young black men and women killed by the police.
I understand the anger. Somewhat, because I freely admit I have never been discriminated against by the color of my skin. So I cannot fully understand the anger and pain or the frustration of not having a voice that will be listened to. I grasp it intellectually. That is all I can say after deep reflection.
But I cannot accept the concept of payback. I do not visit the sins of the father on the son. I endeavor to treat every man and woman as a unique individual, and I feel that Chauvin's outcome was pre-destined regardless of the defense, regardless of any evidence that might show he was acting lawfully to arrest someone who was resisting. And perhaps this is the worst case to make a stand because we can all see what Chauvin did and how he murdered George Floyd.
But as a defense attorney, this is where I make my stand. In the worst cases with the clients accused of the worst crimes.
Over these past few weeks I have been constantly reminded of the Holocaust era poem of German pastor Martin Niemoller- "Then they came for me."
This week they came for Derrick Chauvin and the entire world applauded.
And that has be worried.