Friday, July 08, 2005

Not All Prosecutors are Evil . . . All of the Time

That's a joke, people! Seriously, though, if you read any number of blogs by criminal defense lawyers, you probably see a lot of ranting about prosecutors. I have certainly had my share of rants. But the truth is that, in my experience, prosecutors and defense attorneys get along very well most of the time. By the very nature of the judicial system, we are adversaries. We have to have arguments; we have to push one another; we occasionally have to do things to infuriate one another. But in the vast majority of cases, we are able to negotiate a reasonable plea bargain that manages to do some form of justice. Of course, there are going to be times when I think a prosecutor is being completely unreasonable, sometimes unethical, and sometimes just being a complete jerk. Things can happen where you--rightly or wrongly--feel deceived, misled, screwed over, or stabbed in the back. But things can also happen where you feel like a prosecutor has given you--and more often, your client--a gift. Sometimes, you have a client who doesn't deserve a break, but who the prosecutor gives a chance because they believe that, maybe, this time, the defendant can get his life turned around. Moments like that are sweet and beautiful, and can turn an otherwise hellacious day into a great one.

This week, I had a client who was, by all acounts, a long-time drug addict. He had a prior possession conviction, and had been to prison twice before for home burglary. Now, he was charged with breaking into an auto parts store at night by smashing the glass door of the building. He had removed some items, but they were all found sitting out in front of the store. There was also a trail of blood leading away from the store. My client was found about a block away, a bit dazed, trying to stop his bleeding wrist. He admitted to the officer that he had broken into the building, hoping to steal something he could sell to buy drugs.

Burglary of a building is a state jail felony. However, because my client had been to prison for felonies twice before, his punishment level was enhanced to a second degree felony--2-20 years in prison. The prosecutor's initial offer was five years in prison. My client desperately wanted drug treatment, and asked for probation with the condition that he be sent to SAFP, which is a 6-9 month lockdown drug treatment program run out of the state prison system. In talking to my client, I honestly believed that he wanted to get off drugs, and that he knew that only something as intensive as SAFP would work for him. But, I also knew that a prosecutor would be unlikely to offer probation to someone with his criminal record. Still, I spoke with the prosecutor, laid out my client's case and his plea, and asked her to consider it. She read the police report thoroughly, called the complainant, and came back to me with an offer of ten years probation with SAFP. It seemed like a miracle. But, it wasn't. It was just a situation where this prosecutor saw a guy with a long history of drug-related crime, and thought that maybe, this time, there was a chance to get this guy clean, instead of having him continue to commit crimes, and end up in prison for the rest of his life. She gave him a chance. It wasn't a chance he was entitled to or that he deserved, but it was a chance she chose to offer him. She is no wimpy prosecutor. I have seen her try the hell out of her jury trials, and demand a life setence--and get it--from a jury. But in this case, she threw my guy a life line. I hope he takes every advantage of the opportunity she has given him, and that he realizes that this tough, decent, hard-working prosecutor may have saved his life.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I suggest you read "Three Felonies a Day, How the Feds Target the Innocent" by Harvey Silverglate. He exposes so much prosecutorial corruption and injustice in our criminal justice system that it no longer resembles anything like what our Founding Fathers imagined. Too many innocent people are prosecuted. Sadly, the justice system is so stacked that too many innocent peopled are convicted in a system out of balance. Prosecutors think they are the good guys, but often they are blind to their own failings and they can't see the injustice they are causing - they fail to see the exonerating evidence staring them in the face and they twist ambiguous evidnece into something incriminating when too often, it is simply neutral.

5/21/2010 6:44 PM  

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