Today is my last day in the prosecutor’s office. Then I begin my law practice here in Jefferson City. I expect that I will do a significant amount of criminal defense work, despite the fact that most of the last 14 years have been spent in charging and (mostly) convicting criminals. The number of felons that I have sent to the state pen is more than I can count.
Not surprisingly, there are many folks who cannot understand how one can switch sides and defend the accused instead of prosecuting them, especially after so many years.
I remember feeling that way early in my career. Naturally, when you are brand new, you are scared and feel like you are in over your head. That’s because you are. But after awhile you gain confidence. You’re a professional prosecutor. You become practiced at charging the bad guys and doing whatever it takes (within the rules, of course) to get them convicted.
But the pure pleasure of getting a big conviction does not last. Sure it’s good to give the victim a measure of justice, but you cannot make them whole again. Sadly, they and their families may be damaged for life.
And there is the defendant. His life may be ruined too, and the fact that he deserved it does not make it any less a tragedy.
To the prosecutor who takes my place, I hope you will keep some things in mind:
You have the power to help victims and the power to punish those who refuse to follow the law. Be careful what you do with that power, for you also have the power to destroy lives. Try to remember that the accused is owed the same respect as anyone else.
I remember a prosecutor who taught that the defendant in a jury trial should be treated with scorn; that he should be dehumanized. Presumably the jury would understand how guilty he must be. I admit that in some of my earlier trials before a jury I adopted a rather contemptuous attitude toward the accused, often refusing to refer to him by name during the trial.
Later I discovered how foolish this was: that I would be better received by treating the defendant respectfully and using his proper name. It seems that when the jury understood that I was being fair and decent to the defendant (even though he may have been despicable), they became more trusting and receptive to me because they felt I was giving the guy a fair, honest shake.
It’s great when the right thing turns out to be the most effective. Live long and prosper.
Here is my cops & donuts story. A few years ago I needed to speak with a local police officer about an upcoming case and I was directed to call the local donut shop.
I called to learn that our probate judge had issued an order that very morning to have a woman committed for a mental health evaluation.
The police went to the donut store–where she worked–only to find she was the only employee on duty. They had to take her away and it took the rest of the morning to find the manager to come and staff the store. They didn’t even have a key to close the place.
So for the rest of the morning our city police had to watch the store, and the money . . . and naturally, the donuts. I never heard whether any bear claws turned up missing.
I received my notice the other day to pay my annual bar dues. I don’t mind because I consider it a fanatastic privilege to practice the profession of law. What does annoy me are those radio commercials praising the the Missouri system for selecting (some of) our trial judges. The ads conclude with the notice that it was brought to you “by the men and women of the Missouri Bar.” Naturally, I have a suspicion that I am paying for those commercials. I just don’t understand why.
Clearly these radio commercials are designed to make us feel good about the way trial judges are selected in places like St. Louis. I gather that you are supposed to feel better about your judge if he or she has been appointed by a politician (called the “nonpartisan” plan) than you would feel if you had directly elected the judge to office.
If these commercials are designed to give us confidence about appointed state judges, then what purpose does it serve to run those ads here in Jefferson City? OK, so folks in in St. Louis City and County; and in Jackson, Clay and Platte counties are all feeling warm and fuzzy about their trial judges. I am happy for them.
But I live and practice law here in mid-Missouri. I think we have good judges, despite their having been elected by the people (instead of being appointed by the governor). So what’s the deal with these ads? To make us feel badly about OUR judges? I don’t get it.
If you are familiar with internet “feeds” as a way of receiving articles automatically without having to visit numerous websites and weblogs, then just ignore this post. But you are not using a feed reader, I invite you to take a look at RSS and how it can help you keep up with the news you want: