Friday, August 28, 2009

Martyr Complex

Today, my LARC, moot court, and Practice Court partner accused me of being too easy on criminals. I told him he was too loosey goosey with the United States Constitution. Then he said, "You know, I don't have a passion for criminal defense like you, but I wouldn't mind doing a few cases now and then." I never thought of myself as having a passion for criminal defense, but I do get my hackles up when I read journalism like this:

At trial, public defender Sean Coleman tried to get his client off by asking jurors "what kind of moron robs one restaurant [more than once] within a little more than (a week)? It makes no sense."

Thus saith Justin Fenton of the Baltimore Sun in a recent article. You see, Sean Coleman wasn't fighting the good fight, standing up for human dignity, the Constitution, and all things American; he was just trying to get his client off. Didn't he learn in law school that the Sixth Amendment really only guarantees a suit beside you at the table? It doesn't say anything about zealous representation or forcing the State to prove its case. If what's good for the goose is good for the gander, let's take away the First Amendment. "Sure, you can print whatever you want, but we might throw you in jail if you print the wrong thing." I guaran-damn-tee you that Sean Coleman would zealously try to get Justin Fenton off in that case.

Then there's this by Slate's Tom Vanderbilt:

[A] recent Supreme Court ruling against "warrantless searches" may limit the number of cases in which such evidence is found[.]

Mr. Vanderbilt is talking about Arizona v. Gant, in which the Supreme Court reminded everybody that the Constitution trumps social policy. (Fo rilz. See Article VI.) Everybody can see Mr. Vanderbilt raise his fingers in air quotes like the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures, rather than being inviolate, is merely a legal fiction used by the McVeighs, Bundys, Berkowitzes, and Attas of the world to run amok. Let's not forget that you and I are part of "the people." No air quotes.

Sigh. It's the friggin Constitution. There are no air quotes in the Constitution.

1 comment:

rebeccagriffin said...

Although I generally fall into the "pretty much every defendant is probably guilty of SOMETHING, let's lock them up just be sure" school of thought, I am increasingly concerned with the trial of criminal cases by the media. First of all, they don't know of what the speak, 99% of the time. Second, seriously, how ARE you going to get an impartial jury at that point? And what about all the damage done if the press is, gasp, wrong? We saw it in the Duke Lacrosse case in spades. But, for instance, what if, what if, Casey Anthony really didn't kill Caylee? Those defense attorneys would never find a jury in the States who hasn't already decided that Casey is a stone killer. And really, even though--er, if she is a killer, do I really have the right to know and critique every step in her trial? Should I really know about the evidence? How do have any kind of fair and impartial procedure of any kind when everyone "knows" (see, air quotes can be used for good as well as evil) that your client is guilty? I worry about that every time I see coverage of a criminal case as soon as it's charged. I've even seen reporters not use "allegedly" or "accused" in front of the defendant's name. "Defendant was arrested because he killed someone." Period. That seems a bit much of a rush to judgment, even for me.