Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Good news in Washington State

A judge listened to the ACLU and struck down a modern day poll tax for those who have previously been in the justice system and have outstanding fines and court costs.

Value of death penalty

Does it really provide closure:
Criminal trials and the promise of an execution offer a seemingly appealing mechanism to assign blame and channel rage. But many crime victims have reported that the endless repetition of their stories, the formal legal rules, and the years lost between appeals only serve to increase stress and delay healing.
Another thing that doesn't provide closure, when the "government has had four years to get their charges together against Hamdan," but still can't do it, and have no timeline in sight. That provides about as much closure as allowing the so-called 20th hijacker make a martyr of himself.

Then from The Agitator, look at what cops are writing about in private. They are often just as bad over the radio and wherever else they are recorded. Methinks if anyone needs constant monitoring (miking all cars, putting video cameras in), it is the police before citizens.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Fixing societal problems, standing with the accused

According to the Times:
[T]he huge pool of poorly educated black men are becoming ever more disconnected from the mainstream society, and to a far greater degree than comparable white or Hispanic men.

Especially in the country's inner cities, the studies show, finishing high school is the exception, legal work is scarcer than ever and prison is almost routine, with incarceration rates climbing for blacks even as urban crime rates have declined.


According to census data, there are about five million black men ages 20 to 39 in the United States.

Terrible schools, absent parents, racism, the decline in blue collar jobs and a subculture that glorifies swagger over work have all been cited as causes of the deepening ruin of black youths. Scholars — and the young men themselves — agree that all of these issues must be addressed.


In a society where higher education is vital to economic success, Mr. Mincy of Columbia said, programs to help more men enter and succeed in college may hold promise. But he lamented the dearth of policies and resources to aid single men.

"We spent $50 billion in efforts that produced the turnaround for poor women," Mr. Mincy said. "We are not even beginning to think about the men's problem on similar orders of magnitude."

Well, here's something that's not going to help:

Facing threats of litigation and pressure from Washington, colleges and universities nationwide are opening to white students hundreds of thousands of dollars in fellowships, scholarships and other programs previously created for minorities.
I work with criminal offenders every day. Many of them feel trapped, hopeless. The solution is not more punishment (especially those awful boot camps), it is more opportunity. Job Corp., encouraging mentors (not locking them all up).

What a tragic waste of time to continue the failed drug war and other attempts that do not empower communities but instead terrorize them by failing to address the root causes of criminality. Simply throwing money at stop-gap measures that fail to make any true changes must end.

I hope to always fight for hope, always stand for those who society claims are worthless, even if simply by association (e.g. black male or someone with a prior record = bad or irredeemable). Why? I am a public defender, that's my job. Nobody is without any redeeming value.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Police complaint process

What's the deal with police who discourage reporting complaints that everyone (like Rumpole and David Feige) is talking about. The news reports:
[O]n occasion, a police officer and a member of the public they serve don't see eye to eye, and the citizen feels a need to complain. In many departments around the country, the process starts out simply: a person just requests a complaint form.

Police departments around the country, like here in Tallahassee, give citizens police complaint forms all the time, no questions asked. But walk into a police station in South Florida, trying to find out how to file a complaint, and watch what happens.

CBS4 News found that, in police departments across Miami-Dade and Broward Counties, large and small, it was virtually impossible to walk in the door, and walk out with a complaint form.

The I-Team conducted an extensive hidden camera test, carried out by a police abuse watchdog group called the Police Complaint Center. Remarkably, of 38 different police stations tested around South Florida, all but three had no police complaint forms.
The transcripts of these encounters are crazy!
Lauderhill P.D.
tester: Yeah, I wanted to find out how to file a complaint against an officer. I just want to find out how you do it. Do you guys have a form or something that I could take with me.
officer: Well, you got to tell me first, and then I got to hear what's going on. You've got to tell me what the complaint is.
tester: Do you have a complaint form that I can, like, fill out or something like that?
officer: Might not be a legitimate complaint.
tester: Who decides that?
officer: I'm trying to help you.
tester: Like, if there's a form, why can't I just take it and leave, right?
officer: No, you don't leave with forms. You tell me what happened, and then I help you from there. Do you have I-D on?
tester: Why?
officer: You know what? You need to leave.
tester: Why?
officer: I'm going to tell you one more time, because I can't do this anymore with you, okay. You're refusing to tell me what you want to do, okay. You're refusing to tell me who's involved, where it happened, what transpired. You'e not cooperating iwth me one bit.
tester: I was just asking if you guys have a complaint form, like if there's some way for me --
officer: Out of my way.
tester: To contact Internal Affairs.
officer: You can do whatever the hell you want. It's a free country.
man" You're cursing at me.
officer: Where do you live? Where do you live? You have to tell me where you live, what your name is, or anything like that.
tester: For a complaint? I mean, like, if I have --
officer: Are you on medications?
tester: Why would you ask me something like that?
officer: Because you're not answering any of my questions.
tester: Am I on medications?
officer: I asked you. It's a free country. I can ask you that.
tester: Okay, you're right.
officer: So you're not going to tell me who you are, you're not going to tell me what the problem is.You're not going to identify yourself.
tester: All I asked you was, like, how do I contact --
officer: You said you have a complaint. You say my officers are acting in an inappropriate manner.
officer: So leave now. Leave now. Leave now.
tester: I'm not doing anything wrong.
officer: Neither am I. It's a free country.
officer: I'm not in your face. I'm standing on the sidewalk. It's a free country. One more step forward, and you'll see what happens. Take one more step forward.
Apparently, the officer had his hand on his gun when he makes that last statement. What did the officer do when he realized that his apparent threats would air? He sued the station, as Feige noted. Check out the video. Sergeant Peter Schumanich, of the Lauderhill Police Department, follows the entirely polite guy out of the station. He berates him, tries to intimidate him, and puts his hand on a gun. All the tester was doing was trying to do was get a form!

I am outraged that there have not been massive comments from other officers deriding this guy. How can such behavior be tolerated in a free society? The officer keeps trying to couch the encounter in terms of his 'right' to follow the guy into a sidewalk, his right to say what he wants, and his right to be free from an invasion of his privacy by the newsmedia. That doesn't sound right to me. The officer's rights cannot infringe on other citizen's rights to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

What do you tell a client?

I really enjoyed Skelly's not too old posting about advice to give to clients.

It made me come up with advice for prosecutors, given my experience dealing with good and bad ones.
  1. Return calls. Seriously, I know you're busy, but so am I! I return all my calls as soon as I can, even for slow/no returners.
  2. Return faxes/e-mails (see above).
  3. Don't be insulting. Get back, you don't know me like that. Who thinks that insults are the way to go.
  4. Ask, don't demand. You wouldn't respond well if I told you what to do, so please learn the importance of politeness.
  5. Fulfill promises. If you promise to look over a file so we can talk about a plea, do it! I don't blow you off, so don't blow me off.
  6. Apologize when you mess up. If you made a mistake and have to, say, change a plea we've already talked to a client about, don't go implying that its my fault you made a mistake! I apologize for my errors, so you should too.
  7. Don't get personal. Remember, I'm not my client. I didn't hit that person, steal that, possess that drug. I won't get personal with you unless you go there.
  8. Read my motions. Seriously, is that too much to ask?
  9. Respond to my motions. Appearing in court and quoting cases to the judge that you never gave me is bad form. I don't do it, why should you?
  10. Most importantly, remember that we're talking about the Constitution. It is not some technicality that I'm arguing about, it is the basic freedoms that define us as a people. For example, I know you'd be clamboring for due process if/when you were charged with a crime, so keep that in mind when dealing with me and my clients. Heck, the fact that I am even appointed is a part of the Constitution. I police the police. Even if most people charged are guilty, that doesn't mean everyone is guilty. Everyone deserves respect for their rights. If the state is allowed to ignore the rule of law to collar so-called criminals, then the state is nothing better than criminals, particularly when they convict the innocent due to slipshod, unethical corner-cutting like prepping state witnesses what they need to say to fit within an exception to the warrant requirement that doesn't actually exist.

Keeping a positive outlook

As a public defender, my job is to be a constant optimist. "C'mon, my client deserves another chance!" is the chant. I really enjoy that part of work. It helps me stay idealistic. Perhaps PDs,are African at heart? It seems as if hope springs eternal on that continent:

Where does such relentless optimism in the face of unyielding misery come from? One glance at the statistical profile of the continent's 900 million people will tell you that Africans can expect to live the shortest lives, earn the lowest incomes and suffer some of the worst misrule on the planet. They are more likely than anyone on earth to bury their children before the age of 5, to become infected with H.I.V., to die from malaria and tuberculosis, to require food aid.

Yet a recent survey by Gallup International Association of 50,000 people across the world found that Africans are the most optimistic people. Asked whether 2006 would be better than 2005, 57 percent said yes. Asked if they would be more prosperous this year than last, 55 percent said yes.

These data bear out what I see all the time as I travel across sub-Saharan Africa as a correspondent: that every single day lived here, each birth, wedding, graduation, sunrise and sunset is, in ways large and small, a daily triumph of hope over experience.

It seems that happiness and optimism can occur even in the worst of circumstances. And even when people might be justified as cynical, such as in Africa:
But the survey also reveals that Africa's optimism is not simply the optimism of faith. Africans, the data reveal, are painfully aware of the inadequacy of their leaders: 8 out of 10 said "political leaders are dishonest"; three-quarters "deemed them to have too much power and responsibility"; while 7 out of 10 "think politicians behave unethically."
Man, that's some valuable perspective. Civil war, corrupt governments and none of the freedoms we have here, and they are happy.

I guess that I shouldn't be too disappointed, then, that the Hoyas lost to USF...