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Of police, prosecutors, judges and time machines

Sep 28, 2012 Of police, prosecutors, judges and time machines

Day in and day out, the vast majority of prosecutors, police and judges whom I see seem to treat court cases in a routine fashion. I say "seem", because that is how it looks from observation, even when they continually recognize inside themselves the grave consequences that pretrial incarceration, pretrial limits on liberty short of incarceration (including a ban from leaving the state), the reputational damage of a criminal charge and conviction, and a conviction and sentence have on criminal defendants. For criminal defendants, their cases are far from routine.

The majestic (sometimes utterly regal), expensive, often antiseptic, often windowless design of and proceedings in courthouses can make it all the more challenging for lawyers, police, judges and jurors to eliminate the disconnect that such factors can cause in relating their roles, actions and decisions to the real impacts that the cases have on criminal defendants and to the scene of the alleged crime incidents, which so often are gritty and otherwise entirely different from the mood, look and feel of courthouses.

Consequently, it bears my reminding everyone involved in the criminal justice system, including criminal defense lawyers, about the necessity to treat each criminal defendant and each case as unique and never routine, and to give each defendant full time and attention. How can police, prosecutors and judges do that when court dockets are bursting at the seams? As I repeatedly say, we first must stop the bursting court dockets by legalizing marijuana, along with prostitution and gambling; heavily decriminalizing all other drugs; eliminating mandatory minimum sentencing and the death penalty; and eliminating drunk driving per se blood alcohol content criminal laws. We must also eliminate statutory mandatory pretrial jailing and the plethora of presumptions favoring mandatory pretrial jailing, as that makes jails (and, consequently, government budgets) burst further at the seams, beyond being simply unconstitutional for not sufficiently enabling consideration of the individual cases and defendants at hand.

The actions of police, prosecutors and judges can cause ripple effects on criminal defendants, their families and others in profound ways that they never can imagine, just as time travelers — if time traveling were possible — moving into the past and back to the present can cause profound changes to human history merely by killing a fly and kicking up some dust in the past.

Yes, it takes more time, effort, sweat, self-discovery, soul-searching, sleepless nights, and angst for police, prosecutors, judges, jurors, and criminal defense lawyers to give each criminal defendant full time, attention and fairness. However, anything less is unacceptable.

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