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When the fundraiser or political candidate knocks, speak your conscience

Jul 25, 2011 When the fundraiser or political candidate knocks, speak your conscience

As I have said again and again, we will have a much less expensive and higher quality criminal justice system — including on the indigent and non-indigent criminal defense side — once we radically shrink and reform the criminal justice system into one that legalizes marijuana, prostitution, and gambling; that heavily decriminalizes all other drugs; and that sharpens the teeth of the First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution. Until such radical reform takes place, we will continue to have a criminal justice system that breaks governmental budgets in these tough economic times; and is overly unjust, antithetical to a free and democratic society, and overly socialistic.

A shrunken criminal justice system will enable us to have better quality people in the criminal justice system through more competition for fewer jobs in policing, prosecuting, judging, jailing, supervising probationers and parolees, and defending. The tax money saved from a shrunken criminal justice system will be able to be used not only for balancing governmental budgets and reducing tax rates, but also for better selection, training, supervision, and pay to those who remain in the criminal justice system.

Criminal defense lawyers need to eliminate any mindset over losing income through a shrunken criminal justice system. That is what putting our money where our mouths are is all about. I am practicing law in an excessively unjust criminal justice system, and I deal with that this way and by promoting a shrunken criminal justice system on this blog and on occasion through talking face-to-face with people.  

For those who suggest to me that it is a good thing to keep enough arrests and prosecutions going in order for criminal defense lawyers to maintain their incomes, I can refer them to today’s blog entry.

I remember the call I received not long ago from a man grinning ear-to-ear on the other side of the phone, telling me about his current or former status as a police officer, joking how he tells criminal defense lawyers that they and police need each other (to keep their incomes going), and offering me a chance to get my law firm’s name out to police by paying for an ad in their program for their annual event. I told this grinning man that I could not reconcile his offer with the reaction that some of my clients would have knowing that I had placed an ad in such a forum, where so many of my clients feel victimized by police. There are plenty of good police, but even they work within a criminal justice system that overcriminalizes, does not have enough teeth to the Bill of Rights from the appellate courts, cages too many presumed-innocent people pretrial, convicts too many innocent people (including by making innocent people feel pressure to plead guilty, lest they face a worse fate if convicted at trial), and unfairly sentences too many people. I did not bother telling him that I also personally felt discomfort in placing such an ad.

The grinning caller’s grin disappeared. I no longer was a good investment of his time, he realized.

More recently, I got a call from a man I knew. He was all happy to tell me about his candidacy for the Virginia legislature. He talked a lot, rather than asking me about what is important for me to hear about his candidacy. I offered him the opening early on to ask me my views, when I asked him if he was going to support the abolition of the death penalty, which is far from merely quixotic in this former cradle of the Confederacy, location of some of the nation’s most vile Jim Crow and worse, and current numerical competitor among the nation’s most active capital punishment death chambers.

The candidate finessed my question about the death penalty, quickly talking about some of his issues that he seemed to expect I would like, including his plan to promote getting funding to increase the number of state troopers (or re-funding eliminated positions). I asked him why I would like that idea. He said that doing so will increase the number of reckless driving charges (which are jailable), helping criminal defense lawyer’s incomes (I only do a moderate number of such defenses in the first place.) I told him point blank that I am willing to sacrifice income for a smaller criminal justice system.

He kept talking, rather than engaging me in conversation, after I had already let him know about my concern and opposition to capital punishment (he finessed that issue), and showed no interest in his plan to increase the number of troopers, which clearly will not result only in more reckless driving arrests, but also in more arrests for marijuana (which I want legalized) and other drugs (which I want decriminalized), more use against defendants of eroded Constitutional rights from appellate decisions, and in further caging of presumed-innocent people pretrial, convictions of innocent people, and too often unfair sentences.

The call inevitably took the turn that seemed clearly coming. My not being a Virginia voter, the candidate asked not for my vote, but for financial support. I replied that I am generally cynical about politicians and am generally reluctant to donate to their campaigns. I give him credit for acknowledging my foregoing view, and for not abruptly changing his outwardly positive tone and for not abruptly ending the call. This man knows how to engage people in conversation, and his candidacy will be stronger when he does so, rather than doing a one-sided talk.

The conversation with this candidate sunk in further as the hours passed. If we are going to raise our democratic voices, we must let our voices be heard to those in power and those asking us to help put them in power. We must share our views with others (without needing to be overly obnoxious about it). We need to avoid giving money to candidates merely in the hopes that it will help our businesses and pet causes. WE must carefully and critically evaluate the whole candidate. We must speak our consciences.

Next time a politician asks for your vote or your money, that is a golden opportunity to tell the politician what you really care about. Please do not pass up that golden opportunity.

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