Sunday, May 22, 2011

Book: Indefensible

"Indefensible - One Lawyer's Journey into the Inferno of American Justice", David Feige

Justice as portrayed in movies is closer to fantasy than reality. The system is overloaded and cannot deal with the volume it is presented, therefore they try to make people surrender instead of going through lengthy procedures. Justice is of secondary importance. Poor people suffer more from injustice than anyone else. Neither judges nor police are your friends, don't trust them... It is a depressing account of how so-called justice really works.

[p.29] The sheer exhilaration of knowing that in an hour or so I'd be in court, standing beside the poor and bedraggled, the violent and the innocent, the people who never wanted me as their lawyer in the first place was intoxicating.

[p.32] Almost every day brought me into contact with an astonishing array of people, all of whom desperately needed my help.

[p.37] Consequently, men are uncomfortable acquitting someone on a sex charge, and this is acutely true with an all-male jury. It takes a woman in the room to cor­roborate their skepticism, to make their disbelief okay.

[p.??] When quick thinking and violent reactions often save your life, it's hard to hold your fist, let alone your tongue.

[p.??] The result of this power is a constant deference that turns many judges into spoiled divas who can't stand even a hint of disrespect.

[p.??] There are very few judges who will ever consider releasing someone charged with murder. It is, quite simply, an unacceptable political risk. Judges live in fear of "soft on crime" headlines, and one of the surefire ways to wind up on the front page of the New York Post is to release an alleged murderer, whatever the evidence or lack of evidence.

[p.78] ...the judge you draw has as much to do with whether you're eventually locked up and for how long as almost any other factor.

[p.??] ...that meeting will almost always get quickly reported to the prosecutors office, along with a description of what the defense lawyer was interested in. Defense lawyers never get such calls after a medical examiner's meeting with a prosecutor.

[p.88] Pleas are adjourned for sentencing; trials are adjourned because the police don't show up, or the defense isn't ready, or motion that should have been filed weren't. Cases are adjourned for plea discussions and then, more often than not, for more plea discus­sions. It's a vicious cycle, chronically resistant to change, born of consistently overtaxed resources.

[p.??] Everyone assumes that as citizens we should respect the criminal justice system. What is often overlooked is that the system should respect the citizens as well.

[p.??] ...the only moral and logical thing to do in a system whose rules make your job impossible is to reinvent the rules.

[p.??] It's always scary standing before a judge. And no matter how routine an appearance is, no one is safe from the creeping fear that some­thing could go awry — that somehow, with the wrong move or a bad argument, the court officers standing just a few feet away could reach for their cuffs and, with a nod from the judge, lead you away, back toward the door by the jury box, to jail.

[p.??] There are many lawyers who either don't bother or prefer not to send the case file, the motions, and the police reports to their clients... The not unexpected result of this paperwork empowerment, however, is an enormous number of conversations

[p.??] ...the 4-8 was a dingy but vibrant station house built in a style that would have made a Soviet architect swoon for its brutal, unadorned efficiency.

[p.??] Faced with a lawyer, many clients wrongly think that reiterating their statement will help, and that once the lawyer is convinced it's a simple matter to set them free.

[p.??] Refusing to allow decent pictures designed to document a deficient lineup is the kind of overt manipulation of the system that should be punished.

[p.??] Trials, though they capture the imagination of the public and inspire young people to become lawyers, almost never happen. Though I handle hundreds and hundreds of cases a year, if I try three of them it will have been a busy twelve months; almost every case is resolved through dismissal or plea... That being said, trials usually involve a select subset of cases — the very innocent people and the very bad guys. Innocent people go to trial mostly because they're naive. Like Clarence, almost all of them tragically believe that the system will work and will exonerate them.

[p.??] Many people charged with murder wait two or even three years for a trial. In New York, there is no statutory right to a speedy trial in a homicide, and as a result (and because murder cases are complicated and usually prosecuted and defended by very experienced and very busy lawyers) the mere allegation can land you in jail for a few years.

[p.106] Bad judges may seem tougher, but in the long run, their generic, bureaucratic, reflexively proprosecution decisions undermine confidence in the criminal justice system.

[p.??] ...making a statement to the police is never - never - in a criminal de­fendants interest.

[p.??] I have told clients a thousand times: if the police try to talk to you, just stay calm, ignore everything they ever tell you, and ask for a lawyer. Repeatedly. Insistently. Relentlessly. And hard as it is to believe, this is the best course of action whether or not you are guilty of anything. No one should talk. But nearly everyone does, and almost everyone regrets it.

[p.116] Unfortunately every court day, whether they're going to use their lawyer or not, Shamar and thousands of other incarcerated clients like him are woken up at four in the morning, piled in rickety old school buses outfitted with metal mesh windows, driven from Rikers Island to courthouses around the city.

[p.??] In the Bronx it is routine to see hardworking people who earn minimum wage come into court owing a thousand dollars in tickets issued at the same time on the same traffic stop. These people, scraping to get by, don't have any problem paying the summons for the rolling stop at the stop sign - in their view, they did wrong, and they accept it. But the fact that they also got a ticket for a crooked license plate, five more for inappropriately tinted windows (a separate one for each window), a seat-belt violation issued after the officer ordered them out of the car, a ticket for an improper lane change because they failed to signal while pulling over for the policeman in question, and a bonus ticket for a cracked side-view mirror - well, that just makes them hate the cops.
The police would never pile on tickets like this in Manhat­tan or Beverly Hills or Highland Park. Outraged citizens wouldn't just challenge every one of the tickets, they'd complain - to the precinct captain, to legislators, to their friends at the DA's office.

[p.??] My clients, of course, have no access to anyone, so if they do complain, they do so to utter deafness. No matter how outrageous the police conduct, the presumption is that the client is whining, gutless, and guilty - certainly not a serious citizen with a legitimate complaint. With no check on their behavior, the cops in the Bronx tend to be a lot rougher...

[p.??] ...once you understand how the system really works, how it wears people down, how high the costs of fighting a criminal case really are, the guilty pleas of the innocent are not only predictable, but also seem a natural product of the way the system is designed. Even without threat of jail, copping out isn't an irrational choice.

[p.164] ...because having finally decided to plead, to capitulate, you've be­come like everyone else in the line: ground down by the system, beaten by it.

[p.??] That's the goal, of course: realistically, the system can only try one of every hundred cases, which means there has to be a way to make the other ninety-nine cop out.

[p.??] When the NYPD makes 62,691 marijuana arrests in a single year, there can't possibly be enough judges, public defenders, and courtrooms to create a just hearing-and-trial sys­tem. The only alternative is to make exercising your rights func­tionally impossible.

[p.??] ...none of us maybe able to stop the colossus, [but] we can all do a lot more than we imagine our­selves capable of.

[p.??] Prosecutors' offices usually define success not by the justice of the result, but by the number of convictions. This creates a perverse incentive structure that rewards aggressive prosecutors looking for scalps rather than those searching for fairness. And though there are certainly bad guys who need locking up (I've represented several), when the enormous power of the state is arrayed against some poor kid from the projects, having a zealous prosecutor who is just looking to win will often result in a miscarriage of justice.

[p.??] There were dozens of occasions on which I intercepted clients outside the courtroom, calling their parents or sending them home to change Jest Rivera decide based on the clothing alone that the kid was guilty or menacing.

[p.??] The truth is, many times the difference between good and bad lawyering is just that gentle touch. Often, all it takes to solve a client's problem - inside the courtroom or out - is a mo­ment of sensitivity or insight.

[p.238] deeply as I felt Wale's sisters anguish, I also felt, as acutely as ever, how desperately Roger and the rest of my clients - even the guilty ones - need protection from the punitive revengeful world.

[p.??] Everyone seems to understand and indeed to celebrate the ability of a born-again Christian to see potential in everyone, and to love each individual no matter what they've done - this is, after all, the essential teaching of Christ. But somehow, when I present this same basic belief in the context of a secular humanist thrust into the brutal world of criminal justice, it loses its coherence.

[p.??] Another sad truth of the system: no one follows up. No one ever does. It's why police brutality persists. The humiliation and sense of powerlessness that come with that first exposure to handcuffs are so extreme that all anyone wants to do afterward make it stop, get it over with, and forget all about it.

[p.??] To make matters worse, we spend all day losing. We public defenders are a strange breed: passionate people spending ourselves in a Sisyphean struggle for justice in a sys­tem rigged to crush us.

We’d love to believe that a judge’s rulings are solely based on rational decisions and written laws. In reality, they can be influenced by irrelevant things like their moods and, as Frank suggested, their breakfasts. [source]

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