Wednesday, April 28, 2010

I always worry when I take my sweet pup for a walk downtown that others will think I'm crazy.  See,  I talk to Maddie.  A lot.  Even worse, sometimes she talks back.  It's such a habit to me to have conversations with her that I don't always check myself when I'm in public.  I am comforted to realize that I am not alone.  So the next time someone catches me talking to my dog, I can hold my head high with the knowledge that she'll tell her cat all about it as soon as she gets home.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Parole is not a dirty word

A 69 year-old man who committed murder when he was a naive 22 year-old was released on parole today and many think this is a sign that our criminal justice system is a joke and that we let murderers go with a slap on the wrist.  I think it is a sign that life without parole is an unnecessary sentence for the vast majority of those convicted of murder.  The truth is that most people who commit murder should ultimately be released on parole because there is simply no good reason to keep holding them.

Thomas Hagan has long admitted his role in the assassination of Malcolm X.  He went to prison 44 years ago and has since been proving that even people who commit egregious acts can still change, grow, and lead productive lives.  While in prison, Hagan has earned a master's degree in sociology.  Since 1992, he has been in a work release program that allowed him to live with his family 5 days a week while reporting to prison on the weekends.  He was under parole supervision while he was in that program.  For the last 7 years, he has held the same job.  He has volunteered at a mosque helping young men.  And he now hopes to become a certified substance abuse counselor.  He has also expressed remorse for his part in Malcolm X's murder and now understands how we was led to commit the crime.

Sounds like a complete success story to me.  This man took his time behind bars to improve himself, to think about his crime, to learn from his mistakes, and to find a way he could contribute.  In fact,  I would suggest he should have been released on parole any one of the earlier 14 times the parole board considered him.  Why should taxpayers have to pay to house someone who is no threat to anyone just because of something he did 44 years ago?  Nothing good would have come from keeping this man in prison any longer.  No one is in any danger from him.  His family, though, will benefit from having him home 7 days a week, instead of just 5.

The pat answer from those who think no murderer should ever see the light of day again is, of course, that the victim's family doesn't get the benefit of having their loved one with them.  To me that's a terribly unsatisfying answer.  The reality is that there is nothing we as a society can do to come up with a "fair" response to murder.  There is no way to even the score between the murderer and the victim.  (No, we really can't kill them all.)  So we should just admit that and stop expecting a punishment system that is based on evening the score.  The best we can really do is deal with the person who is before us and if we can help that person turn his life around, become remorseful for his crime and appreciative of why it happened (which suggests that he won't let that happen again), well we should just be glad that something good came out of a tragedy.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Reefer madness

I don't understand this.  I don't understand why 55% of polled Americans still oppose the legalization of marijuana (though they favor it for medical use).  The article provides precious little explanation for why people oppose legalization, only a couple of explanations from two or three individuals. 

I personally don't have a big dog in this fight; legalization is not an issue I care much about.  But I do think it's pretty silly we have criminalized pot and I think it's a giant waste to spend precious government resources to prosecute marijuana laws.  I have personally seen guys sent to prison for possessing a few seeds.  That case took one county attorney, one public defender, one judge, and a slew of court personnel for 4 months leading up to a trial.  Then it took one county attorney, one public defender, three judges, and a slew of court personnel for the roughly 18 month appellate process.  This is a gigantic waste of public resources.  And that's just one case.  In a state that's drowning in debt, it's just flat irresponsible to keep focusing on piddly little nonsense like marijuana.  But according to this article, about half of the respondents thought that the cost of enforcing our current laws is about right. 

I can't really just agree to disagree on that one.  We spend way too much money criminalizing a drug that's just not that dangerous.  It's certainly no more dangerous than alcohol.  It's less addictive than tobacco.  So, if you oppose legalization of marijuana, I'd like to hear why.  What am I not seeing that justifies our continued expenditure associated with the criminalization of pot?

Monday, April 19, 2010

Bird watching

This story tickles me.  (The fact that I am apparently turning into my grandma by using expressions like "this tickles me" does not.)

Flipping the bird to a cop is, in fact, not a ticketable offense.  It cost the city of Olathe, KS $5,000 for one cop to learn that.  It cost the city of Philadelphia $50,000 to learn the same lesson, so Olathe got off pretty cheap.

I like this story because I like anything that reminds police officers that they aren't so very special that they get to demand compliance with everything they say and total respect in all situations.  I like any story that reminds the rest of us that we don't actually have to bow and scrape to cops.  Now, of course, not all cops think they walk on water, but quite a lot of them do. 

Sure, it's immature and rude to flip someone off.  But it's not a crime and it certainly doesn't become a crime just because the target of your finger wears a badge. 

The article ends with an interesting quote from a local police chief, indicating to me that he just doesn't get it.  He queried, "What would the citizens think if the officer flipped them off?"  Well, sir, if a cop I was dealing with flipped me off, I may well just fume, but shrug it off.  Or I might get his/her name and badge number and report the disrespectful cop to his/her superiors.  (I would not try to make a citizen's arrest.)  Because that officer is performing his official duty and is on the clock working for me, and you, and all the other citizens.  So, yes, I get to expect that his performance of that duty rises to a particular level of professionalism and respect and if it doesn't, I think that is a matter for his bosses to address.  But as any professional knows, the non-professionals who wind up in our sphere don't always behave so respectfully.  It's part of the professional's job to put up with it, to a certain extent.  A non-threatening hand gesture indicating displeasure with the professional is squarely within the realm of bad behavior the professional just has to put up with. 

Thursday, April 15, 2010

I agree with this: it's time to appoint to the Supreme Court someone who studied law somewhere other than Harvard or Yale.  In fact, I think we should get away from the Ivy League.  From the entire east coast.  Obama should definitely look inward, to the heartland.  It really doesn't get any more heartland than Kansas, you know.  I think a solid midwestern school could undoubtedly yield an excellent justice.  Like the University of Wisconsin, for example.  I hear that's a pretty good school.  And I'm not just saying that because I have a pretty piece of their parchment paper in my office.  (Except, of course, I am.  Go Badgers!)  I think the perfect choice for the next Supreme Court Justice just might be a midwesterner (like a Kansan) who went to a reputable state school (like Wisconsin).  Of course, you'd also want someone who is well-versed in appellate practice.  It's pretty standard to look to appellate judges, but we really shouldn't be so quick to overlook the lawyers who regularly appear before those appellate judges.

Wait a minute, that kinda sounds like me.  And goodness knows I could use a major change of scenery right about now.  So I definitely think the powers that be should consider picking a younger, female, public defender from a Big Ten law school for the high court to add some much-needed balance.  (Me, me, me!) Just a thought, Mr. President.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

I heart evidence issues

I am an evidence geek. I can admit it. In fact, Randall, I will wear that badge with honor. When I read a news story about a criminal case, I feel a pricking in my thumbs about nuggets of information suggesting evidentiary intrigue. I see certain crime stories and I think to myself, "Very an evidence problem." (That's another nod to you, Randall.)

My very favorite kind of issues are hearsay and confrontation issues. They're candy to me. Remember the Drew Peterson case out of Illinois? I would love to get my evidence geek hands on that one. There are so many delicious threads to sort out.

So when a story turned up in the local paper last week about a dead body found in a home, my evidence geek senses started tingling madly. The victim was found dead on Tuesday. The cause of death was a head injury. On Sunday, the victim had gone to the police and reported being attacked in his home by a man. The victim was able to identify his alleged attacker for police. The victim refused medical treatment for the injuries he sustained, including a bump to the head, and went on home.

After finding him dead and learning that the cause of death was a head injury, police arrested the man the victim had identified as his attacker. "Not so fast!" shouted this geeky, evidence-loving defense attorney. Sure enough, the DA released the man without charging him.

Now, there's obviously a causation issue, but putting that aside, the DA can't possibly make a case against the man if all the DA has is the evidence outlined above. Any half-way decent defense attorney gets the victim's identification of his alleged attacker suppressed. Score one for the Confrontation Clause! I do love my confrontation issues.
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