Copping out...

This, cut from a much longer passage about why innocent people plead guilty...
(Please remember these are scraps headed for the slag heap--posting them just makes me feel better about chopping them out of the book....)

Even now, after more than a decade in the system, my family and friends exhibit a muddled skepticism when I mention these rudimentary truths of the system: that big city justice, is more about the judge you draw, than evidence they’ve got; that having just a few thousand dollars for bail is what makes the difference between jail and freedom; that innocent people plead guilty all the time.

Back in the courtroom, there is still no judge. Your lawyer wanders languidly though the thigh high swinging gates that guard the well of the courtroom. They are battered and scarred, like tan saloon doors that have seen too many bar fights. They flap loudly in his wake. To the left, on the prosecution’s table, is a large low box of files. Inside it appear to be the 30 or 40 cases left to be heard in the afternoon. The assistant DA’s arrayed around the box seem almost impossibly young. The women, draped with cheap early career professional wear, black leather pumps and a profusion of pearls. Their jackets, in navy and back and grey betray a kind of corporate shabby chic, like first year law associates at downmarket firms in Rochester or Dayton. They wear just a touch of makeup, their hair is teased and styled, most of them are white.

Your lawyer, significantly older but rumpled in the way that seems to pervade the courthouse, walks up to them; there are smiles and a moment of nodding. A long legged blonde assistant DA, rifles though the long file box and shakes her head. Your heart sinks.

Legs notices a white file folder, exactly like the dozens of others, lying next to the box. She picks it up. Your lawyer nods, and you quietly offer a prayer of thanks.

There’s more conversation, a little more animated now, your lawyer is gesturing in a pleading kind of way, his hands out, fingers spread and slightly bent, his thumbs pointed 45 degrees out from his body, in a “c’mon gimmie a little somthin’ here,” gesture. Legs is shaking her head in obvious disagreement, your lawyer is focused, his eyes are narrowed, almost angry—mid pitch. You lean forward trying to get a sense of who’s saying what, when then the Judge walks in:

“Come to Order!” the court officers shout as the softly murmuring courtroom quiets to a hush broken by the chatter of Legs and your lawyer, and a few other pairs of defense lawyers and assistant DA’s all engaged in the days work of processing cases—processing you and the rest of the people you’ve been sitting with for the better part of the year.

Your lawyer nods at Legs, and striding again through the gates, confers with the court officer calling in the cases. The court officer shuffles around some papers, and from the bottom of a pile picks up a sheaf of papers, stapled together, the back page a muted sky blue. “Add on to the calendar…voluntary return on a warrant, 2004BX100001” intones the court officer for the 75th time that day, “People vs. Your Name charged with 165.15.” Your lawyer stands at the defense table, Legs has moved front and center for the prosecution, and as you enter the well, another court officer slides in behind you, blocking your way, hands on his hips.

Standing in the dingy well of the courtroom, waist pressed against the battered wooden table, centered at the tattered, hand-lettered piece of notebook paper commands, simply, “Stand Here" it’s hard to get your mouth to work, to say what you know you have to say...


Anonymous said...

At least it's a blue back though, right? Sigh of relief for that.

Anonymous said...


As a fellow PD who blogs, I saw way too much in this posting that hit home, but had a question. You noted that just a few thousand can make a difference in a case. But I was curious, do you find that the fact you blog (assuming the ADA's know that you do) makes a difference in the cases you work? I have found that since word leaked out I blog I have received much better offers and treated much more kindly by the prosecutors where I work.

Just curious,

Would love to post my name, but

-- anonymous

Indefensible said...

Sadly, I can't give you a good answer on this because by the time I started really blogging, I'd left the day to day work of being a PD. I only kept about four murder cases (and one misdemeanor)--not the sort of cases where marginal things like blogs are going to make much of a difference.

I do believe, however that shining a light on the system and the injustices perpetrated in it can have good effects for our clients. In particular, I believe that judges fear exposure, and that blogging in particular, because it is contemporaneous (or nearly so) and because we are able to completely control the narrative, is a fantastic way to play on that concern.

I also think that when judges and prosecutors know that you're willing to expose them, they are on better behavior, and often are more willing to do the right thing.

(Obviously, it's one of the reasons I'm writing the book as well)

So good luck. Drop me an e-mail with a link to your blog so I can go check it out....