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Life.....Without Parole w/ 2nd update

by NearlyNormal Thu Feb 26th, 2009 at 03:27:36 PM EST

Its an odd job being a criminal defense attorney.  In the State of California those of us employed by the state to provide indigent defense on a regular basis generally work in Public Defender offices.  I have worked in my county's Public Defender office for over 20 years.  It can be a brutal job, and one that forces you to confront the very worst in people, politics, and law.  Some cases are worse than others, of course, in some there is nothing but tragedy all round.  I currently-and I earnestly hope, permenantly, work with kids at the Juvenile Justice level, but there was a time when I was involved in Capital (death penalty) cases.  This is a tangent of the story of one of them.I have edited this to try to remove identifying characteristics for the client's privacy.


Stipulate this, that there was a very brutal man with a long record; that he killed a woman in such a fashion that the crime was punishable by the death penalty. We were appointed to the case and I was on the defense team.  I have been in many a jail cell with many people and have generally not thought too much about it on a personal level, but with this client that was not the case-I felt like a lion-tamer must when he goes into the cage with a new lion.  We talked in generalities at first, and I tried to establish some bond of trust between us.  The difficult thing is that in order to do this you have to be honest, and the honest picture of his case was exceedingly grim.  We had a good team, including the finest attorney I know of as the lead attorney, but the facts were clear and few of them favored us.

It quickly became apparent that this was not going to be a case where we fought on the grounds of guilt or innocence, it was going to be a sentencing case from the start and we were trying to save this guy's life.  That left us trying to get Life without possibility of Parole.  Not something that really excites the imagination of a defendant and it certainly doesn't endear you to him to have to shoot down theory after theory that he puts up trying to concoct a defense.

With the help of a good social historian and a good Psychologist we developed the story of the defendant from childhood on, and a sad and appalling history it was.  Some outstanding lawyering by the lead attorney resulted in some good pre-trial rulings on evidence that favored us and in the end we were offered a plea bargain that included dropping the Death Penalty allegations and pleading to Life Without Parole.

Last week the lead attorney forwarded a letter from the client.  I would like to share part of that letter with you.

"Dear Steve,
The last time we saw one another, in 1992, was at the new city jail, where, after I had been handed a LWOP [Life Without Parole] sentence, you advised me to make a life for myself.  For years I ignored that advice; opting instead to spend my time smoking pot, participating in racial riots, fighting and knifing skinheads and Serrenos (sic)[Southern Based gang members, generally hispanic], and just being a general recalcitrant (or, as the guards had described, an 'asshole'.

But that drugged-out and violent existence gradully (sic) diminshed following the passing of my [deleted family members].  After -'s passing I took a long look at my life, where I was at and where I wanted to be, and for the first time was confronted with what I was and everything I'd done.  I couldn't ignore the truth about myself anymore and what I saw made me turn away in horror...."Finalyy, I understood why the representatives of the State wanted to put me to death.  Once I acknowledged my past behavior, all the blood I'd spilled and the people whose lives I'd unlawfully and immorally taken, the forces of evolution began to act on me.  I began to evolve from the unthinking, uncaring, and violently destructive brute I'd been and into a human  being....

The [-] you knew fifteen or so years ago is dead, Steve.  He was a killer, a liar, a thief, bully, and what have you.  I slew him and, in doing so, found myself, the man within."

My client will never leave prison physically, but maybe he has left a sterner prison mentally-I don't know.
Added: Thanks for your kind words everyone. These are hard cases to live through, and not pleasant to talk about to others. NN ******************************************************* Again, thanks for the kind words and kudos for those attorneys who stay in the pressure cooker. The real praise in this story goes to the lead attorney in the matter who never flagged or failed to fight for his client.

Poll
The death penalty is
. A shame on the national conscience 50%
. A foolish notion that there can be cloture 11%
. Circus for the masses 16%
. just a damned tragedy 22%

Votes: 18
Results | Other Polls
Display:
Sadly, its what I know about.  4 death penalty cases, 2 on death row, 2 life without parole.  I have to go drink now.

Steve

"I said, 'Wait a minute, Chester, You know I'm a peaceful man...'" Robbie Robertson

by NearlyNormal on Thu Feb 26th, 2009 at 03:29:22 PM EST
You're not the only one that needs a drink.

Can you add an all of the above  onto the vote?

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.

by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Thu Feb 26th, 2009 at 03:43:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Two of the others are worse.

"I said, 'Wait a minute, Chester, You know I'm a peaceful man...'" Robbie Robertson
by NearlyNormal on Thu Feb 26th, 2009 at 03:44:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Very humbling - thank something that some people do such work, but I can understand that it takes a great toll. A well-earned drink ( but not too many - the juveniles need you :-)).

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.
by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Thu Feb 26th, 2009 at 04:36:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm not so sure about the greatness of life without parole as a penalty either...

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères
by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Thu Feb 26th, 2009 at 04:01:41 PM EST
The whole system is medieval.  Huge difference between alive and dead, though.

"I said, 'Wait a minute, Chester, You know I'm a peaceful man...'" Robbie Robertson
by NearlyNormal on Thu Feb 26th, 2009 at 04:04:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Don't like either. I much prefer alive, though, obviously...

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères
by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Thu Feb 26th, 2009 at 04:34:46 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm strongly against the death penalty for many reasons, not the least of which is the effect it has on the people involved in the cases.  The toll it takes on the lawyers involved can be horrific - I can't imagine the fortitude required to tackle such a task.  Thanks so much for both your work and the diary.

Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding. -Hobbes
by Izzy (izzy at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Feb 26th, 2009 at 04:24:58 PM EST
It debases all who come into contact with it, its pointless, and is indicative of a sickness in men's hearts.

"I said, 'Wait a minute, Chester, You know I'm a peaceful man...'" Robbie Robertson
by NearlyNormal on Thu Feb 26th, 2009 at 05:48:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Your poll needs an "All of the above" category.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Thu Feb 26th, 2009 at 04:29:32 PM EST
I think your career efforts to date have well earned you a trip around the world, even if you have to pay for it yourself.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Thu Feb 26th, 2009 at 04:32:06 PM EST
And a cup of coffee, if I buy it.

Unfortunatley, what I'm getting is an end to my county-paid health insurance and a cut on my retirement.  No good deed goes unpunished.

"I said, 'Wait a minute, Chester, You know I'm a peaceful man...'" Robbie Robertson

by NearlyNormal on Thu Feb 26th, 2009 at 05:27:18 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Another fine example of the people who populate this site.   There is a reason we come here.

I honor those who slog it out daily against the inhumanity of the systems we've built.  My praise for NearlyNormal has nothing to do with his exquisite choice of sig line, thinking he could sing it as good as Danko.

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Anaïs Nin

by Crazy Horse on Thu Feb 26th, 2009 at 04:55:07 PM EST
If I could sing like Danko, someone else would be here and I'd be pulling into Nazareth.

"I said, 'Wait a minute, Chester, You know I'm a peaceful man...'" Robbie Robertson
by NearlyNormal on Thu Feb 26th, 2009 at 05:28:44 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Since there are young 'uns 'round this joint:



She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Thu Feb 26th, 2009 at 10:25:35 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks for sharing this experience with us, NN. And above all, thanks for doing what you're doing. I have great admiration for people like you who accept to live day after day the weight of such a sisyphian task. You're helping to make the world more livable. You reminded me of what Italo Calvino wrote in "Le citta invisibili":

"The inferno of the living is not something that will be; if there is one, it is what is already here, the inferno where we live every day, that we form by being together. There are two ways to escape suffering it. The first is easy for many: accept the inferno and become such a part of it that you can no longer see it. The second is risky and demands constant vigilance and apprehension: seek and learn to recognise who and what, in the midst of the inferno, are not inferno, then make them endure, give them space."

I voted "a shame on the national conscience", but "all of the above" would have better expressed my opinion. Death penalty is based on the foolish notion that there can be cloture and that there should be retribution. It is a damned tragedy not only for the man who is put to death, bur also for all those who are involved, including his victim's family and friends, because it brings out the worse in them.

I would add it is a political tool, not only as circus for the masses, but also a way to maintain a culture of violence and retribution.    

"Dieu se rit des hommes qui se plaignent des conséquences alors qu'ils en chérissent les causes" Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet

by Melanchthon on Fri Feb 27th, 2009 at 03:52:04 AM EST

The Finnish Sentences Enforcement Act lists the following requirements of the prison system:

Punishment is a mere loss of liberty: The enforcement of sentence must be organised so that the sentence is only loss of liberty. Other restrictions can be used to the extent that the security of custody and the prison order require.

Prevention of harm, promoting of placement into society: Punishment shall be enforced so that it does not unnecessarily impede but, if possible, promotes a prisoner's placement in society. Harms caused by imprisonment must be prevented, if possible.

Normality: The circumstances in a penal institution must be organised so that they correspond to those prevailing in the rest of society.
Justness, respect for human dignity, prohibition of discrimination: Prisoners must be treated justly and respecting their human dignity. Prisoners may not be placed without grounds in an unequal position because of their race, nationality or ethnic origin, skin colour, language, gender, age, family status, sexual orientation or state of health or religion, social opinion, political or labour activities or other such similar thing.

Special needs of juvenile prisoners: When implementing a sanction sentenced to a juvenile offender, special attention must be paid to the special needs caused by the prisoner's age and stage of development.

Hearing of prisoner: A prisoner must be heard when a decision is being made concerning his/her placing in dwelling, work or other activity and some other important matter connected to his/her treatment.




You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Fri Feb 27th, 2009 at 04:51:31 AM EST
Then there's this:

Finland's population of five million has adapted to life under peripheral conditions in northern Europe. Finns make up 35% of the world's population north of latitude 60ºN. Finland is sparsely populated, with only 17 people per km².

http://finland.fi/netcomm/news/showarticle.asp?intNWSAID=25785

It's so bloody cold and dark for so long that the few who live there are in no mood to go out even for a fun crime - and partly because they're recovering from the latest alcoholic binge - including the police :-)


Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.

by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Fri Feb 27th, 2009 at 05:55:38 AM EST
[ Parent ]
17 pr km2 is of course only an average. Half the population of Finland lives in the Helsinki Metropolitan area. 80% of the rest in the 5 other main cities.

There are many, many countries that consume more per cap annually than Finns. I will grant you one anecdotal fact though - most of the Finnish cops I know are very fond of a tipple. The Chief of the Fraud squad lives in the next road and we have had many discussions on single malts ;-)

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Fri Feb 27th, 2009 at 06:27:46 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Sven Triloqvist:
we have had many discussions on single malts

Is that "on" as in "about", or "on" as in "under the influence"? :)

The fact is that what we're experiencing right now is a top-down disaster. -Paul Krugman

by dvx (dvx.clt ät gmail dotcom) on Fri Feb 27th, 2009 at 06:53:15 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Both.

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Fri Feb 27th, 2009 at 07:02:22 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Anyway my theory breaks down - in "dry" Saudi Arabia it's onnly 45 ! Maybe it's just too bloody hot to be bothered - and maybe severed hands has something to do with it :-)

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.
by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Fri Feb 27th, 2009 at 12:42:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Then maybe it just has something to do with social mores and stressful living.  My spouse is fond of telling me about the behavior of mice in overcrowded conditions. But that argument breaks down in places like China.

I can swear there ain't no heaven but I pray there ain't no hell. _ Blood Sweat & Tears
by Gringo (stargazing camel at aoldotcom) on Fri Feb 27th, 2009 at 09:10:58 PM EST
[ Parent ]
China is a big place, and for all the progress there, a lot of it is still a third-world country. So statistics might be spotty.

But it breaks down when you look at urban/rural crime distribution in the US: Per capita, the rural states have somewhat more murders, rape, Bush voters and other dysfunctional behaviours than the urban ones. It's not a big effect, but it's there.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Sat Feb 28th, 2009 at 03:24:29 AM EST
[ Parent ]
My theory has to do with advertising, and the percieved distance between the lifestyle people think they deserve and what they can actually aquire.

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Sat Feb 28th, 2009 at 09:04:53 AM EST
[ Parent ]
There's a difference between crime rates and incarceration rates...

My guess would be that if you have a retributive legal system, you'll have more prisoners, and if you have a rehabilitative legal system, you'll have fewer. Not so much because crime levels will differ (they will, but surely not by a factor of five or ten), as because incarceration rates for the same crimes will differ. If you imprison people for possession of trivial amounts of hash or PCP, you'll have more people in prison than if you don't, even if usage may be lower (big "if" there, by the way).

As for crime rates, your model makes a lot of sense. Also, the feeling of improvement in one's lot in life (or at least not a deterioration), and the feeling that you can get ahead more reliably, if not necessarily faster, by not cheating than by cheating.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Sat Feb 28th, 2009 at 09:59:46 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Robert Peel made the observation that deterrence is much more closely related to the certainty of apprehension than to the severity of punishment.  He cited the ubiquity of pick-pockets, etc. at public hangings for those very crimes.  Unfortunately, certainty of punishment is expensive to achieve so we settle for the appearance--a one to one correspondence between crimes committed and perpetrators convicted, with somewhat less concern that those convicted actually committed the crimes for which they were charged.  Many in the system console themselves with the thought that the convicted were probably guilty of something.  But then most of us are.  This is why NN's work is so important, both the death penalty cases and the juvenile cases.

In the USA we mostly abandoned public executions by the 20th century.  Unfortunately that did little to diminish the blood-lust that so many who attended such spectacles experienced.  Instead, that lust has driven the clamor for maintenance of the death penalty.  It remains our unacknowledged worship of the God of Death.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Sat Feb 28th, 2009 at 01:43:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
ARGeezer:
worship of the God of Death.

if there's one thing worse than a fanatic, it's a thanatic.

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Sat Feb 28th, 2009 at 02:25:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Which god do you worship?

There were 23,326 cases of murder and non negligent homicide, in the US during 1994, 21,606 in 1995, 19,645 in 1996, 18,209 in 1997, 16,914 in 1998, 15,522 in 1999, 15,517 in 2000, 16,037 in 2001, 16,204 in 2002, 16,528 in 2003, 16,148 in 2004, 16,692 in 2005, 17,034 in 2006, and 15,872 in 2007.  That's 225,164 persons sentenced to death by their "peers" with no due process whatsoever over a 14 year period.

Since 1976, 17 States have executed no one, 11 States have executed 1-3 persons, 3 have executed 4-6 persons. Only two States have executed over 100 persons in the last 32 years. Virginia with 103 and Texas with 431. Less than 1200 persons in all were executed in the US following trials and generally lengthy appeals processes over the past 32 years.

One can imagine which circumstance the god of death would consider the greater offering.  Maybe its the belief that the symbolic consent and involvement of the masses during State executions leads to eternal damnation of all those responsible vs. just the one soul that commits murder.

I can swear there ain't no heaven but I pray there ain't no hell. _ Blood Sweat & Tears

by Gringo (stargazing camel at aoldotcom) on Sat Feb 28th, 2009 at 04:44:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]
An interesting observation, Gringo, though I would re-cast it more as "Through which aspect or incarnation of the God of Death do you prefer to worship?"  While some might console themselves with the thought that they have no responsibility for those 225,164 deaths, that surely is also at best a comforting illusion.  But I have little confidence that the death penalty has much deterrent effect.

My own crazy recommendation would be to restructure our society in such ways as would reduce violence between its members.  Increase the peace.  Anyone who truly believes that they can fully insulate themselves and those they love from the violence endemic to US society is deluding themselves.  Those who do not care about the violence because they think they are insulated are of dubious moral integrity.

Our economy seems set up always to be dominated by some of the most rapacious among us and organized mostly to facilitate their rapacity.  In my view one of the chief manifestations of that rapacity is through "trickle down" violence.  That is what we need to change.  Focusing on policing the final manifestations of that violence only serves to contain it to some degree.  Policing will never really succeed in greatly reducing violence, IMO.  And then the sensational violence serves to distract from the rapacity at the top.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Sat Feb 28th, 2009 at 05:14:58 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I think you see the issues properly.  I also doubt that the death penalty, as presently prescribed in the US, has much to do with either preventing or contributing to the large numbers of homicides that plague American society.  In order for it to have much preventative effect, if in fact it ever would, it would likely have to be pursued with such a vengence (no pun intended) that would allow even less care and attention to due process.  That said, with the exception of scattered instances, I don't see Americans as taking much joy from executions.

In situations like this I like to remind myself, and others who will listen, of those who have paid the ultimate price for society's shortcomings, the horrifyingly large numbers of our fellow man who have become the victims of senseless killings. We owe them more than casual mention.

I can swear there ain't no heaven but I pray there ain't no hell. _ Blood Sweat & Tears

by Gringo (stargazing camel at aoldotcom) on Sat Feb 28th, 2009 at 06:03:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
No study I'm aware of shows any beneficial effect of homicide rate by death penalty.  It doesn't deter the crimes of passion, for obvious reasons, and those who plan it think they have planned well enough to get away with it.  Mostly, though, it doesn't operate on the criminal mentality which is largely immune to cause and effect arguments.

"I said, 'Wait a minute, Chester, You know I'm a peaceful man...'" Robbie Robertson
by NearlyNormal on Sat Feb 28th, 2009 at 08:32:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I've seen a few studies favoring the death penalty, as a deterrent but they like most of the others for or against are not that convincing in and of themselves.  I agree, crimes of passion (whatever that means beyond the court-room definition) - would not be deterred.

Thank you for this diary. I intended to reply directly to your personal experiences earlier, but my reply was wiped clean by a malfunctioning electrical system - so I gave up.  I quit a career in law enforcement years ago owing in large part to some of the frustrations and depression you feel so I do respect your continuing in the field of criminal justice for so long under such conditions.

I can swear there ain't no heaven but I pray there ain't no hell. _ Blood Sweat & Tears

by Gringo (stargazing camel at aoldotcom) on Sun Mar 1st, 2009 at 12:34:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]
That's been my thought too for years.  Why is there relatively little violent crime in some places where  everyone is poor?  In China's cities, back in the 80s and earlier, I'm told that if you dropped money or something valuable on the street people would chase you down to return it. Most everyone was just honest and wouldn't take advantage of anyone else to improve their own lot even a little.

I can swear there ain't no heaven but I pray there ain't no hell. _ Blood Sweat & Tears
by Gringo (stargazing camel at aoldotcom) on Sat Feb 28th, 2009 at 03:14:37 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I think that there has been an explosion in crime rates in Bhutan, since the introduction of TV, moralists blame the program content, but I still stick with my theory.

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Sat Feb 28th, 2009 at 04:05:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]
According to Roy Walmsley's World Prison Population List (seventh edition):

The information is the latest available at the end of October 2006.

USA: 738
Russian Federation: 611
Luxembourg: 167
Hungary: 156
England & Wales: 148
Spain: 145
Scotland: 139
Portugal: 121
Netherlands: 128
China: 118 ("Sentenced prisoners only.")
Canada:107
Austria: 105
Italy: 104
Germany: 95
Belgium: 91
Turkey: 91
Greece: 90
France: 85
Northern Ireland: 84
Switzerland: 83
Sweden: 82
Finland: 75
Ireland: 72
Denmark: 77
Norway: 66
Japan: 62

Roy Walmsley is an honorary consultant to the United Nations and an Associate of the International Centre for Prison Studies (ICPS), King's College, London. At ICPS he is director of the World Prison Brief, a comprehensive online database of information on the prison systems of the world, which is available free of charge at www.prisonstudies.org
In June 2006 he produced the World Female Imprisonment List, which is also published by ICPS and complements the World Prison Population List and the World Prison Brief.


Truth unfolds in time through a communal process.
by marco on Fri Feb 27th, 2009 at 10:07:07 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Something is very wrong when you have five times the imprisonment rate of countries you would describe as being similar.

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Fri Feb 27th, 2009 at 10:33:17 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The Norwegians used to be Vikings and the Japanese Samurai - life used to be more "interesting"  :-)

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.
by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Fri Feb 27th, 2009 at 12:44:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks for this glimpse, NN. You don't get your sig from The Weight for nothing: that guy stumbling from one person to another with the weight of his bag sinking lower. Or Melanchthon's amazing inferno quote.

Thanks again.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Feb 27th, 2009 at 01:33:43 PM EST


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