Thursday, February 23, 2006

Spin the random topic wheel...

So the Family Court trial wrapped up today. There wasn't an actual trial, as we agreed to a new arrangement to settle the matter, but there was too much grumbling to say it ended with a whimper.

Today the random topic wheel is coming to rest on "legal questions from relatives." I've yet to have the question asked directly, but it's out there in the ether, and it's something most lawyers will face at some time. It's the infamous "how can you defend those people?"

I find, in talking to friends and family, that there is really a substantive and a procedural aspect to that question. Substantively, I think every person has the right to a fair hearing and to due process of the courts. The vilest offender, completely repulsive to me personally, still deserves the chance to have fair treatment under the law. A lot has been written on this topic, though, and not a lot varies greatly from what I would add. In short, we have a system that works well because the same rules apply to you, me, or the guy with the smoking gun in one hand and the crack pipe in the other.

Procedurally, many people don't understand how the criminal justice system works. This is where I tend to hear more complaints from those I know. If someone pleads eventually, the public wonders why he/she just didn't 'fess up to begin with. There are a variety of answers for that, all based in how the system works. For one, the judge might not be willing to accept a plea of guilty until the defendant has had a chance to speak to a lawyer. Entering a plea involves a knowing waiver of the right to proceed through the system up to a trial and beyond, and a judge needs to make sure that the defendant has been informed of these rights. Even if the defendant has a lawyer, negotiating the plea can take time, and a lawyer often needs to look at the defendant's rap sheet or other documents first. It'd be malpractice for me to advise someone to plead without knowing whether it's a repeat offense, violates probation, etc. So it's really not all about helping the scumbag du jour beat the rap by pleading not guilty, and entering this plea doesn't always mean the person is denying the offense. Quite often it is done to allow both sides to investigate and refine their cases.


Blogger bbloo said...

I've been hearing the random tidbit out of Iraq on the Saddam Hussein trial on NPR. It's a topic that is picquing my interest...we go over there and open the place up for democracy and what's the first thing they do: televise the trial of Saddam. Damn, freedom is great! But now even the Iraqi people are sick of watching it's coverage on TV. So I suppose you could defend Saddam because he deserves due process...but how would you handle those loud-mouth, court-interruptions he seems so fond of? Does his defense team have any responsibility to keep their client under control or should that be the sole responsiblity of the judge? It's his courtroom, right? He's been thrown out numerous times but that only stalls the trial. This might never end. Naturally, I'm asking as if this were taking place in a US court. But just for fun...what would you do?

8:40 PM  
Blogger TMT said...

What would I do...good question. The danger of hypotheticals without foundation is that I can assume whatever I want to assume about the fact pattern. Ah, there's a fiction writer in me yet...

Short answer, Saddam would be enclosed in a box of some sort, probably with headphones on to hear the proceedings and some way to communicate to his attorney...but soundproofed so that he couldn't act up.

I do think his lawyers might have been involved in the walk-outs, at least partially, because it's really iffy on whether there can be any sort of fair trial for him in Iraq. Or anywhere...his deeds are so well-known and so terrible that he's despised worldwide.

11:29 AM  

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