Thursday, April 16, 2009

Testing the waters...

I'm thinking of blogging again.

I'm inspired by Mark Bennett's Defending People, and I do believe that everyone is entitled to an opinion -- mine. So perhaps I should start sharing it again.

However, I intend to be an occasional blogger -- when something gets my goat, I'll come out of my yurt and yak about it.

Being from Harris County, Texas, my goat gets gotten frequently. Injustices tend to outnumber instances of justice. Yes, Justice is a vague term. But not so vague as some would think. And injustice is as concrete as a heart attack when it hits you.

Ambrose Bierce wrote that injustice is "A burden which of all those that we load upon others and carry ourselves is lightest in the hands and heaviest upon the back." A pretty apt description of sending someone to prison for a minor, or victimless, offense. It is easily done and difficult to endure. How is it that we can dispense cruel punishments so easily?

Perhaps it is fear of the other -- after all, defendants are mostly young, poor, and often minority, hardly the demographic of those who show up for jury duty.

Perhaps it is the fact that we live in a crowded world, and know so few of our neighbors, so it is easy to objectify strangers. Jurors feel like they are dealing with abstractions, not flesh and blood people, much less people JUST LIKE THEM.

Perhaps it is the fact that we feel no personal responsibility for our actions unless we can be punished for them. The ghost of Stanley Milgram continues to haunt our jury rooms.

Have Americans simply become this jaded -- that we think of prison as the first tool of choice to deal with social problems?

In Harris County, prosecutors routinely ask every member of the jury whether the purpose of punishment, in a criminal case, is rehabilitation or retribution. And most people answer the latter.

I have yet to hear a juror stand up and say what a stupid question this is. After all, the death penalty cannot exist for purposes of rehabilitation. And nobody thinks a teenaged shoplifter needs to do hard time. Whether the purpose is one or the other must be decided, by the jury (assuming jury punishment, as in Texas), on a case by case basis.

Yet instead of asking an INTELLIGENT question ("what would determine whether retribution or rehabilitation is the appropriate goal of punishment in this case?") the state resorts to a one-size-fits-all question, seeking jurors who will impose a one-size-fits-all punishment.

And defense lawyers, by and large, let them get away with it. Which, of course, is also stupid.

5 Comments:

At 1:46 PM, Anonymous Anne Reed said...

Jurygeek is back? That's the best news to hit the blogosphere in a long time.

 
At 2:10 PM, Blogger Clay S. Conrad said...

How very kind and undeserved!

I own a T-shirt that says

"MORE PEOPLE HAVE
READ THIS SHIRT
than your blog

0000002"

However, perhaps there are enough other jury mavens out there nowadays, such as yourself, that blogging won't feel so much like talking to myself.

Not that I don't like talking to myself.

I'm doing it right now, actually.

 
At 1:35 AM, Anonymous chentaihe said...

it's very good to know you are so interested in jury.I'm from China.and would like to do some job to promote it to China.I'm writing a book about it.nice, i'll get touch with you.thank you for your time to build your blog focusing on jury.

 
At 2:07 PM, Blogger Mark Bennett said...

Clay, welcome back!

I've only ever heard prosecutors ask an even stupider question: whether the purpose of sentencing is punishment or rehabilitation.

 
At 11:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The amount of stupidity, bullying, illogic, and illegitimate "authority" (authoritarianism) in any courtroom --if documented-- could easily fill the federal register. And then, we could move on to the next court, and find virtually unexplored areas of the same in strange new permutations. Where the truth is illegal, there will be lies and distortions of infinite variety.

Which would be fine if the criminals in black dresses didn't have truncheon-carrying diabetic white-moustachiod robots dressed in blue as their mindless servants. (After all, who am I to stand in between the fanciful and their fancy?) Sadly, the guns behind the courthouse conformists are all too real, and only a few brave soldiers know the real deal.

I get a kick out of the fact that you practice law in Houston. It must be like Linus Torvalds going to work in the private sector. Do people just walk way around your work area, and ignore the brimstone clouds and lightning emanating outwards?

It seems to me your truths are in conflict with the foundation of lies that attorneyhood is built on. LOL.

 

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