Recently I have noticed that I am starting to become numb. From what? Work, in general. What two years ago would have shocked me now fails to raise an eyebrow. My reactions are becoming almost automatic. Am I slowly becoming an automaton?
I blame, in part, a couple of really heavy trial losses this year for my current funk. Yes, I have been forced to accept the system isn't perfect. My idealistic naivety is out the window. The cold hard truth has set in.
But I want to try and couch this so anyone reading can understand. Imagine your life today. Have a job? Family? House? Take vacations? Go out to eat? Sleep next to someone at night that you love? Think of everything you think you have that means something to you.
Now picture it gone. Just like that. And further picture yourself behind bars in a county jail or prison. Imagine, if you can, how miserable that might be. I doubt you come close to how horrible it really is. I wouldn't expect otherwise.
Imagine being accused of a horrible crime you did not commit. You would scream. You would cry. You would shake. You would be angry. You would demand justice. But what if you got no justice?
Imagine being told what to do 24 hours a day. When to eat. When to move. Where to move. How fast to move. How to move. When to shower. What to wear. What to read. I can say that to a degree, the Army is somewhat like that. But it's not prison.
If you're not a minority or you are fortunate enough to live in the good part of town, the idea of having something catastrophic like this happen to you has to seem pretty remote. And it probably is.
But for many people here in Chicago, this type of scenario happens with alarming frequency. If you live where most of the crime is being committed, your chances of being a victim of crime or accused of a crime increase rapidly.
And you would expect the system to sort it out, right? An innocent person has nothing to fear. Well, unless the innocent knows better, as I do.
Two clients of mine convicted of serious crimes this year were simply black and in the wrong place at the wrong time. No physical evidence tied either to the alleged crimes. What convicted them? Purported eye-witness testimony and a police department that was in a hurry to close the case.
I am still baffled at how some take the word of convicted felons when it helps a case against someone else, but call them incredible or liars when they are trying to help themselves. How does that work? So, they tell the truth as long as it's not their butt on the line?
In both cases I failed to convince the trier of fact that the State's witnesses were, in fact, lying. Apparently serial impeachments with bias, prior inconsistent statements, and significant felony criminal convictions along with drug addictions didn't do the trick. What would have?
Every day I go to court I see defendant after defendant in khaki jail clothes brought before judges. And I see lawyers. And I hear talk about this and that. But I so rarely see justice. The supply of new and repeat defendants appears to be infinite. Are we just moving them along like cattle?
The process for those that never break the cycle is well known. Catch a case. End up in county. Cop-out. Go downstate. Do some time. Parole. Repeat. I have had so many clients that don't think a stint in prison is such a bad thing. Or at least they don't show it.
When the conversation switches to "get me the least amount of time as possible, please", the client is already mentally gone. I can't get that.
I have been fortunate enough to have represented some factually innocent clients on very serious cases (murder, etc) who did get to go home. And I am still amazed at how composed they were sitting in this funky county jail and dealing with the gangs, the faux bologna sandwiches, the rats, cockroaches, MRSA, and more importantly, the unknown.
If I ever would have really stopped and realized what I represented to them, I might have cracked. Sitting here now, I can do it by putting myself in their place. If I walked out the door tomorrow and had the cuffs put on me, my lawyer would quickly become the most important person in my life. Perhaps of all time. Just think about that for a minute.
On a subconscious level, I must have already known this. It can only explain why I am so beat up about losing the ones I did this year. One client for murder. One for double attempt murder. Both sentences will be tantamount to life. One has a decent appeal. One has no appeal.
I am sitting here at the bottom looking up. Hoping to catch a ray of light. I need something to restore hope. I need to be re-motivated. I did find justice for a few clients this summer. I do win. In fact, I have probably won more motion hearings than lost this year.
But some losses are massive. And I fear they permanently damaged me. I immediately rebounded from one to not trust juries only to follow with not trusting judges.
My client trusts me. But whom am I to trust? Justice should be justice. Period. But it's not. Not even close. Justice in courtroom 205 is different than justice in courtroom 702. Justice today is different than justice tomorrow.
Buddhism would teach that justice doesn't exist since it's not permanent and unchanging.
And herein lies the problem: justice isn't consistent. It can't be. I am talking about very basic justice: the guilty are guilty and the innocent are innocent. I am not even talking about a case the State can't prove. I am talking about factual innocence. You know, the people that should go free or how about never arrested in the first place?
This has been a huge wake-up for me. And probably my greatest struggle. For I have found justice to be elusive and slippery. That realization scares me. I cannot stomach the thought that I could end up convicted of something I didn't do only to be stripped of everything and everyone now in my life by being sent to prison forever.
The thought makes me ill. And yet, it happens everyday. I know. I have taken part in it.
And it will haunt me, forever.