A matter of perspective (updated)

Criminal law is mostly about perspective and the just outcome in each case varies depending on your own perspective. At their core, both the prosecutorial and defense functions are about forwarding related fundamental principles. In the abstract, both are about standing up for something and whichever appeals more to you depends on your perspective. They can both be called noble professions, depending on your perspective.

People shame defense lawyers and shun them for their choice of profession because of the company we have to keep, or so they say. Our clients are bad people, scum of the Earth, scourge of society, dogs and animals and so on. I’ve long argued that they aren’t that different from us and that tomorrow, you could be the one in shackles, standing next to me. Which is why I’d rather hitch my wagon to the fallible human beings who are subject to the wrath of society, than the fallible human beings who purport to bring that wrath and righteous indignation upon others.

Like this post at “Seeking Justice” which contains the video below that is making the rounds of the internet with the comment “Not a good idea to give the finger to the judge at your initial appearance.”

Or the judge in the video who thinks it’s amusing to abuse his power to deny counsel to, incarcerate and then significantly increase the bond of a woman teenager who’s clearly on some drugs and then hold her in contempt. Let me see if I can break down what’s happening and why I so vehemently disagree with the rest of the internet about her comeuppance:

1. She’s being arraigned on some charge and is not actually in a courthouse with a judge and doesn’t seem to have spoken to a lawyer. She’s clearly being warehoused.

2. He’s rude to her and mocks her throughout their interaction.

3. She’s clearly high.

4. He interrupts what seems to be a public application for public defender services (isn’t that information about personal finances confidential?) because she says “jewelry” in a funny way, then mocks her response and punishes her for it by refusing to appoint the public defender because she’s tripping on something and talks about “jewelry” she owns.

5. Lawyerless and told to “sell some of that jewelry to hire an attorney”, he then refuses to give her some sort of promise to appear bond and instead first sets it at $5,000. Then he smiles at her and stares as she walks away, in a jail, while he sits free in a courtroom. He still hasn’t disengaged and is quite proud of what he’s done. She says “adios” in a stupid voice; he’s still smiling, then calls her back, looking like he’s still laughing at/with her.

6. What he does, then, is to double her bond. Maybe she did something off camera; I can’t tell. Then he mocks her by saying “adios”. The audience oohs and ahs. She’s obviously shocked and obviously still on something, so she flips him off (a stupid idea, no doubt, but consider the source) or says “fuck you”, which makes him bring her back, ask her an incriminating question after already denying her counsel and then finds her in criminal contempt and sentences her to 30 days in jail (which, in Connecticut, would be problematic, as you can’t be found in contempt if you goad the defendant into committing the contempt. as a judge now awaiting appointment to the Supreme Court tried to do.).

7. The attorney then speaks up (and is far too deferential for my tastes, but whatever) and gets appointed on the contempt matter, but nothing else. To what end, I have no fucking clue.

I suppose from his perspective, she was a coked-out mouthy teen who got what she deserved: no lawyer, excessive bail and 30 days in jail and he was a big man in a robe and played it up for his adoring and feckless audience.

From her perspective, she’s high, scared and yes, mouthy, but he did just deny her counsel and set a high bond. Should we tolerate someone being disrespectful to a court? Absolutely not. Is what she did, in the context in which it happened, worth 30 days in jail? Absolutely not. If you and I were in her place, we’d all be thinking it. Maybe we wouldn’t be inhibited enough to express it, but in our minds, we’d all be flipping him off.

This wasn’t a defendant who was combative, threatening or repeatedly disrespectful to the court. This was an 18 year old girl who was high and got carried away when even she, in her mind-altered state, could tell the judge was fucking with her. So she flipped him off. Give her a week to cool off and move on. Shouldn’t we expect better temperament?

Update: As per a link in the comments, it seems that the judge has had a change of heart and after accepting an apology from the teenager, has reversed his finding of contempt. I guess maybe he just wanted her to admit that she was on drugs or something? Or maybe someone pulled him aside and told him it was pretty bush league to mock a defendant and deny  her counsel and then sentence her to 30 days for flipping him off. Because, as you can see from the video, she already apologized for flipping him off at that time. But whatever. Let’s all celebrate this judge and make fun of the girl. Yay justice.

Or like the folks at Crime and Consequences, who have posted one of the most mind-boggling posts I’ve read in a long time, titled “Why LWOP (life without parole) is not enough, again“. The post is an apparent attempt to claim that a New York inmate should have been put to death because the consequences of not doing so are terrible. In this case, he got a female guard pregnant. Yes. That’s their justification for their rabid and bloodthirsty support of the death penalty. And their disturbing glee gets only more disturbing-er:

Who do you think is going to pay the bills for the kid’s upbringing when his daddy, a murderer, is in prison, and his mommy, a lawless ex-prison guard, is ALSO in prison? RIGHT!!! You and I are.

6. Notwithstanding the mucho money we’re going to shell out, what do you think the chances are that this kid is going to turn out to be a well educated, productive, contributing member of society, when (1) he has parents of that character, and (2) grows up on the public dole?

RIGHT AGAIN. No, it’s not the kid’s fault, and I hope and pray (for him and for us) that things turn out better than I think. But there is something really, really wrong with this picture.

Or like this prosecutor’s office which keeps a scorecard of its sentences and is proud of having the longest average prison sentences in the country, because justice is just a game and the defendants are merely goals to be scored.

Or people like this who so abuse their power to ruin the lives of other innocent people and then are rewarded for their acts of injustice by giving them even more power:

State District Judge Ken Anderson was the Williamson County district attorney in 1987 when Michael Morton was convicted of beating to death his wife, Christine Morton. Michael Morton was exonerated of the crime in 2011, after spending more than two decades in prison.

Now Anderson is accused of lying and concealing evidence that led to Morton’s conviction. Morton was released from prison after a bloody bandana found 100 yards from his home in 1986 was finally DNA tested.  The bandana had Christine Morton’s blood on it as well as DNA from a man identified in 2010 as Mark Alan Norwood. Norwood was later arrested and charged with the murder.

The bandana was ignored during the criminal trial.

I know where I want to make my bed. That’s my perspective.



9 thoughts on “A matter of perspective (updated)

  1. Andy

    The Florida judge appears to egg on the young obviously drugged up girl. We don’t see the entire arraignment and we don’t see how the judge interacts with other defendants. My guess is this is pretty much how he generally acts. Both of them were wrong. The way she behaved was how many do in court now. The problem is a total disrespect of any authority.. be it home, school, court, whatever. The days of demure dress and action in many court situations is done and over. Back in 1977 I showed up for a speeding ticket in South Carolina wearing a suit and tie and a fresh haircut. Nowadays, if they wear a tshirt that doesn’t have vulgarity it’s a surprise. But we shouldn’t be surprised. It’s a societal problem that starts long before kids like this girl make it to the judicial system. I don’t have all the answers. The Florida judge was in the wrong from what I could see in the video. The drugged up girl was in the wrong. But the punishment seems very harsh here.

    1. Question

      It is hard to count that judge as an “authority”. He is neither an authority nor respectable, he is just somebody with power. Those are two different things.

      I would not act as she did, but not because I would respect him. It would be because I would assume that he is likely to abuse power he has.

      Maybe I’m too young. Maybe we are truly a problem disrespectful generation. And maybe if those authorities would act in more respectable manner, would not abuse power they have, would not come up with ridiculous policies every other day (zero tolerance in schools anyone?), they would find themselves being more respected.

  2. Karlin

    Sometimes a “harsh” sentence imposed upon a young person can set them straight for a long time. Other times not.

    I hope in Ms. Soto’s case that she learns that actions have consequences.

    1. Nick

      If she is employed (which i think she said she was), that 30 days will likely cost her her job. She may be evicted from her apartment and have her car repoed. That will certainly set her on the right path and give her an appropriate respect for whatever.

  3. nidefatt

    Judges like him exist to varying degrees everywhere. He’s unlikely popular with anyone, including his fellow judges. He’s a bully who takes out his frustration at having deadended his career a low level peon in the judicial hierarchy. Ms. Soto will likely recall her thirty days in jail as a wild experience. He’ll die broken and miserable, a wreck of a human being who never accomplished what he set out to do.

    As for our system- the robe doesn’t get you respect if you behave like an asshat. He degraded his office. She is the product of his inability to cope with what a failure he is.

  4. Pingback: Yet another judge caught on video abusing his power | a public defender

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