One of the first things you learn when you become a criminal defense attorney – and really learn, not just recognize ideologically – is that your emotions will get in the way of your job. I can almost guarantee that on the first day of your job as a defense lawyer, you will see something that is morally repugnant to you.
The second thing you learn as a criminal defense attorney is that your emotions are to be ignored. It will take time to achieve full zen, but the process starts on that day. That’s not because you are a heartless, soulless person who cares only for the defendant and not the victim, but that you have to be.
Because emotions and principles clash, every day, all the time. And you in order to effectively stand up for and defend the latter, you have to sacrifice the former.
Take the ACLU, for instance. A venerated champion and defender of civil liberties, the ACLU last week demanded that the Department of Justice investigate George Zimmerman to see if he can be prosecuted by the Federal Government after being acquitted by the State of Florida 1.
“Last night’s verdict casts serious doubt on whether the legal system truly provides equal protection of the laws to everyone regardless of race or ethnicity,” ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero said in a statement on July 14, the day after the Florida jury’s verdict. “This case reminds us that it is imperative that the Department of Justice thoroughly examine whether the Martin shooting was a federal civil rights violation or hate crime.”
It’s hard to blame most people for letting their emotions get the best of them in cases like this where the air has been tinged with cries of racial injustice since the very beginning. Race is still a sore subject.
But the ACLU isn’t just anybody. It’s the organization for the protection of individual rights and civil liberties. Thankfully, they eventually came to their senses:
“The ACLU believes the Double Jeopardy Clause of the Constitution protects someone from being prosecuted in another court for charges arising from the same transaction. A jury found Zimmerman not guilty, and that should be the end of the criminal case,” she wrote.
But the damage has been done. The ACLU has exhibited that even they can be swayed from their principles. And if our principles are so subservient to our transient emotions, then how principled can we be?
Two days ago, Mark Bennett asked which of two self-defense statute scenarios would be want for a society that we were building afresh:
On the one hand, life is precious; there is some appeal to the idea that before using force that one should, as a matter of principle, do everything reasonable to avoid having to end another human being’s life.
On the other hand, when people are going about their lawful business, attackers—lawbreakers—should not, as a matter of principle, be able to force them to flee. Free people stand their ground.
Yesterday, Scott Greenfield wrote of the decades old adage being tested by the yoot of today:
While it would make sense that the historical platitudes regurgitated by lawyers when they fit their interests are purportedly liberal, so too are the forces that apply to ridding our society of crimes, like rape or sexual harassment, that have taken on sacred cow status. So much so that even the most progressive of schools have indoctrinated their students into believing that such principles as not convicting the innocent take a back seat to making sure no sexual harasser walks away.
Add to that the fact that most college students today lived more than half their lives under the regimen of fear borne of 9/11, and the government’s decade old “if you see something, say something,” campaign. They never walked onto an airplane without having their bags x-rayed and taken off their shoes. Compliance with authoritarian demands is the norm of life, and it’s been drilled into their heads that it’s for their own good.
A few days ago, the Wall Street Journal had this article reporting the dismal results of a survey:
Increasingly, the First Amendment is coming under challenge — by the American public.
More than a third of Americans say the First Amendment goes too far in the rights it guarantees, according to a new survey.
* 36% couldn’t name any of the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment.
I don’t know if this is symptomatic of a larger problem, such as the inability to hold two competing thoughts in one’s head at once, or the inability to recognize that the world is larger than oneself and that the self-important, self-centered attitude of the modern generation is dangerously myopic.
Because principles are hard. They are things we believe in even when the outcome of sticking to those beliefs is unpleasant. Because we don’t moralize based on an individual factual scenario. If we believe murder is wrong, don’t we believe all murder is wrong?
Take this example: I suspect there are many people who, when asked in the abstract – or even as applied to others – would definitively state that it is wrong and dangerous to run a red light.
But I would also venture a guess that a vast majority of those people have themselves run red lights. Why would that be? You recognize that it is dangerous to do X, such that you don’t want others to do it and you want to society to prevent others from doing it, yet you yourself are exempt from that prohibition.
Because stopping at that red light and waiting for another minute is harder than running the risk of squeezing through. Because you’re special and nothing will happen to you.
When something affects us emotionally, viscerally – anything but intellectually – we are quick to throw our beliefs out the window, because dammit it feels right.
Do you understand that if you say, today, “police officers should be allowed to stop cars and check them to see if there are drugs because we want to stop drug trafficking and save our children”, that means you’ve given the police permission to stop and search your car, for no reason, and then arrest you for the X they find in your car “because we want to stop X and save our children”?