Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Calling Superman?  Just Do It.

One of the best things about being a prosecutor is you never know what may come on any given day.  No day is quite like the next even when you have regular "dockets" each week.  When the court runs its criminal docket, it is a parade of humanity in desperate circumstances and with varying degrees of contrition, hostility and/or mental health.  It can move from the tragic to the hilarious in seconds.
On one occasion, seeing no reason to embarrass a criminal defendant in front of a gallery of fellow inmates, I chose to abbreviate the facts presented in support of the charges as follows:
Me: ...and the defendant was found running around, flapping his arms, and upon being subdued, appeared sweaty and disoriented...that would be the State's evidence your Honor"
Judge: Sir, does that sound about right? 
Defendant: (still in open court) "Yeah, and thank you sir...Mr. Prosecutor, for leaving the part out about where I was buck naked and screaming that I was Superman and I could fly. That was very nice of you." 
Me: Sigh. "You're welcome."  So much for trying to “help”
New Jail shoes perhaps?

Another defendant facing his sentencing took the time to inform the court that he “had read a law book about this down in the jail and the charge is illegal”.  He went on to suggest that the Judge was illegal, the prosecutor was illegal, and that everyone in the courtroom was illegal.  I’m not even running for President and this guy apparently wants to see my birth certificate!  He is now serving time in a prison.  I’m sure that’s illegal too.

Just yesterday, a young man faced 7 years in prison for a litany of offenses.  Despite multiple chances, and the herculean efforts of his family, he was in court again.  As I looked down, I noticed his bright orange jail shoes.  On the sides, he had carefully drawn the Nike “Swoosh” and adorned the back of the shoes with “NIKE” in black marker.  “Just Do It” is NOT a good approach to crime.

Though always good for a humorous story or two, the criminal system often reflects the symptoms of what ails us as a society.  We deal with the results of problems more often than the source of them, and that is decidedly NOT funny.  Sometimes it’s obvious, such as with drugs.  Sometimes it’s more subtle, such as when a young man is more concerned with labels than the law. 

Drug problems are easier to address than values problems, but good prosecutors work with law enforcement and judges to remedy both with the tools the law provides. Sometimes it works.  Sometimes it doesn't.  A thick skin and a good sense of humor help a lot, because none of us are Superman either.