And the family came up to me, not all of them and not together, but one at a time, his mother first. It was like a mantra as one after another said
You did all you couldMeaning it for comfort. Meaning that it was all that could be done. Meaning that some god had chosen and I should know that I'd tried my best and they appreciated that. And I said to each of them, "Thank you." Because what else can you say. But you know, there's no comfort in those words.
It's not that they're empty. They're meant sincerely, the motive is pure and the sentiment is all positive. But that's from the speaker.
At your end, when your client has just been murdered and you've been powerless to prevent it, the only answer is that if this is all I could do, then I'm not good enough. And if it wasn't all I could have done, then I'm neither good enough nor diligent enough.
Eventually, you either shrug it off and go on or you give in to the guilt and the agony. If it's the latter, you drink too much or take drugs or abuse your partner or your kids or (maybe it's and) you kill youself - another victim. If it's the former, you vow to be a better lawyer.
It's not just executions. Every case we don't win where we think we should, every fight that could have been won, every time we strap on the metaphorical gunbelt.
For days now, Norm Pattis has been agonizing on his blog (here and here and here, for example) about the murder case he's been trying.
As I say, I understand. All of us who've been there, understand. The cases are about the clients. But the agony is about us, too. Our adequacy, our skills, our competence.
If I've got the plot right, his client shot two women in his kitchen, one in the head at point-blank range. That woman died; the other lived. The claim was, as I understand it, self defense. The jury was out a long time. And there is now a partial verdict. The jury resolved the lesser offenses against his client. It hung on the murder and attempted murder.
Some might call that a win. After all, his client wasn't convicted. Norm is, I think, seeing it as not even a draw but a loss. (His take on it is here.) The agony and uncertainty continue for the client, for the family and friends of the deceased, for Norm. The State, he thinks, will want to try his client again.
Wait, the state's going to try him a second time for murder? Isn't that, well, unAmerican?
Norm bemoans this.
If the law was about justice, my client would not face another trial. We tell jurors that the presumption of innocence is a complete defense. We tell them, too, that the entire burden of proof is on the state. A verdict, we say, must be unanimous. Query: since the state failed in this case to win a conviction on murder, relying on a silly Sapphistic argument about "we women" and jealousy, why does it get to try the case again? If the answer is that the jury failed to make a unanimous finding of "Not Guilty" that sounds perilously close to imposing a silent burden of proof on my client.He's right of course. It does seem an awful lot like saying the defendant has to convince 12 jurors that he's innocent. And if it were that, it would be unconstitutional. But strictly speaking that's not right. The state has to prove to 12 that he's guilty. It failed, just not badly enough to end the nightmare.
But wait, isn't there something exactly about this in the Constitution? There is, of course. It's the Double Jeopardy Clause, right there in the Fifth Amendment:
No person shall . . . be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limbThat's exactly what happens when you're tried a second time for the same crime, isn't it?
The answer, alas, is "No." Oh, that's not the sensible answer, not the answer of real people in the real world. Instead it's another of those legal fictions. As the Supreme Court said in Richardson v. United States (1984), looking back to United States v. Perez (1924),
The case law dealing with the application of the prohibition against placing a defendant twice in jeopardy following a mistrial because of a hung jury has its own sources and logic.When ordinary logic won't do, when they have to develop a new and special sort of logic, you know the rule they'll come up with makes no sense. Here's the rule: Even though the judge sent the first jury home, they then called a new jury and started over, the new trial is still the same trial.
OK, maybe there is a kind of goofy kind of almost sense to the idea that if the jury hasn't come back with a verdict, the process isn't over. But that takes us back to Norm's point. The government has the burden of convincing 12 people that the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Assuming the jurors capable of reason and people of good will earnestly attempting to do their job, the government failed. The inability of the jury to agree on guilt is, by ordinary logic rather than the special kind they make up for these things, pretty much incontrovertible evidence that the government didn't prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
Except in the wholesale fantasy land of the legal system, that's how it should work, and how it would. It's what we'd expect. And it's what doesn't happen.
They say that law school is the place where you learn to "think like a lawyer." Still the White Queen managed to believe as many as six impossible things before breakfast even without that training.