Friday, January 15, 2010

Criminal Defense Lawyer and Crime Victim

It was 1989, a sunny spring day in Lubbock, Texas when a neighbor saw someone breake into my home. She called the cops and then my office. I went home and stood around outside, chatting with a police officer while he waited for backup. After about 45 minutes, word came that another officer was a couple of blocks away, so the cop went in. As he went in one door, my burglar went out another. The burglar was around the corner, running along, holding my boom box (the only thing he took) on his shoulder, when he was tackled by the back-up officer.

It turns out that he must have been in the house for an hour or so. He went through the drawers and cupboards. He took a bottle of cheap wine out of the refrigerator, leaving it on top of the stove. (Perhaps unable to figure out how to use a corkscrew). The police were so delighted to have actually caught someone, that they sent the whole crime scene crew over for a few hours.

I can tell you from experience that fingerprint powder is hard to clean up.

I'd been a licensed attorney for probably 15 months then. I'd been primarily representing the criminally accused and convicted, and it was clear that was the direction I intended my career to go.

Now I was a victim. I felt violated. My home had been despoiled. First by some piss-ant crook who pawed through my underwear but couldn't find the beer or figure out how to open a bottle of wine. Then by criminalists and scientific investigators and left more damage (except for that window screen) and mess in their wake than the burglar. Bad guys and good. Didn't matter.

I moved to Ohio a couple of months later. I don't know what happened to the guy. I assume he entered a plea to something. Victim's services (I think that's what they called it) promised to let me know. I never heard from them. (I did get the boom box back.)

They say a conservative is a liberal who's been mugged and a liberal is a conservative who's been arrested. I don't think the burglary changed my attitudes, but it gave me, I think, some small bit of real world understanding of the emotional upset my clients can cause on those they harm.

Last night around 11:30, as I was leaving the office, I discovered that someone had taken a large, concrete bowl of some sort and smashed the driver's side window of my car. He (I assume a he for a number of reasons) ransacked the car. He probably stole a couple of dozen CDs. He took a satellite radio receiver. He left destruction.

I ended up at the police station, filing a report because it seemed like the right thing to do even though it was senseless.

I've been cancelling the radio, arranging for new glass, dealing with how to drive a car in this condition. I've been seriously inconvenienced, and I again feel deeply violated.

I'm not happy about any of this, of course. I'm hurt. I'm pissed. I'm kicking myself for the various things I'd done that encouraged my victimization. And I'd like to see the bastard who did this spend a few years behind bars doing very hard time in the company of folks who are eager, willing, and able to inflict maximum pain and humiliation on him. It's not a bad reminder.

I'm heading out in a few minutes to return to work on behalf of the criminally accused and convicted. Ready to continue to do that battle for everyone.

Except the sumbitch who broke into my car.

There's a moment in the 1970 film, The Kremlin Letter, when the tired, crusty, old spy (played by Richard Boone) has had enough of the annoying, arrogantly naive and cock-sure, next generation agent (played by Patrick O'Neal). "There comes a time in every young man's life," Boone says to O'Neal, "when he has to get his comeuppance." And he tries to beat the shit out of the kid - unsuccessfully, of course.

I think I feel a bit like both Boone and O'Neal today.


  1. The furious sense of vigilantism I feel when someone so much as scratches my car door in a parking lot and does not leave a note just serves to reinforce my understanding of the need for criminal courts of law as opposed to the vigilante, eye for an eye, justice as vengeance that would exist otherwise.

    I practice in California, where well funded conservative interests are doing a great job of advancing the "victim rights" lobby. It is difficult to convey to the avergae person what a problem this is in a vacuum so I often use the example that I'd be more than happy to shoot someone I caught climbing out of a window of my house upon my return, but as a rational people as a whole, we are aware the death penalty is not appropriate for a residential burglarly. The great threat of the victim rights movement is that it replaces measured justice and rehabilitative motives (to the extent they exist at all anymore) with a retribution at all costs motivation for the system.

  2. Yeah, I'll buy that.

    The legal system exists, in part, to protect us from our worst inclinations, and the retributive nature of so-called "victim rights" conflicts with that aim.

    But the idea of victim rights in the criminal system is misguided anyhow since it's based on a fundamental misunderstanding of what the criminal law is. Individuals harmed by criminal acts are to obtain satisfaction through tort actions against the wrongdoer. The only victim in the criminal law, as I've discussed several times here, is the body politic.

  3. I'll have to go back and read those posts as I'm newish to the site and still looking for ways to articulate my knee jerk reaction to all this victims' rights stuff.

  4. Unfortunately, I don't know how to insert links into the comments, and there's no quick and dirty search I can think of that will point you to the particular posts. But I think the two fullest elaborations are probably in a response to an article by Paul Cassell, so you can search for his name. And maybe the first sustained discussion, was in a post called "Ethics v. Morals, IV," from August 9.

    Root around and you'll probably find more.