Friday, May 7, 2010

Another Try That Will Satisfy Nobody

It's a curious thing, this blogging business.
I've been at it for close to a year now, and I'm still trying to figure out how it works.  (Of course, I've been doing criminal defense for a couple of decades, and there's always more to learn about that, too.  And about being a human being, which I've been at much longer still.  But I digress.)  In particular, I'm still trying to figure out the audience thing.
Mirriam Seddiq wrote the other day about what she's learned about her readers from Sitemeter and how she's not sure she really wants to know.  Readers from the federal courts?  What do they want with her?  In a comment, I mentioned that what I found most interesting about what I learned from Sitemeter was the geography of my readers.  North Korea once.  What appears to be a couple of now-regular readers from different parts of Brazil.  There's someone in Budapest and someone else in Romania.  These are, it seems, not those folks who may get here while looking for "cops and blow jobs."  They're apparently folks who have some interest in what I'm writing.  Why?  What do they find interesting, important, valuable?
I'm not unhappy about it, you understand, but I'm curious.  I mean, I write this stuff for me, not for you, my readers, but I'm delighted to discover that you're out there and think (it seems) that at least some of what I say is worth your time and attention.  I might keep doing it anyway, but you provide significant support and additional motive.  As Sally Field didn't quite say, and as I can't quite say is true,
You care about me.
All of which is prelude.  Because suddenly I have a new and altogether identifiable audience.  I know why.  I'm surprised. (Perhaps I shouldn't be, maybe it's just my naivete, but I am.)  And I need to address you/them.
It goes back to the post I wrote on Sunday after seeing a piece on Robert Jobe on WTVG's website.  Jobe is in prison for the murder of Detective Keith Dressel of the Toledo Police Department.  Jobe killed Dressel while Dressel was trying to arrest him.  The prison system just moved Jobe to its prison in Toledo, and Dressel's family is upset.
In my usual discursive and rambling fashion, and taking as a trope an almost entirely irrelevant  reference to a wholly different murder case, I talked about how some survivors of crimes feel they've been mistreated by the system.  Sometimes they become legislative activists seeking to make new and more aggressive laws that will, they hope, assure that some piece of what happened to them won't happen again.  When they do, we get new laws.  Kidnapping became a federal offense through the Linbergh Law.  John Walsh's grief and anger and activism gave us the Adam Walsh Act.  And so, when I saw that Dressel's mother was going to speak to legislators, I imagined Dressel's Law.  And what I imagined was neither pretty nor, frankly, good legislation.
It turns out that someone noticed what I'd written and suddenly half the police officers in Toledo are reading my blog.  Welcome guys.
So now I've got the Spiderman problem.  You know.
With great power comes great responsibility.
There's this new and substantial audience that's taking very personally some of what I write.  I understand how that could be.
I've written about police misconduct, about officers who abuse the citizenry with impunity.  There's too much of that, and it needs to be aired - not because most officers are abusive or dishonest, most aren't, but because we need to do more, much more, to stop those who are and to rid the force of them.  And because one way to do that is to expose the system that too often encourages the worst in them.  And I've suggested, too, that our reliance on criminal law, and especially the "war" on crime of various sorts, to remedy perceived social ills is ill-conceived and dangerous, that it causes more harm than good.
I've also written about how it is that those who suffer criminal acts should have less, not more say in the criminal justice system, and why that is.  I know better than to expect wide agreement.  It's an argument about the nature of the Anglo-American legal system we have, and it's not much in favor these days (and maybe never has been). 
It's not comforting, but the legal system, and the criminal justice system in particular, was never designed to be comforting.  The remedy for persons harmed is in the civil system, and it's a woefully inadequate remedy.  Frankly, the law can't make up for the awful things folks do to each other.
I've had conversations, over the years, with people harmed by my clients.  I've even had a couple of comments on the blog from those folks.  I understand something of grief and anger.  I have considerable sympathy, and if the word weren't taboo these days, empathy.  I was absolutely not being, as my long-ago client may have been, dismissive when I said "shit happens."
Jobe got precisely the sentence Ohio law provides for the crime the jury concluded he committed: Murder with a handgun.  Might some have wanted him to get more?  Of course.  Hell, he was charged with Aggravated Murder, a more serious offense.  It almost certainly would have been charged as a death penalty case if he were 18 at the time of the killing. 
Would Jobe suffer more by being incarcerated at SOCF or Warren or OSP or wherever (one person commenting suggested a Mexican prison) other than at ToCI?  Maybe.  But the sentence isn't maximum suffering.  It's time.  Conditions of confinement aren't part of sentences in this country.
But you know, and here's what I was trying to get at, there's no sentence that will undo what happened that day.  The Dressel's loss cannot be undone by whatever might be done to Jobe.  Father, husband, son, friend, co-worker.  That they still grieve is understandable.  That they cannot or will not forgive, and that they remain bitter (or so it seems, and so I hear is true at least of his widow, Danielle) is equally understandable, though I'd wish for them to find peace - for their sakes, not for Jobe's.
The law is a lousy mechanism for dealing with human emotion.  The criminal system isn't ultimately about wrongs done to persons, it's about wrongs done to the body politic, to the social fabric.  That's why criminal prosecutions are brought in the name of and by lawyers for the State of Ohio rather than the person robbed or the one assaulted or the family of the officer who was murdered. The civil system is no better.  Success brings at the most cash, which may be nice, may help deal with the practical burdens that follow on loss, but is no real comfort.  We simply do not heal through law.  The Law's idea (the uppercase "L" is purposeful) of making whole by financial restitution is, for those emotionally battered by the acts of others (whether those others are individuals, corporations, or governments) is wholly inadequate, but it's all we've got.
Healing, reconciliation, peace, if they are to be found at all, must be found elsewhere.  Faith, counseling, time.  For some those bring solace, provide sustenance.  For others, not.  Some find peace in their own way.  Others never do.  I'm a lawyer, not a social worker or psychologist.  I don't know where they should turn, but I know where not to turn.  Look to find comfort through the courts or the prison system or the law and all you get is a slap in the face.
The law, after all, is supposed to be rational and dispassionate.  It's supposed to be unemotional.  We warn jurors not to be swayed by sympathy or emotion or prejudice for or against any party.  We want them to be coldly analytical because they, and the system they're part of, are to protect the individual against the awesome power of the state.  There's no place there for the needs and desires of the human victims of the criminal act.
I get it that that's frustrating, but don't blame me.  Blame James Madison and Alexander Hamilton.


  1. People follow blogs for many reasons. I follow blogs like yours to gain gain a perspective. It's hard to learn from friends because they tend to be similar to you. Also, you write about a topic that interests me, so that helps. I am in Australia for an extended amount of time but am American. I wouldn't be surprised if several of your other 'international' followers are in the same situation.

  2. I read your blog because it kicks ass. It's inspiring, and it makes my poor brain hurt sometimes. But yes, the dynamic shifts when you know people are reading - when you know who they are.

    Yesterday my pop called from afghanistan "I found your site. Keep up the good work" While I am glad he's reading, I now have to watch my use of the f-bomb.

    While we are on the topic of Afghanistan, note that in muslim countries who are ruled by Sharia, they have 'blood money' and it is the families who get to decide what happens to the accused (after a brief and not filled with rights trial for the poor fellow). If the family wants death, so be it.

    Now, is that the country we want to emulate?

  3. I began reading your blog as well as Mirriam's and other criminal defense/PD blogs recently for several reasons. First, I'm taking the bar in July and will hopefully be working a a public defender trial office, so I really enjoy hearing experienced individuals' thoughts on issues. Second, even if I'm not a PD, I'll be doing criminal defense and I enjoy learning about some of the things they don't teach in law school. Finally, I like to see people as pissed off as I am about the things you write about. I check several blogs a couple times a day (read, when I'm slacking off) and it's always a nice shift to be able to read something more pertinent to my career goals than admin or employment discrimination. Blogs are part of the dialogue, more so than law review articles in my opinion, keep it up.

  4. Most cops may not be abusive, but I don't think it is accurate to say most are not dishonest. Testilying is an epidemic and I'd say there's not a police officer in America who has been on the job for more than 15 years without lying at least once under oath.

  5. Lee, I feel pity for you. To have to live in a world that is as diluted as your's must be pure hell!