Monday, May 17, 2010

It's Not a Game

Yesterday I wrote about how Nicole Habersang, prosecutor in State of Texas v. Vergil Richardson, has been trying to dismiss a nonsense criminal case against Vergil Richardson, but how the not-so-honorable John Miller, the judge on the case, won't let her.  Miller insists that justice requires the state to try and convict Richardson without evidence that he committed a crime.
Mostly, when I write one of these stories, it just kind of sits there.  This time Mr. Richardson himself wrote in to ask for help.  His comment is simple, direct, and heartbreaking.
I been strip of my reputation,strip of my dignity,strip of my pride, and left penniless all because the color of my skin.I need somebody to help me.
It takes a story of legal injustice and stupidity and gives it human dimension.  And it reminds us of what Gideon and Scott Greenfield and others have been saying about the jury verdict in the outrageous Tonya Craft prosecution.  Criminal cases aren't about abstract notions like Justice or Fairness or Constitutional Rights.  Oh, we talk about them that way sometimes.  And all of us involved in these cases - criminal defense lawyers but also prosecutors, judges, and even cops - occasionally let ourselves believe we're on the side of the angels (for some of us those occasions arise more than others, and some come closer to deserving the belief, but that's for another post).
But that ain't what's real.
What's real is Vergil Richardson.  A poor man who's been battered by charges of a crime he didn't commit. Win, lose, or draw, Vergil suffers.  His family suffers.  His friends suffer.  There's satisfaction of a sort in an acquittal or dismissal, but there's no going back.  The criminal charge is a loss.  It has consequences all by itself.  And they can be devastating.
* * * * * * * * *
On a related note, Lee Stonum's comment on the story raises an intriguing question.
How do you prosecute a case without a prosecutor willing to do so?
Thanks to Grits, we know that the prosecutors have been wondering the same thing.


  1. Wow, fascinating to read that. Thanks to you and Grits, who I should probably read, but don't because Texas scares me.

  2. It scares me, too, and I lived there for 12 years (and went to law school while I was there). On the other hand, Ohio scares me, too. So, when I look around, does the rest of the country.