Sunday, June 16, 2013

Unitended Consequences and Unrecognized Victims

Guilty or innocent, being charged with a even a relatively minor crime fucks up your life.  And the lives of your family and friends. 

There's the financial hit, of course.  Hiring a lawyer if you have the funds isn't cheap.  Bond if you can make it.  Maybe you pay in cash, maybe you pay a bondsman, maybe you put your house up, or your parent's house.  Or your friends'.  (Just try asking someone to mortgage their house - or put it in escrow to the court - for your bond if you want to learn who your true friends are.)  Even if you're out on bond, you're likely to lose your job.  And your spouse may lose her/his job, too. 

There's the embarassment factor.  You're ashamed to go outside because you think the neighbors are pointing at you.  And they are.  Invitations to parties dry up.  Your kids friends aren't allowed to go to your house anymore.  And your kids aren't welcome at theirs.  Your kids are taunted at school.  You don't get the newspaper any more because your picture might be in it.  You don't watch the news on TV anymore, either. 

Everyone tries to keep a brave face, but it's becoming clear that this whole nightmare won't go away quickly.

And of course, if you're in custody it's even worse.  See the family only through glass and talking on the phone.  Or maybe it's a contact visit or at least one across a table but you're in a room with other people who are all jabbering away and frankly it's ugly and why should the family have to be virtually strip searched to see you.  I mean, they didn't do anything wrong.

But surely the truth will come out at trial and it will all be well again.

Except it never will.  Because the accusation is always there and the neighbors will always wonder and you're out all that money and your old job isn't really just waiting for you.  And OhMyGod (sorry, I don't do teenage/twitter shortcuts) what if you're actually convicted.  Even if you're innocent.

I've long said that the unrecognized victims of crime are the family and friends of the accused and convicted.

Meet Steven Phillips.  
In 1982, Steve and Traci Phillips were starting a new business.  Traci was pregnant with their first child.  Life was good.  

Then Steve was charged with a string of sex crimes.  Brandi Grissom in the Texas Tribune picks up the story.  
In two trials in 1982 and 1983, he was convicted based largely on eyewitness identifications, despite his wife’s vehement protestations from the witness stand that he could not have committed the crimes.

He pleaded guilty to additional charges to prevent a third trial and a likely life sentence. She said she spent the next decade visiting him in prison, raising their son, sending money for items her husband needed, and hoping to find a way to get him out.
That's what people do for the ones they love who are in prison.  But you know, those visits, the cash, the raising the kid.  Trying to make the child understand why Daddy isn't home.  And the neighbors and the other kids at school and . . . .
In 1992, they were divorced.
Naturally, that isn't the end of the story.  Because Traci was right all those years ago back on the witness stand.  Steve didn't do it.  He'd been in prison 24 years when the DNA tests came back.  (24 years.  You guys in Florida paying attention?)  Wasn't him.  It was another guy.  Steve wasn't just released, he was declared innocent.
One of the things Texas does right these days is compensate the wrongly convicted.  At least some of the time.
In 2009, the state awarded him lump sum payments totaling more than $2 million, and a monthly annuity of more than $11,000. In total, his compensation package for the time he spent in prison is worth nearly $6 million, not including health care and education benefits he is also eligible to receive.
Which isn't bad, though really,there's no amount of cash and benefits to make up for 24 years of horror, lost opportunity, lost family, lost life.  Still, $6 million is a lot of swag.
Re-enter Traci Phillips.  She's now Traci Tucker, and she figures she's entitled to a share. 
“He was a victim of a wrongful justice system, and his family was also,” Tucker said.
Which is certainly true.  And is how the judge who awarded her a bit over $150,000 looked at it.  Steve, of course, doesn't quite look at it that way.  The $6 million he got was for what was done to him, not to them.  And while he appreciates her testifying for him, well, yeah.  But 24 years.  And she never came to visit all that often even before the divorce.  And there are the other lawsuits.  And the legal fees (he figures some $300,000 so far).

On the other hand.
Matt Kita, a lawyer for Tucker, said the law should account for the damage done to spouses of the wrongfully convicted, who lose companionship and income and face the stigma of having an incarcerated mate.
“She could have been an awesome spouse, or she could have been a terrible spouse, but the law hosed her,” Kita said.
Which is absolutely true.
But still.  He spent 24 years in the embrace of the Texas prison system.  In time, she got on with her life.
Tucker said she hoped the case would prompt legislators to consider the havoc that wrongful convictions wreak on families.
“It’s not all about the money,” she said. “There’s just no recognition whatsoever. Just ‘sorry folks, sorry we ruined your life and took your provider and your best friend.’ Nothing.”
Frankly, I can't imagine that the Lege is going to decide to provide compensation for the former spouses of the wrongly convicted.  But even the spouses and children and other family and friends of the rightly convicted suffer for what they didn't do.

And nobody cares.  Which is a monstrous wrong.

We put them on welfare, deny them housing, destroy their lives.  To prove how tough we can be on their guilt spouses and parents and family and friends.  That'll teach 'em to love people who get accused of crimes.  Even if they're innocent.

Steve Phillips spent 24 years in prison for a series of crimes he didn't commit.  Everyone suffered.
It is a question that one legislator who helped write the compensation law said lawmakers had not considered.
“This is an example of the law of unintended consequences,” said state Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas. “We did not think about entitlement by spouses who had become divorced from these innocent men while they were in prison.”
I'm sure they didn't. Didn't think about the ones who stayed married, either, I'd wager.  Or their kids.  Or the parents and siblings and lovers and friends.
Unintended consequences.   Yeah.  And unrecognized victims.

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