I know a lot of nice prosecutors. I know prosecutors who care about justice. A few of them care about people too. Unfortunately, some of the other prosecutors I know don’t care much about anything except for hurting criminal defendants. The legislature gives them permission to ruin lives, and they relish the opportunity.
One of my clients is charged with first-time DUI, and she has a very long history of medical problems. She’s had five back surgeries in the time I’ve represented her. She has to take special precautions just to make it through a day of work, and she sees doctors pretty much constantly. Spending a lot of time in jail would be disastrous for her health. I obtained documentation from medical professionals suggesting it might permanently disable or kill her, in fact, and I submitted it to the prosecutor. My client is fine doing the mandatory 45-day jail sentence the state is demanding, but she would like to do it someplace where she will not end up paralyzed or dead. Is that really too much to ask?
Apparently so, according to the prosecutor. Here was our discussion, more or less:
Me: Did you review the medical records I gave you?
Her: Yes, your client sure is in bad shape.
Me: Are you willing to work with us on where she serves her jail term?
Her: Absolutely not. Everyone has problems. Your client should have thought about the punishment before she decided to drink and drive.
Me: So you’re okay sticking her in tent city with all of those health issues?
Her: She was healthy enough to drink and drive, so she’s healthy enough for jail.
The prosecutor pulled out two classic arguments in a brief period of time, and they pretty much sum up the mindset of the worst people I encounter on the other side of the “V.”
Many prosecutors rationalize the pain they inflict by claming that everyone should expect severe consequences when they do something wrong. They would kill my clients without batting an eyelash. A slow and tortuous murder is justified by a number spit out by a gas chromatograph and mass spectrometer, a number that happened to be just a little too far above another number arbitrarily selected by a bunch of neo-prohibitionist zealots. The state has our blessing to do all kinds of harm for all kinds of little things, and we should think about that before we do anything. Cruel people might someday throw the book at us, after all.
Many prosecutors also seem to think that if you can drive a specially-equipped vehicle and cope with daily life under the careful supervision of doctors, you can easily suffer in a tent in the hot desert in the summer while being denied your medication, eating green bologna, constantly watching your aching back for trouble, and sleeping and sitting on beds and chairs that seem intentionally designed to make even the healthiest people uncomfortable. If the crime is beating the crap out of another inmate in prison, maybe the if-you-did-the-crime-you-can-do-the-time philosophy makes sense. The reality is that most crimes these days involve very little effort. Society’s preferred punishment, on the other hand, is usually something both physically and emotionally grueling.
Those are the things they think, and by “they” I mean the worst prosecutors. They think we’re all able to cope with whatever they want to do to us, or they just don’t care what happens. They think we should have thought about their appetite for pain and suffering before we made our mistakes. No matter how disproportionate or downright evil their response might be, we should’ve expected it.
The worst part is that they’re probably right: we should’ve expected it.