Law in Contemporary Society
Hey everyone! I just wanted to share some of my summer with all of you. As some of you know, I am currently working at the City Attorney in Los Angeles. I don't actually do too much. They allow us to interview witnesses, prepare notes for upcoming cases and motions, watch trials, and occasionally write memos about legal issues.

I noticed was how different the whole legal atmosphere was from my moot court experience. Trial work seems to be very repetitive. My division mainly focuses on domestic violence, vandalism, theft, battery, and DUIs. The legal arguments are always the same in these cases. For example, DV cases the defense is either self-defense or accident. In DUI cases, the public defenders always look to the maintenance records of the breathalyzer machines and question the arresting officers' integrity. Therefore, there is not a lot of new research to be done before a case. This is unlike a lot of appellate cases where every case is fairly unique.

I now realize that I could never be a public defender. While it is a noble profession and I respect the people who do it, I could not bring myself to defend whoever the state threw at me. What brought this about was domestic violence cases. Prosecution of DV cases is always difficult because by the time case is actually in court the victim and the defendant have made up, the victim no longer wants the state to pursue criminal charges. Therefore, the prosecution can only go forward with the 911 tape (if it can get past the Crawford ruling), the police testimony, and pictures. The defense usually goes with some story that involves a mutual fight, an accidental hit, and a furious woman who lies to the police in order to get back at her husband. Considering the lack of witnesses in these cases the conviction rates on DV cases with recanting victims is only like 60 percent. Most jurors don't feel that they should protect women who don't care to protect themselves. Admittedly, the state takes a patriarchal role in cases like these, but it is important for the state to intervene before someone gets seriously hurt or killed. (Typically, a first conviction of DV will get the defendant in an anger management class- not jail.) These men commit crimes in private against their partners, and then coerce the woman involved not to testify. The public defender uses this to their advantage to make sure the defendant doesn't get convicted. I don't think I could defend someone who I knew was guilty. Especially when I vehemently agree with the law as it is applied to the defendant. Of course there are other examples of when being a public defender is an act of righteousness, but the majority of the time you are just helping criminals evade responsibility.

However, I'm not really sure I could be a prosecutor either. The other day I saw this defendant who was obviously insane. I asked about how he could be on trial and I found out he had already been declared mentally competent. The defendant entered in a plea before the trial began and the judge asked him if he willingly, intelligently, and knowingly was forfeiting his rights to a speedy trial, his right to cross examine witnesses, etc. The defendant said yes. The defendant then pleaded no contest to the charges. The judge informed him that the no contest plea would be treated as a guilty plea, and the defendant was shocked and went into a rank about how this was all a big case of mistaken identity and that he was willing to go to jail for the benefit of society. The public defender talked to his client for a second, and the defendant, responding to the judges original question, replied yes. Knowingly? Intelligently? Willfully? Talk about a massive legal fiction.

In sum, it seems like a huge mess to get involved in the criminal system. I will probably add more to this post in the near future, but that is just a taste of how my summer is going so far.


-- JosephMacias - 23 Jun 2008

Joseph, thanks for writing this. this was a fabulous read. You've started a genre.

-- AndrewGradman - 24 Jun 2008

Joey, I just wanted to ask you a quick question. Going into this summer did you think that the criminal justice system was where you wanted to end up long term? If so, given this experience, do you have any ideas about where you think you'll want to go instead? Or do you think that maybe over the next 5 or so weeks that are left to you in LA the system and the people might be able to change your mind? Thanks for the update and good luck with the rest of your summer.

-- AlexLawrence - 24 Jun 2008



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r4 - 22 Jan 2009 - 01:55:40 - IanSullivan
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