Thursday, August 23, 2007

Kill the Mockingbird, Allow the Camel, and Spare the Kangeroo

Remember the scene in "To Kill a Mockingbird" where the armed mob of white people marches to the jailhouse to lynch Tom Robinson, who was accused of raping a white woman? When the mob marches on the jail the only person standing between them and Tom is Tom's defense lawyer Atticus Finch, who risks his own life to insure Tom a fair and honest trial, sitting in a chair in front of the jalhouse door.

Contrast that Defender-vesus-Goliath image to Mayoral Candidate Bob Clements' comments about public defenders working with prosecutors to deny select people their due process as a human right during an interview with Nashville Scene Reporter Jeff Woods:
Clement: .... “You’ve got cases where certain people should not be back on the street because of their record and the number of their crimes. That’s where the public defender and the prosecutor and all should come to the table and say, ‘If this person gets out, we’re going to have trouble. This person is going to do it again, and how many more lives do they have to destroy?’ ”

Scene: “What you’re saying, Congressman, is that if a guy is bad enough, what the public defender should do is just lay down and toss in the towel? What should Dean have done?”

Clement: “Represent them, No. 1, but No. 2, be sensitive to the community. Share information with the prosecution. You’re doing the person a favor by incarcerating them rather than turning them back onto the street where they can commit horrible crimes again.”
Mr. Clement is on a real slippery slope. Declare some threats to society and that justifies ignoring the rights of any accused person.

Once the camel's nose of denying some due process is under the tent, then the whole camel will soon follow, and the rights of those guilty of less heinous crimes will be up for negotiation. Thereafter, nothing will stop lawyers from bartering the due process of anyone else away. Those of us who have never had to have a defense lawyer may want to consider what kind of problems we might face if we did need a defense lawyer who made deals with our rights behind our backs simply because our case might cause "trouble." False accusations up the ante.

I thought that the strength of our justice system was that it could try and convict actual criminals while still protecting their right to be tried and convicted fairly and with due process rather than in Clement Court. God forbid that we ever appoint prosecutors who are able to bring criminals to justice within the rule of constitutional law. We might be accused of being both honorable and effective.

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