Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Is It Ever Personal?

No. Yes. Sometimes.

I'm in a position that sees people commit unimaginable and grievous injuries to other humans. A detachment exists that allows us to see photographs of gruesome injuries and allow police, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and judges to work through a case without taking it home.

Most cases land in my office and travel to the closed pile without any special attachment to the victim or anger towards the defendant. I can treat them like any other case. There are some cases, some moments, some photos, some scenes that will always stick with us though.

Take my first murder trial for example. The black defendant was accused of shooting the white victim eight times in front of the victim's girlfriend. The trial was moved to the basement courtroom, which was the biggest in the building, to allow the massive amount of spectators to watch the trial. The victim was a beloved, albeit flawed, member of the community. The spectator gallery was filled, split right down the middle by race, each supporting a side.

The girlfriend took the stand, in the most anticipated testimony of the trial. She was combustible, ready to explode at a moment's notice. No matter the amount of preparation, no one could control her. She was the type of witness every attorney fears putting on the stand.

She took the stand and answered questions, erupting in tears immediately. She described the decimation of her loss and what it did to her life. Then, when asked to identify the killer, she pointed at the defendant and yelled. She asked him, "How could you do this to me? And you just sit there? You took everything from me." She stared at him, wiping tears from her eyes. The courtroom went silent, except for her cries. No one moved in the gallery. No pens shuffled against paper. The only sound was yelling and crying from the witness stand. A few jurors cried and the judge later admitted that he had to turn away to wipe away tears.

It is moments that usually stick with you, not the case.

But sometimes the defendant, either through the facts of the case or through his actions while it is going on, becomes a nuisance. The longer a defendant's file is with me, the more personal a case can become. Familiarity breeds contempt. By the end of a trial, you can become so invested in the case and certain of  guilt that you do make it personal. You have spent over a year investigating this case and then taken weeks away from your loved ones in order to do your job and show the jury he is guilty. Defendants who commit many violent crimes against innocent victims raise the ire and increase our desire to succeed. It is rare, but there are times I have to remind myself that the case should be treated like any other.

The defendant who obstructs every moment in court by attempting to fire his attorney, spew expletives at the judge, and assault guards are always difficult to remain objective with. The defendant who lies to my face while trying to work out a better deal and cooperate usually gets a special place in my caseload. No matter how hard I try, there are some cases that become personal. It can make you a better attorney, a more zealous advocate. But it can also make you blind and biased in a case. That is why we have to keep a distance and not let any victim or defendant get too close. Prosecutors are supposed to be objective and strive for impartial justice.

It's not always easy. We're humans too.

1 comment:

  1. I don't know how you are able to do it. I don't think I could maintain my objectivity.