Trial lawyers, good ones, adopt "trial themes" to help convey the essence of their case to jurors. It's a way of framing the evidence so that it paints a clearer picture. Or, some might say, a way of distorting the evidence to make an unclear picture.
One of the most common criminal defense themes is "rush to judgment." The theme is repeated and reinforced through questioning of the witnesses, especially cops, to indicate that the police quickly decided who was guilty and didn't bother looking for the "real" perpetrator.
Now, if you're a reader of this blog it may be that you read defense lawyer blogs, too. And if so, you'll know there are 100 of those for every prosecutor blog. And most of them are excellent, I've linked to a few here.
One of the best is by a DC lawyer called Jamison Koehler, who is an intelligent, thoughtful, and unusually articulate blogger.
But today I'm gonna beat him up. :)
You see, I've noticed a rush to judgment on the part of defense lawyers and other bloggers who are just too dashed keen to criticize cops. Heaven knows there are cops who deserve criticism and always require close scrutiny. But what I'm seeing is either an extrapolation of one event to suggest all cops are corrupt/violent/lazy or, as with Jamison's post, an extrapolation from an event that may not even have happened to criticize cops in general, and then to circle back and end with the assumption that an event occurred.
Read this post. Basically, some dude got drunk at a baseball game, threw up on a cop and his daughter, and got arrested. In his mugshot he has a black eye. Jamison states up front, like any honest blogger, that he doesn't know the facts. He doesn't know how the guy got a black eye.
Here are some possibilities:
-- he had a black eye when he went into the ball park
-- he got whacked by a baseball while in the park
-- a nearby spectator gave it to him for being a drunk jerk
-- while being arrested he fought the police and got the black eye while being subdued
-- the cop/father punched him for throwing up on his daughter
-- the cops decided to beat him up for revenge/fun.
Six options. Two of them are not okay, with me or (I'm sure) Jamison: the last two.
In his blog post, though, he goes straight to the last one, then talks about how so many of his clients and other people in mug shots sport physical injuries on their faces. But again, the options don't start and end with "The cops did it gratuitously."
So here's why I care:
1. There are very few blogs out there supporting the cops, telling people what a tough job they have. In contrast, there are hundreds of defense lawyer blogs slamming cops and prosecutors. I don't like that the view is so one-sided, that there are so many voices on one side of the debate, and I like it less when so many good cops are tarred with the sweep of a single brush. I feel like the public's view of officers lies in the hands of people who are looking for reasons to get 'em.
2. Police officers are not being extended the same benefits being offered the people who are so often actually guilty. I can imagine, for example, someone reading my protestation that the cops didn't beat this guy up, and saying "Oh, come on." But those who would say that would be horrified if I, or the cops, accused someone of a crime with flimsy evidence and said, "Oh, come on. He was there, of course he did it."
Now, I'm not saying cops don't deserve more scrutiny in their actions, I'm just saying let's not assume their guilt when we wouldn't for anyone else.
Finally, I want to say that Jamison's blog is one of the first I read in the morning for all the reasons I've mentioned. And I encourage you to do so, too. I don't want this to seem like I'm attacking him personally (perish the thought!), I'm not. His blog entry just happened to catch me when the issue was on my mind.