July 2014 - Pg 21
by Gila Hayes
I invested a lot of time this month into the extra long lead article, knowing how important the lessons from Attorney Kevin Regan are for Network members. It was well worth the effort! I’m extremely pleased with his balanced analysis of plea bargaining, a topic about which I have wanted to write for many months. I started the article concerned about a hostile criminal justice system wielding a power so biased toward the government that only through great expense and effort could a defendant prove their innocence.
It is a hard subject to consider without losing perspective due to prejudice. Have police officers abused their powers? Have prosecutors misused discretionary powers to persecute one who acts in self defense? Have judges misapplied the law to punish those of whom they do not approve? Of course, all those abuses and worse have occurred and will likely continue.
It is all too easy to dredge up stories proving any particular bias we’re motivated to substantiate. Sadly, many of the horror stories inflame our prejudice, but do nothing to explain how the “little guy” crushed in a political prosecution or entangled in an aggressive prosecutor’s agenda could have negotiated a better resolution.
We need to strike a balance between unrealistic optimism that “nothing bad will happen to me” and suspicions so profound as to render us unable to interact effectively with the justice system. The old axiom that people fear and hate what they do not understand applies. This month’s interview with Attorney Regan joins our other educational articles and knowledge shared by other Network Affiliated Attorneys, all focused on making Network members more effective through increased knowledge. What valuable members of the team our Affiliated Attorneys are!
I was encouraged when Regan told me that he does not believe that prosecutors in his area charged defendants with worse crimes than merited: first degree murder when the facts point to manslaughter, for example.
He countered my suspicion about over-aggressive prosecutions by explaining that the prosecutor has to start the process by filing charges based on the evidence she or he is given. Without filling in the blanks by making sure factors justifying your actions are also made clear to the prosecutor, how can we expect the system to work justly?
This discussion also provides an opportunity for each reader to think through and evaluate how much information and which details they will be best served telling police officers investigating a use of force in self defense. If you’re not sure how you should behave on this point, please review the Network member education DVD Handling the Immediate Aftermath of a Self-Defense Shooting, a lecture given by Massad Ayoob.
Regan’s interview also pointed out the many mitigating steps the attorney can make on behalf of the defendant, especially if their services are engaged quickly after the incident. Often the horror stories of innocents crushed by the system should start with the caveat, “This poor man waited until the week before his hearing to find an attorney,” or “This poor woman didn’t have the money to get an experienced attorney working on her behalf until it was too late.”
That explanation should never be given for a member of the Network because of the deposit against attorney fees we pay a member’s attorney as soon as we are told that the member has had a self-defense incident. I’m so pleased that the Legal Defense Fund is strong, healthy and ready to pay a good attorney to be a member’s advocate to accomplish the various tasks that Regan described.
Let me close on a proactive note inspired by this month’s book review. Don’t forget that at the local and state level, we put our prosecutors and state’s attorneys general in office. When a prosecutor overcharges, she or he must be held to account, and it is we, the constituents and voters, who must voice complaints about that official’s actions and if abuses of power go unchecked, we must see to it that a better “people’s lawyer” is awarded that position of trust in the next election.
[End of July 2014 eJournal.
Please return next month for our August 2014 edition.]