But For the Grace of God

I'm going to jump in there and respond to this argument at From across the Pond.

(First, let me apologize. I feel like I should comment in your comments, rather than on my own blog, but when your comment window comes up it's so tiny and I just start typing and typing, and before I know it I just feel like it'd be better for me to post over here rather than hog your comments.)

Anyway, From across the Pond sees a disconnect between defending the (probably) guilty and the rationale of "There but for the grace of God go I." Sure, anyone could see that there's little separating them from being wrongly accused of a crime, but what's separating you from being correctly accused of a crime?

I agree. For the most part I only find myself thinking "that could've been me" in cases where my client was factually innocent. (Factually innocent meaning "he didn't do it," rather than "he was acquitted or the case was dismissed.") However, I think the exception lies in cases where the law is unfair, overbroad, or misapplied.

Examples? Generally, I think of crimes that criminalize the actions of the very poor. If I were to lose my job tomorrow, I'm sure that I'd find a way to live comfortably until I found another job. I have an education and a good support system. But, sometimes I see cases where, somehow, a person with an education and a family ends up on the streets. Sometimes because of a tragic circumstance, sometimes because of mental illness, sometimes because of drug abuse. If I found myself in that position - would I shoplift? It's hard to say I wouldn't. Would I jump the turnstile to take the train to a medical clinic or to a shelter or to a soup kitchen? Probably. And then there are the infractions like "taking up two seats on the train" or "obstructing a park bench" or "building an unzoned structure (from cardboard)." These are all cases where my clients are factually guilty but I think that, unfortunately, with a few tragic circumstances, there but for the grace of God go most of us.

As far as overbroad or misapplied laws - this is a little more complicated. This is where I believe my client is factually guilty in that he did what he is accused of, but maybe the accusation doesn't fully make out a crime or a jury might acquit realizing that, there but for the grace of God go each of them.

This isn't the best example - but take, for example, a client accused of stalking. The facts are that when his significant other broke up with him, he didn't take it so well. He called her a few times to say "Change your mind, let's get back together." Maybe he continued to call a few more times after she says "Leave me alone." (I'm talking about 10-20 phone calls, not 1000). Does this fit the definition of stalking? Yes. Is he then "factually guilty?" Yes. Do I see how it's easy to go from jilted lover making an honest attempt to win someone back to stalker? I think so. Do I hope that a jury would acquit? Yes, that's a case that might do ok at trial.

So, there you have it. Just a few examples where I think that sometimes, occasionally, there but for the grace of God go I into being a (probably) guilty client.

(See, that wouldn't have fit in your comments, would it?)

1 comment:

  1. As you say, it probably would not. But linking's good too ;) Interesting thoughts.