As mentioned in the beginning of this week, this blog is about to undergo some positive changes. We have discussed many things over the years that I have posted this blog. The tone has ranged from angry, to sad to somewhat humorous. In criminal justice issues, of course, those involved often find very little humor. However, for those of us who deal with it every single day, and care, laughter is necessary for survival.
We have talked about criminal, as well as quasi-criminal allegations. For a while, we heatedly debated The topic of bullying and the “heroic” statute that was rushed through the legislature to combat it.
Notice how dealing with that issue has basically vanished from sight.
This may have something to do with the fact, as I foretold, there is no ending it altogether, and, as the doomed attempt failed…why dwell on it?
Associated with the topic of bullying should be the topic of scapegoating. Both in our individual as well as international lives, we have seen obvious examples of this. Not very surprisingly, there is a rather insidious type of scapegoating about which most of us would rather not talk.
Naturally, I want to talk about it. It involves a Massachusetts criminal investigation.
Peter Pickpocket and his friend Doug Dupe go to the local candy shop. Both are 12 years of age. Peter has had problems in the past with itchy fingers and an uncontrollable love for candy. In other words, Peter has been known to steal candy in the past. Doug, however, has no such history. At least, that anybody knows about.
Peter and Doug browse through the store and finally leave. This is not unusual. Prior to the boys coming to the store, Alice Accuser, who runs the store, had put on display a very attractive combination of expensive candies. Each individually wrapped. Putting on such displays is nothing unusual for Alice.
What is unusual is that candy does not usually vanish into thin air. Just after the boys leave, Alice looks over at the display to find that the candies are gone. Being the only person running the store, she knew they had not been purchased. There had also been no other customers in the store since putting the candy out.
The boys’ recent visit suddenly comes to Alice’s mind and she calls the authorities. Knowing his reputation, the police pick up Peter at his home three hours later. The candy is never recovered, but the Commonwealth bring a case against Peter anyway because of the circumstantial evidence against him.
Also against Peter is that, while they were taking him to the police station, an officer told Peter that he should be ashamed for “doing such things”. Peter, frightened to death, said, “I’m sorry.”
What nobody else knows, is that Doug, while everybody’s back was turned, including Peter’s, swiped the candy. Not surprisingly, when he learns that his friend is being charged with stealing the candy, Doug says nothing. After all, the candy is long gone by now anyway.
Attorney Sam’s Take On Criminal Justice Scapegoating
First, let’s make sure our perspectives are understood. I would suggest that the fact that Peter never took the candy is extremely important to the cause of “doing justice “.
Second, it is understandable that people would suspect Peter. Under our Constitution and beliefs, that suspicion should not be enough to ruin somebody’s life with criminal, or in this case juvenile, charges.
“But Sam, why did Peter confess?”
Did he really confess? Peter has had a troubled past, particularly with the police. The police officer has cuffed him and brought him into the police car and is now scolding him that he should be ashamed of himself. Peter knows that he has done bad things in the past. He’s also scared and probably wondering what he did this time. He doesn’t know that his friend took anything, so he has no idea what this is about. He does know, though, that he does not want to argue with the officer.
Anybody who has had any experience whatsoever with the criminal justice system, or is a regular reader of this blog, knows enough not to argue with the police officer or challenge him or her.
Thomas Troublemaker, a criminal defense attorney, takes on Peter’s case and has the nerve to suggest that Peter, despite his history and s statement, is innocent.
You can imagine the rolling eyes that greet counsel as he argues that his client is not guilty.
Now, you may think that this scenario is unlikely. However, I think you will agree with me that it is possible. And you can believe me…it happens.
In my scenario, there were no ulterior motives for the accusers against Peter. In many cases, there are. For example, let’s turn this into a major felony case where the prosecutors are squeezing Douglas for information. “After all”, they tell him, “you were there. If you didn’t do the theft, you must have seen who did. If you don’t come clean, we are going to charge you!”
Suddenly, Doug is a government witness testifying about how Peter planned, conducted and admitted to the robbery.
We have discussed scenarios such as that many times.
You may have even seen me on the news in some of my cases referring to a client or to as a perfect scapegoat for a variety of reasons, be they money, prior record or both.
If you are someone who either has been in the criminal justice scapegoat seat, or are now occupying said position, I hope you have experienced counsel. If not, get one. For the rest of you, think twice before you are so quick to deliver the quick judgments of “Once a criminal, always the criminal” or “Well, we know he’s a criminal…who cares if he did not do this particular crime!”
You would be surprised to know how often the Universe conspires to sprinkle Karma around and how quickly you could find your last name changed to “Defendant”.
To Reader: This blog was drafted for, but mistakenly not posted, yesterday. Another blog will be posted this evening as today’s. It will also give you information about Friday’s new type of blog. As always, thanks for reading!