Dying a not-so-slow death…

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Jan 27, 2010 in The 1L Life

After classes today, I’m starting to wonder if that’s what is happening to my faith in people since starting law school :beatup:

But before rehashing today’s material, I have to confess it’s not an entirely recent phenomenon.

When I first moved to North Carolina over a decade ago, I was a doe-eyed teenager who knew some individuals could be a bit unsavory but firmly believed that most people were good, upstanding folks — and the bad ones probably just had bad parents or something. I was a strident opponent of the death penalty back then too, not because of any amorality to state-sanctioned killing (I was also a big “separation of church/state” kid), but because no crime could be sufficiently heinous to merit the ultimate punishment in light of the non-zero chance the person being executed was actually innocent. And so on and so forth.

Then reality smacked me around a little bit.

Back in 2003 I started working for the Office of the Clerk of Superior Court in Wake County as its first “Director of Special Projects” — code for having carte blanche to work on various Courthouse problems with minimal red tape.

One of those problems was figuring out a way to consolidate 3 separate Courthouse evidence rooms.  I’ll forgo mentioning the actual floors since I’m not sure if they’re considered confidential anymore, but for the sake of description the bottom room held seized cash and small drugs, the middle room was for small weapons and miscellany, and the top room held everything relating to the major felonies: dozens of weapons (including some wrapped in biohazard tape with dried blood still on them), luggage full of weed, various exotic implements of death… and the tri-fold picture displays frequently used by prosecutors to make a point with the jury.

One afternoon I walked through the top evidence room with a deputy from the Sheriff’s Department, just to get an idea of the scope of the storage problem I was working on. I pulled out one of the tri-fold displays and nearly puked at the crime scene photos: this particular victim was lying facedown in a pool of blood, and after reading the text I learned it was the mother of the accused… a mother who had been beaten, raped and sodomized by her own son before he slit her throat and left her to die.

There were a string of displays featuring dead prostitutes, dead drug dealers, dead gang members, and various other dead people participating in illegal activities.

But then it went back to the totally innocent victims. One particular display that got seared into my brain was a two-fold instead of a three-fold, on the left side containing a photo of an attractive Hispanic female in her early 20s smiling for the camera. The right side? That same woman, on the floor, no longer smiling, brutally shot 43 times by her then-boyfriend who claimed she was cheating on him.

43 shots. Now I’m no expert, but I do know my way around the occasional firearm enough to know the Glock 21’s standard magazine is only 13 rounds. Try pulling an imaginary trigger as quickly as you can 13 times. Then pause to reload. Then do it 13 times again. Then pause to reload. Then do it 13 times again. Then pause to reload. Then do it 4 more times.

I timed how long it would take in my head, and started crying in the middle of the evidence room. I took the rest of the day off.

You can pretty much pinpoint that day as the one where I stopped caring quite so much about the Eighth Amendment.

Fast forward back to today in class.

We’re having an engaging discussion in CrimLaw about Ewing v. California, 538 U.S. 11 (2003), and the fairness of Cali’s “three strikes” habitual felon statute. And I tell you folks, I didn’t care. At all. A guy stole $1K+ worth of golf clubs to add to his burgeoning criminal record, he was going to prison for the rest of his natural life… and I felt no sympathy. “Don’t want to get sentenced to life in prison as a habitual felon? STOP BREAKING THE @#$%ING LAW.” That was pretty much the only thing that went through my mind.

Then there was Contracts, discussing the doctrine of unconscionability and Higgins v. Superior Court, 140 Cal. App. 4th 1238 (2006). Essentially 5 siblings lost both of their parents, moved in with a family they knew through church, got approached by Extreme Makeover: Home Edition to build a new 9-bedroom house for all of them (the siblings plus the family they moved in with)… and then once the house was built, the quasi-foster family threw out the siblings.

Since this was a Ks case it centered on an arbitration clause when the Higgins brothers pursued ABC, but what really got me was the family that ejected them. Kids lose their parents, move in with you after meeting you at church, you exploit them to get a new mini-mansion… then throw them out to enjoy the gains you unjustly got at their expense. We need to throw these people in prison with the golf club thief.

I was accustomed to the crazy @#$% we’ve already seen in Torts, but stuff like today caught me off-guard. And makes me dislike people. Grrr.

Sorry for the rambling-ish post tonight everybody, it was just one of those days. I hope all of you have an amazing night, and I’ll try to post something more chipper tomorrow :)

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