Monday, February 20, 2012

Presumption of innocence goes up in smoke

Last week a fire swept through an overcrowded Honduran prison and killed more than 350 inmates. At the time of the fire there were 856 inmates in a facility designed to hold but 500. Even more appalling is the fact that more than half the inmates at the prison were either awaiting trial or being held as suspected gang members.

So much for the presumption of innocence in the banana republic.

The only job for prison administrators is to assure the safety of the inmates placed into their custody. Being removed from one's home and one's family and being forced to do what someone tells you to do 24 hours a day is punishment. Being housed in an overcrowded fire trap is cruelty.

Regardless of whether you have any sympathy for the convicted serving their sentences, those men have families and people who care about them, too. It is bad enough to have a loved one taken away and locked up for years. To have that person's life taken from you is an unspeakable tragedy.

The most terrifying power the state holds is the ability to take away a person's liberty. In this instance we have the state not only taking away the liberty of citizens without ever formally charging them - but taking their lives.

There are people who ask me how I do what I do. They ask me how can I defend a person I know is guilty. The answer is easy. My job is to fight the ability of the state to take away a citizen's liberty. My job is to limit the power of the government. My job is to defend our right to be left alone.

A tyrant is a ruler whose powers aren't checked. It doesn't matter what label you place on the country's political system. A tyrant can be elected in a democracy just as easily as he can come to power by force of arms.

We deal with petty tyrants in the courthouse every day of the week. Whether it be the municipal court judge who issues a warrant if someone is five minutes late for traffic court or the judge who adheres blindly to a bail schedule. And, since only those people end up in criminal court, it has precious little impact on most of the electorate who is more than happy to just close their eyes and vote for the R's or D's.

1 comment:

A Voice of Sanity said...

"There are people who ask me how I do what I do. They ask me how can I defend a person I know is guilty."

My all time favorite answer to this (wish I could find it again):

"There are people in this world who are dishonest, immoral, lying sons of bitches who will do whatever it takes to get what they want. My job is to defend my clients from these people".

(P.S. This new captcha system really sucks - and the audio 'help' is total rubbish).