September 10, 2004

Eastern Idaho idyll

I had a fine trip today over to the part of the state where Napoleon Dynamite is a documentary.

Crossing the desert gave me time to re-think yesterday's topic: there will be p.d. clients who view their experience in jail or in the system as a form of witness, political or otherwise. Most p.d.s' default switches are stuck in the "maximise freedom / extract client from the belly of the beast" position, I imagine. Once in a while we may be called upon by a client to shift gears, to engage more fully with the client who desires to make a principled stand in a dingy out-of the-way courtroom, or whose idea of fighting the power includes fighting assigned counsel too.

I've done at least one of what could be termed an overtly political trial. (yes, I know the discussion about how so many p.d. cases are truly political - no, I'm not getting into it here). My client wanted a trial, not probation, and that's what she got. Trial. And not probation. No, we didn't win, and my client lost years of her freedom, but she made her choice, and got to make her case in the face of Idaho law and Idaho jurors. Plead or go to trial, it's always the client's call.

Trials against the odds aren't just for anarchists or hemp promoters. I also thought about a misdemeanor trial I watched years ago when I was a p.d. in Boise. Some local Operation Rescue members, about 27 of them I think, were on trial for trespassing, for blocking the entrance to Planned Parenthood. They were being defended by an attorney I knew who shared his clients' worldview, but didn't have much experience in criminal defense. The state's witnesses from Planned Parenthood couldn't positively identify the trespassers by individual. A proper objection or half-time motion from an amoral, experienced criminal trial lawyer could have sprung those defendants, but then the jury might not have heard the lawyer's impassioned speech before they duly convicted each of his clients.

Oh well, any defendant in a jury trial can feel "like a Mouseketeer trapped in an endless anything-can-happen day" at the best of times. Maybe the idea for the activist client should be to retain two lawyers, one on the client's comfort level, the other who knows what to do inside a courtroom.