Emotional Gut Shots and other Hazards of Public Defense

I’m spending more time with the conflict defenders now that the bar is over.  Fridays are mostly domestic violence cases, and this morning was remarkably slow for a Friday.  Several defendants had private attorneys, so I got to sit back and watch a lot more than normal.  It was sort of relaxing.  

Then one gigantic, tattooed guy comes out of the jail room in his jumpsuit and his chains for a hearing.  After several months of doing this, there are behaviors we’ve all gotten used to seeing from jail defendants: either an arrogant, screw-the-world-because-it-screwed-me strut, blank obedience, or overplayed contrition.  I’ve certainly never see someone come out and flash a genuine smile toward the back of the room.  When the hearing begins, the witness is heavily pregnant and holding a little boy, who might be about two.  Once everyone is standing before the judge, the boy’s face breaks into a huge, gappy grin. He extends his hand and fingers with the conscious, slightly disjointed care of a new skill and whoops, “Hi Daddy!!”

I’d like to be able to end this blog with an analysis of the effect of that childish wave.  I’d like to be able to speak with some kind knowledge or authority on the viciousness of the cycle that family is caught up in.  I’d like to think that the sight of his kid at his own hearing would provide the motivation the defendant needs to get out of the violence cycle.  Unfortunately, I don’t think it works that way.  All I can say with certainty is that nothing is black and white.  Nothing makes that clearer than public defense work.

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