i'm frustrated. i'm really, honestly, sincerely frustrated these days. i think it's due in part to my internship, in part to being a third year law student teetering on the edge of the career abyss, in part to having just turned 30, in part to having taken on way too much schoolwork this semester. nonetheless...
i've become rather disenchanted with my race, religion, and the law seminar in the past couple of weeks. the meetings seem to have devolved into various classmembers soapboxing their opinions and their own religious/ethnic backgrounds. what's the point? where are we going? what's the goal of the course?
i chose the course for a few reasons. firstly, i think the professors are amazing. secondly, i know that my own relationship to religion is complicated, at best, and i thought the course could provide an interesting context in which to explore the intersections of race and religion and how the law could inform that discussion.
but, i have this feeling that it's not exactly an organized effort, that my classmates and i are serving as test subjects for the professors, that we're talking ourselves blue in the face and we're getting absolutely nowhere.
nowhere! except that i'm pretty confident that i can predict what's going to come out of the mouth of whomever raises her/his hand to speak before the words are spoken, because we're all saying the same things, just from our own viewpoints. i've tried to throw out more questions than answers, because truly i have more questions to ask than i have answers to suggest.
today i got really really angry. really frustrated. really fed up. and at the break in the middle of class, i had a discussion with a good friend of mine that turned somehow to the obligations of being a criminal defense attorney. he argued that the duty was to "get your client off". i argued that the duty was to make sure the prosecution puts on its case properly and thoroughly. this seems pretty obvious to me. the truth, folks, is that people commit crime. it happens every day, everywhere, and i'll be damned if i'm going to be so foolish as to say that people who do the crime shouldn't do the time (i'll save my frustrations with the shortcomings of the prison system for another day, however). certainly not all, but a whole hell of a lot of defendants are guilty. is it my job, in my "zealous advocacy" to keep a guilty client out of jail? absolutely not. no way. that's not justice.
justice, however, for the criminal defense attorney (in my young, naive, limited opinion) means zealous advocacy for the constitutional rights of the defendant, be s/he guilty or innocent. it's the prosecution's job to prove BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT that the person charged with the crime should pay the penalty. if the prosecution cannot do that but the defendant is convicted nonetheless? well, that seems like the opposite of justice to me. defense attorneys are the necessary check on the prosecution -- they ensure that there's a balance, that there's fairness. that's overwhelmingly important; indispensably crucial.
to be honest, there is a lot that i've seen in the past few weeks that turns me off to the idea of doing criminal defense. there are reasons for that stereotype of the sleazy defense attorney. there are too many folks out there who don't seem to get that you can do your job well without being a complete bastard. there's this icky attitude that somehow being compassionate is a sign of weakness, when really it's just a sign of being a fucking person! i feel that i've reached this point in my own struggle for how i want to spend my career at which i feel i simply cannot NOT do this work. i can't not! it's almost like a compulsion -- i HAVE to do this. i'd be selling myself short or betraying who i am or something. but honestly? it would be a hell of a lot easier to do something else, to go civil instead of criminal. it's ugly out there. and it's sad. but i feel as if everything in my life up to this point has led up to me doing this type of work. i've got the energy for it, i've got the desire to do it, i think i have the right balance of compassion and principle for it. i'm gonna give it a shot. and if i fall on my face or become an alcoholic because the job gets to me, well, at least i can say that i've tried. this is what i want. i have to see if i can do it.
oof. what a mindfuck, all of this. it exhausts me. right now i'm exhausted. i suppose this is the way you figure this stuff out, though. your brain and heart muscles have to get torn and bruised and broken before they can start to truly become strong. i just have to get past this feeling that i've been run over by the 18-wheeler we call the criminal justice system and i'll be okay.
...and billions of thankyous to mark for listening, for being supportive, for helping me feel that this struggle is justified. and for reminding me that i do the whole "what-if" thing ENTIRELY too much for my own good.