A few weeks ago, I had a sentencing for a client that I first met about 5 years ago. I eventually had to withdraw from his case due to a conflict that arose for the office I was working in, but fast forward three years and I had the privilege of taking the case back when I was no longer part of the office that had the conflict. I am not going to get into the details of the case as the nature of the charges is such that I do not think my client would want me to share them. What I will say is that my client was accused of some very awful things, the kind of things that no one condones.
At the sentencing, the prosecution argued for what I still maintain was an illegal sentence due to some procedural issues that might be the subject of a future blog post. In so arguing, the state of course went into excruciating detail about what my client did and the impact he had on the victims. The judge was clearly sympathetic to the state and not very sympathetic toward my client. The prosecutor was in their comfort zone. I listened intently as the prosecutor painted my client as a monster and talked about the irreparable harm that my client had caused to one of his victims. Her argument seemed to go on forever. Suddenly, she transitioned by saying "today is about [name of the victim]..." When I heard her say this, I was furious, although I am fairly sure I succeeded in not letting on how upset that statement had made me. The prosecutor finished her argument by asking the court to sentence my client to the maximum prison term of 27 years followed by probation for the rest of his natural life (which he would get sent to prison for violating for at least 5 more years).
Then it was my turn to speak. The first words out of my mouth were "Your Honor, opposing counsel said that today was about [name of the victim], but I respectfully disagree." I went on to explain that today was about figuring out what the just outcome of this conviction would be and that had to take into account who my client was as a person. I went on to lay out the abuse my client had suffered, the medical interventions he had to undergo, the fact that he had never received any kind of counseling to cope with the numerous traumas in his life, and the fact that had the state shown as much interest in protecting him when he was a child as they were now pretending to have in vindicating my client's victims, there would have been a good chance that my client would have never victimized anyone.
Ultimately, the judge gave my client the presumptive sentence, 20 years, followed by 25 years of probation. I think this is not the last I will hear about this case as there is a solid appellate issue that will need to be resolved, but until then I can say that it was an honor being the only person in the room fighting for my client's humanity. Even when someone does something that seems indefensible, that person still deserves a full defense and that person deserves to be seen as more than the worst thing they have ever done in their life.
If you know of anyone who needs a champion for their humanity and a defender of their rights, send them my way.