Law in Contemporary Society
Before and during class I was struck with the strong feeling that Robinson lacked sympathy for the fate of his clients chiefly because he accepts everyone as “criminal”. I mean this in the sense that the criminal law creates an “evil” status at times attributable to anyone. I am still wrapping my head around the idea but it seems that the issues of the dissociative effects of “law” (as transcendental nonsense), punishment and deterrence, and the wielding of the social force through law all come together in our lunch with Robinson.

I couldn’t let go of this feeling when thinking about the Fujianese intruder story. In particular, the description of the district attorney’s thoughts and subsequent actions after discovering the intruder in his home bothered me. Seeing a stranger has entered his home, the D.A. instantly considers a series of options he has for action, weighing the costs and benefits of each. Knowing the law, he understands that he could lawfully kill the intruder with his registered firearm but chooses not to because he fears the effects of public opinion on his actions. To avoid this undesirable mobilization of public will, he chooses instead to attack the intruder with the force of law (stopping first of course to rip clumps of hair out of his head before the arrival of law enforcement). The attorney then uses his family connections to ensure first, that the best prosecutor is selected to handle this case, and second, that she uses the full extent of her prosecutorial discretion to effectively end this kid’s life. He want’s the intruder “dead” and the prosecutor “out for blood.” Right or wrong, the Fujianese adolescent is confronted with a laundry list of charges one could only hope to plea out of (if the prosecutor was willing to offer a deal, which in this case she will not).

This is what disturbed me. Robinson talks of “mens rea” and hints at the distancing it creates between jury and accused (just as Cohen describes the effects of transcendental nonsense). People cannot imagine themselves having the guilty mind requisite to be deemed “criminal” and engaging in these legalism gymnastics helps only to further entrench this belief. Yet, we see this district attorney and prosecutor act with fully evil intention (and I would hope a guilty mind) with approval and in the service of our community. Noting this, I believe one of the messages we were meant to glean from this conversation with Robinson and which this anecdote emphatically illustrates is that we all have these instances of “evil” intention, but the law determines where the label falls and what to do with it. Our societal pathology is rooted in retribution. Does punishment deter? We don’t ask. We seem to have an inclination toward the infliction of pain, commensurate with offense or not. This is further illustrated in Robinson’s (and our own) musings on the nature of the prison system. If only we knew more about “what comes down.”

This illuminates how lawyers “are never far from evil.” We spoke of the courts as a system for wielding the public force. What is important to ask is by whom and against whom. Although no individuals exclusively wield this force, I do believe that when compared to the average citizen, lawyers come much closer to wielding a change-inducing portion of it. Robinson knows this and expresses it while rejecting Hand’s ultimate fear of a civil suit, replacing it with his fear of what it would mean for one to face a penal charge without legal knowledge or assistance. This is why lawyers are never far from evil. They have the agency to aim the sights of the public force toward or against others, and good and evil can be done in either direction. Lawyer becomes criminal; criminal becomes lawyer, and citizen both. On balance there is no difference. Acknowledging the concept of the “blameless citizen” as fantasy, I was left wondering was there ever a metamorphosis at all?

-- RobertoRivera2 - 12 Feb 2015

One way in which I resolved the distance with "evil" is a distinction with my direction against it. Perhaps this assumes certainty about my position, but I believe Robinson would require that much, at a minimum, in order to do so.

-- YashShah - 13 Feb 2015



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r2 - 13 Feb 2015 - 08:15:57 - YashShah
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