Ah, 2011. I barely knew you, and already you are leaving me. Going out with quite a bang, too. When we’d all rather be scarfing on holiday eats and watching drama-free football, we can’t turn on the TV without being barraged by criminal law nonsense. Notwithstanding the “Johnny Knox Origami Incident” the Bears’ biggest story of the month has been the arrest of Sam Hurd for his purported involvement in a street pharmaceutical distributorship. Even non-sporting entertainment is afflicted. Lindsay Lohan is conspiring to be one of the biggest stories of December (not only because of her Playboy shoot, but also because she seems to be “buying in” to her probation). And, don’t even get me going on Jerry Sandusky. Oh, wait. You already did.
Can’t a guy just flip on the TV and watch an episode of “Sledge Hammer” without all this criminal law balderdash?
Maybe I am just a little bit bitter that I didn’t get Sam Hurd’s case. I mean, we did both go to the same college… and have both spent a lot of quality time at Soldier Field. I’ll get over it, though. The case is in Dallas, and I’m not a fan of a state where guys wear big belt buckles to make up for small pistols, anyway.
The intensity of media coverage for criminal law related cases over the last year has got my pea-brain wondering what the future will be like. Forget the stories of last year. I’m hoping for more important stories next year. Stories that I think are important. Stories that look something like this:
1. Just Say No.
A few years back, a friend of mine was running for a State Senate seat. I didn’t know him very well at that point. After hearing the news, though, I saw him in court. Grabbing him as he was walking out I said, “Hey Ray… what is your ‘platform’?” He spun quick and said plainly, “No new laws!” “What does that mean?” I asked. “You know those ‘yes’ or ‘no’ buttons legislators press to vote for or against a new law? Well, I’m going to take a stack of files, put it on the ‘no’ button, and walk out.” It’s a shame he wasn’t elected. About a billion new laws have passed since then.
Nancy Reagan has her “War on Drugs” and I have my “War on Laws”. I’m not an anarchist, just a minimalist. My thoughts on this are simple: Our full-time legislators have passed dumb, new criminal laws every year. You see, in order to be elected, they have to be “tough on crime.” Who is tougher on crime than somebody passing a new criminal law?
In reality, many of the new laws have done more to suck “regular” people into the tangled web of criminal court than make our lives better. Plus, they’ve cost us Millions of tax payer dollars. Keep in mind that every person cited for speeding more than 30 MPH over the limit is now entitled to an attorney. Can’t afford one? Then you get the public defender (paid for by tax payer dollars). The same thing happened to many “Driving without a valid license” cases a few years back. The trend is, unfortunately, going consistently in the “cost more, not reduce crime in any appreciable way” direction. I don’t like that. Personally, I’d rather spend my money on important things (like pizza) than pay for the public defender of some kid who was out joy riding.
I can’t think of any new criminal laws we “need” in the next few years. Of course, I couldn’t really think of any ground we didn’t already have covered last year. Here’s to hoping that 2012 sees no new ones passed, and taxpayer money saved. I won’t hold my breath.
2. Get your mouth shut.
What does Mike Ditka have in common with Nancy Grace and people who comment on internet newspaper articles? Nothing. Nancy Grace, other talk show personalitities, and the people who fuel their fame have no problem going bonkers on the tv and internet knowing half the facts and even less about the law of high-profile criminal cases. Ditka, on the other hand, is a rational and well spoken man. He offers only calm, important and reasonable advice. Like, “get your mouth shut.”
I agree with Ditka. I’ve already explained how incessant, opinionated media attention can cause huge problems with the criminal justice system. Aside from that, it just gets old. If a plumber, an actuary, a priest and a criminal defense attorney all introduce themselves at a dinner party, it seems that everybody has already formed a belief about how/what/why the criminal defense attorney does what they do… and those folks are usually more than happy to share their opinions. I never hear people telling their brand-new plumbing acquaintances what they “should” do when installing a toilet. Oddly, I’d rather talk about plumbing than the law.
I don’t want to sound bitter, though. I love what I do. It is actually very exciting. Sometimes I’ll even talk to people about it. Sometimes.
However, those silly opinion shows that use 30 second clips of courtroom action and roll into 20 minutes of debate supported by neither actual knowledge of the facts nor law involved need to fade off into cable TV oblivion. In the 80’s we had a lot less law and a lot more Tammy Faye Baker on TV. Bring back the era of bad makeup and over-the-top TV evangelism, if that’s what it takes. Here’s to hoping 2012 is the year that we let Nancy Grace and her TV pals get their mouths shut. I know it won’t happen, but it’s my dream world so I’ll call it as I want it.
3. Doctors killing people -or- Physician Assisted Suicide… I don’t care what you call it.
I will not give a lethal drug to anyone if I am asked, nor will I advise such a plan…
The Hippocratic Oath says something about not killing people. Or causing them to die. I’m not sure. I’m also not sure about your opinion on physician assisted suicide. Just like you’re not sure on mine. You’re not going to learn, either. You shouldn’t care about my opinion. I don’t care about yours.
This isn’t about opinion. It’s about importance. There was a time, not too long ago, where the issue of a patient’s “right” to “death with dignity” (or, if you prefer, Dr. Jack Kervorkian’s criminal “assistance” of his patient’s use of a “death machine”) was the rage. All the kids were doing it. All the kids were talking about the issue, anyway. As I’m sure you recall, it was a huge. Lots of passion on both sides. Good arguments to be had either way.
Some will say that Kervorkian’s prison stint and recent death chilled the debate and moved it to the back burner of American thought. I would say that it is no more or less an issue now as it was then. It was, however, the most visible issue then because times were different. Times were a lot more simple. They were fun.
In the height of Kervorkian’s “reign of death” the American economy was booming, unemployment rates were low and confidence in our future was generally positive. People were more worried about how they would pay for their kids to go to college than they were about whether or not they would have a job or place to live the next day. Sure, there was a war in the middle east then, too. It just wasn’t as long. Or as bloody… for us. We argued about fun things. Like for instance, what “the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.” In those times it was a little bit easier for the country to get wrapped up in a Doctor from Michigan who helped people terminate their lives. I, of course, wasted most of these fun years watching O.J.
If we can get back to bickering about “death with dignity” this year, I’ll call it a success. I’ll take that as a sign that the economy is headed in the right direction, and people feel more secure in their personal lives. The “death” debate, sure to be measurably more sensationalistic than it was the first time (it is, after all, the internet and cable news tv era), would probably drive me just as nuts as the present day debates do. I will be happy to have the change of pace. At least I think I will.
Unless, of course, Nancy Grace is half-informed and popping off about it on TV…