Prosecutors Protecting Children (But Only When It's Convenient)

 Posted on January 20, 2009 in Uncategorized

Prosecutors seem so proud of themselves when they argue, "Don't show me photos of the defendant's kids. He had those kids when he committed the crime and he didn't think about them then." The particular quote is from Jane Starnes, a former Harris County prosecutor (and Bellaire neighbor of ours) who now prosecutes in John Bradley's office and apparently got some award from MADD recently. But they all say it, and every one of them acts like she thought it up herself.

Rephrased, the argument is this: the defendant didn't think about his kids when he committed the offense, so I shouldn't have to think about them now.

Defendants shouldn't be given breaks because they have children, but children should, when possible, be given breaks. It's okay for a prosecutor to consider thebroader implications of any resolution of a case, including the effect of the resolution on other people. More than okay, itshould be mandatory, but that may be too much to ask.

It's also okay to reduce (or increase) a defendant's punishment so that his kids suffer less. That's called "compassion." It's even okay not to reduce the kids' suffering when that suffering is an unavoidable collateral consequence of their parent's crimes. But prosecutors, like the rest of us, should seek to prevent suffering when possible.

It's not okay to inflict needless pain on people for the crimes of their parents. "You hurt them, so I don't care about them" is retributivist twaddle of the worst sort.

If you think a harsh sentence for dad will help the children, fine. If you consider the incidental harm a harsh sentence will do to the children and decide that it's unavoidable, that's fine too. I won't lose any sleep at night even if you refuse to consider the damage dad's punishment might do to the kids.

But don't ask me to soothe your conscience by concealing that harm from you.

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