Sad and Ironic but Not Surprising

 Posted on May 29, 2007 in Uncategorized

Over at Blonde Justice the Blonde has two posts (Sad Irony and More Sad Irony) about a DuPage County, Illinois prosecutor who killed herself and maimed another driver in a car crash. The prosecutor was driving a county car; her BAC was 0.25 at 3:45 in the afternoon. The "sad irony" is that the prosecutor had, in 1998, sent another woman to prison for 13 years for intoxicated manslaughter.

Prosecutors responded to the Blonde's first post on the subject. One said:

The fact that I might be tempted to steal or commit an assault doesn't and shouldn't make me less dedicated to the idea that theft and assault are crimes and need to be punished. If I myself engage in those crimes, I would hope that I would be treated as any other similarly situated offender: in fact, I should perhaps be punished more severely since I oughta know better!

Note three things about this:

First, when someone goes to prison for theft or assault, we're not punishing theft and assault. We're punishing a person - making a human being suffer. (This is a euphemism similar to "the war on drugs," which is actually a war on people, or "life" in a capital case, which is actually life in prison.)

Second, the crimes invoked - theft and assault - are much farther removed from the everyday prosecutorial experience than intoxicated manslaughter. Intoxicated manslaughter, after all, is just a really unlucky drive halfway home from the prosecutorial watering hole. Would it be unfair for us to suppose that, when the late prosecutor was drinking heavily at 3:45 on a Friday afternoon, she might have been with other prosecutors?

Third, note the shift in verb mood from the simple present "If I engage..." to the subjunctive. "I would hope that I would be treated as any other similarly situated offender" is utter nonsense. Maybe this prosecutor hopes now that he would be treated the same as other offenders, but if the time were to come he would hope to avoid suffering. I hope (and, based on observations of prosecutors accused, expect) that he would hire the best defender he could find to help him avoid suffering.

Another prosecutor wrote:

[Y]ou would do well to at least acknowledge that prosecutors are human, with all the implied flaws therein.There is nothing nefarious here, nothing hard to understand... it's not an "above the law" mentality among us, we're citizens just like the average joe, our job just happens to be prosecuting crimes.If we violate those same laws, we'll get the same day in court, and I suspect we'll be sentenced much more harshly because as the poster above mentioned, "We oughta know better." It also becomes news if we do these things, resulting in public humiliation of ourselves and our families. The average joe's DUI doesn't make the front page.

For a prosecutor to say "that person should suffer for what she did, but I shouldn't suffer if I did it" would be nefarious. "Just like the average Joe," though, lots of prosecutors act like they believe it. "Just like the average joe," they'll do lots - including abusing their office - to avoid suffering. Just like the average joe, they aren't admitting it out loud. Incident after incident is swept under the rug, but woe betide the occasional prosecutor whose misconduct makes the papers; her colleagues will throw her to the wolves - not because she "oughta know better" but to demonstrate the sanctimony of the rest.

For a prosecutor to say, "that person should suffer for what she did... though it is something that I would do as well" would be hypocritical.

These prosecutors' comments are neither hypocritical nor nefarious. These prosecutors seem to be saying, "if I were to commit a crime - though I wouldn't - I should suffer." The second commentator is right: it's not an "above the law" mentality, and it's not hard to understand. It's a lack of compassion, of understanding, of imagination.

Sad, yes. Ironic, yes. But it should be no surprise to anyone that, without the ability to imagine themselves in the position of accused people and to understand what put them there, prosecutors wish to contribute to their suffering.

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