Thursday, January 24, 2013

True Believers in Justice - NYT Opinion and Video

The New York Times has an interesting opinion page article and related video entitled "True Believers in Justice."  The article and video describe the work of public defenders in the United States. 
I’d always wanted to be a lawyer, but unlike Travis Williams — the subject of this Op-Doc video — I never wanted to be a public defender. I didn’t understand how anyone could represent people who did terrible things. “Criminals” were not people I wanted to help.

Then, in 2009, while working in the legal department at A&E Television, I met Jonathan Rapping, the founder of what’s now Gideon’s Promise. He invited me to his client-centered legal training program in Alabama. At the start of training, Mr. Rapping asked each lawyer to articulate why he or she chose to become a public defender. One young man said he had a brother with Down syndrome, so he wanted to help people who could not navigate the legal system for themselves. Another said he had been arrested as a teenager, so he wanted to help kids like him who didn’t know their rights. Their stories moved me. I learned more about the true state of the criminal justice system during that week than I knew from all my years practicing law. I wanted other people to learn about what they were doing and so I decided to make this film.

I was horrified by what I learned about the criminal justice system. Innocent people, in prison for months or years, sometimes plead guilty to get out of jail; onerous sentences are too often given for minor crimes; people can lose civil rights, like the right to vote, as a result of criminal convictions. In America, a felony conviction can be a lifelong sentence because of this multitude of collateral consequences.
The entire article and the video are available here.

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