Tuesday, September 11, 2007

How to get away with killing somebody

I recently had the chance to talk with a veteran defense attorney who has represented a number of cases. We were talking about a client who was up for a charge, and the attorney observed that if you want to get away with ing someone, you need to do two things. In his words and my elaboration:

1) "Kill an asshole." Part of what happens to accused criminals depends on who they have harmed. Want to get off lightly? Kill someone that nobody cares about or that people don't like. E.g., a dealer rather than a pediatrician. This highlights the extra-legal factors that come into play in criminal proceedings. It also brings in social values about who is valuable and who is not, who is worth protecting and who is not. Not all victims are equal.

2) "Don't talk to the police." In many criminal cases, the words of the defendant are the most powerful evidence that the state has in convicting them. Ironically, talking is optional, and the police even tell defendants that they don't need to, and it can be used against them.

Clear, compelling evidence? Equal treatment to all? Probably not in this system.


Knumb said...

I hope he does end up writing that book about this subject.

If I ever want to commit a crime, I'm moving to his jurisdiction first.

The book "Homocide," on which the series was very loosely based, covers point 2 very well. It's a fun read in many ways.

The gist of the book is that the Baltimore PD tries to get people to confess because it's their best (and usually only) hope of getting a conviction. Fingerprints aren't even that reliable, much less CSI the TV series level stuff.

The way they try to get the suspect to confess is to make them feel trapped, but the suspect can get out of trouble if only they admit to their involvement in some way, while justifying it. A simple example: "Did you kill him?" "No." "Weren't you just trying to defend yourself?" "Yes." "So, you did kill him?" "Err... yes, but he was trying to kill me!"

Ben said...

Man . . . you are going downhill fast. First, we are blowing up fruit. Now we are getting away with killing people. Paula, pray harder!!

Jay Livingston said...

Knumb is right -- the chapter on Miranda and confessions in Homicide is very good. As for the moral value of vicitms, it's written into law. The Supreme Court as given its blessing to allowing "victim impact" statements in sentencing. Some murder victims have lots of morally attractive people who can tell sympathetic stories about what a terrible loss this is. Other victims don't. If you're going to kill someone, choose the latter.

Brad Wright said...

Interesting Jay... I didn't realize that the victim was so prominent in sentencing.

Thanks for the concern Ben... maybe I won't blog today to catch my moral bearing!

John, I love that book Homicide. It makes clear why police want people to talk.

Ben said...

I'm not sure we want you to find your moral bearings? Why do you think we read your blog ;-).

You were missed yesterday.

Brad Wright said...

Thank you Ben, those are kind words. I'll immediately throw away this moral compass that I found.