171004, Wednesday

I must speak of the federal wheel.

The “wheel” is a roster of local attorneys who have agreed to take criminal cases in federal court that for some reason (usually because they’re already representing a co-defendant), the local federal defender’s office can’t take.

The wheel is a nightmare. Or at least it used to be. These days, as Murakami said, I’m trying to be positive about things.

I’ve decided to get back on the wheel because I’ve come to see it as a way to finally be free of it, and indeed to be free of the entire practice of law forever.

You see, I’m in private practice now, which is to say that I’m not just in the practice of law, I’m also in the business of law and the business side of things, the schmoozing, the drumming up of clients, the “networking” is something that I hate.

And that’s one of the benefits of the wheel; the cases just come to me. A person gets arrested and the court appoints me and there are no prior dinners or cocktail parties involved. Which means that, if I can overlook the injustice of it all, the wheel works for me because I can financially survive and be an introvert at the same time.

And it does involve a lot of driving and out here in Far West Texas, which is beautiful, zenful place to move through. It’s a kind of meditation. I’d rather be driving to campsites than courthouses and jails of course, but at least I’m driving “through good country,” as my friend Kirk once put it, which matters. Certainly it’s easier than it was when I was in Northern Illinois when I had to drive by David’s Bridal and the Kohler store (“All I want for Christmas is a toylet.”) every day.

But why is the federal court system unjust, you ask?

Well, it’s because the American justice system is an environment in which police lie, prosecutors abuse their discretion, and judges sanction it all.

I’ll give you a brief example.

In the federal system, the punishment in a drug case is determined by the weight of the drugs. The more drugs, the worse the punishment. Also, deliverers are punished more harshly than mere possessors.

Although I think that all drugs should be legal, I can see the arguments against that. And, if we are going to criminalize drugs, the scheme outlined above seems reasonable.

But, a typical case out here in Far West Texas is this: six guys walking through the desert together with bundles of marijuana strapped to their backs.

If you were to ask me, I would say that the only fair thing to do in these cases would be to charge each of these guys with possession of whatever was strapped to their backs.

That’s not how they do it.

Instead, they apply the law of “accountability,” which says that you’re responsible for whatever you helped someone else do. If you walked in a group, that means you lent at least moral support to the group, so you’re responsible for the drugs on your back and the drugs on everyone else’s back. Oh, and you’re a deliverer too, since yours is a critical role in the delivery chain.

So, instead of possession of, say, 20 kilos of marijuana, each member of the six gets charged with delivery of 120 kilos, carrying a mandatory minimum of five years in prison.

Now, there are a couple of ways around that and those ways are snitching (if you’re the defendant), and begging (if you’re the defendant’s lawyer). In other words, the road to justice, which never actually seems to be reached in federal court, is paved with peril and indignity. But that’s how it is.

And that’s why I say injustice.

But I’m trying to move past it.


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