The “Other Victims” In Criminal Cases
The System Reaks Havoc
At the law firm , I often compare criminal cases to cancer. Not only do criminal charges threaten the freedom of the client, but they have severe collateral consequences, including financial and economic stress, to the criminal accused and family. But the cancer analogy eventually breaks down because unlike cancer, it is the prosecutors and the courts, that impose this cancer. Punishment may be justified fir serious crimes, but there is no need for a court or prosecutor to harm innocent family members of the defendant.
In 1998, I argued the death penalty case of People v. Lester Ochoa before the California Supreme Court. The unanimous court decided that in considering whether to impose the death penalty, the jury could generally not consider what effect the death penalty would have on the defendant's family. In other words, while juries can hear much evidence about the effect the death of the victim had on his family, watch videos of the funeral, see snaphsots of the live victim with his family, the jury must completely disregard the devastating effect that a death verdict would have on a defendant's wife or children inlcuding possibly irreparably damaging young children. What a warped and unfair view of crime! The member's of a criminally accused's family often suffer as much if not more than the families of the “victims.”
Tragically. I see judges and prosecutors intentionally harm the family of the defendant. In a recent drug case in which the defendant's wife had no knowledge that the defendant was traveling to Mexico and no way to know that he would have drugs in his car, the judge imposed a fine of $15,000 dollars and ordered the family to pay back the fees of a public defender in a similar amount. Because the judge had already sent the defendant to jail for more than fifteeen years, the was essentially imposing a fine against the wife and the children. The court's decision for the wife to sell the family home, liquidate retirement assets that were now more necessary than ever considering the defendant's long-term incarceration, and jeopardized the college studies of the children. All the prosecution and the court could say was, “Well the defendant should have thought of that before he committed the crime.”
It is too bad that many of our judges and prosecutors have never been criminal defense attorneys. I think that many times thae judges and prosecutors are not mindfulare merely dispassionate or academic and that they have no idea of the whirlwind of destruction that they are creating for innocent family members–yes victims. In many of the criminal cases I handle, the accused and the spouse divorce, familiesd disintegrate, and in the above drug case family member's immune systems suffer under the stress and they become seriously ill.
The mandatory minimum sentences in drug cases, especially in the criminal federal court, play a big role in creating this stress. For bringing one package of drugs into the United States from Mexico, an acccused is facing a mandatory minimum sentences without parole of usually ten years. (See blog on mandatory minimum sentences in federal drug cases.) And too often than not, the person who goes to jail is a “blind mule”, a person who did not even know there were drugs in the vehicle. (See website on blind mule cases.)
At the Law Office of Russell Babcock, we get the big picture. We understand that you, the family members and friends of the accused, are meeting us at probably the most difficult period of your life. We are more than San Diego criminal attorneys; we are your guides to getting through this unfair situation and helping you re-build your lives.
Too often judges, prosecutors, and sadly, even some criminal defense attorneys, forget about the “other victims” –you and your family members. While of course our primary duty is always to our client, we will work closely with you, of course with the client's permission, to keep you apprized of all important developments in the case, educate you about the criminal process, and try to make the legal fees you pay afforadable and very worth-while.
We are your medical insurance policy when criminal cancer strikes your family.