In the greater Atlanta metro, I have not encountered significant corruption in law enforcement. Sometimes overzealousness, sometimes apathy, but not corruption. Cops are trained to do a job, like attorneys, and they don’t like other cops who make their jobs harder. We show respect – the best cross-examination lets jurors draw their own conclusions.
In a bigger picture, criminal due process in America figures among our most precious values. Individual cases can be frustrating – why did this person want a trial? - but have their day in court anyone shall. It is at the bedrock of our Constitution, fundamental, ugly perhaps, but vital to the social trust. The unglamorous daily struggle of prosecution and defense represents what we believe as a nation.
This is especially true now that COVID-19 has affected our courts. Our counties have wrestled mightily with the ebb and flow of this virus, at times needing to postpone trials. It’s been a supreme test of our system to weigh the right to speedy and public trial against a public health hazard, and our judges have agonized over it. You can really see the spirit of the law itself in distress.
All I can say is, please consider getting a vaccine if you haven’t already, and try to be patient, as I have not always been with my clients.
No, I haven’t always been patient. Sometimes, on a Zoom plea, the jail has to look for someone in quarantine, meaning an officer has to bring a laptop to a remote holding area. The video connections don’t always work. When a needy client asks for one more explanation of something we’ve gone over a dozen times, it gets tense. But we try and try again.
With the case backlog and the recent uptick in crime, to which I can attest, it would be easy to resort to street justice or additional government subsidies to remedy things. These things are already happening, and they don’t work in the long run. The criminal justice system creaks but still works, and it is changing – as all things must to continue being effective.
Lord knows I’ve stood alone before, as I often do with my clients in court. Sometimes friends and family of my defendants say I’m the only one who’s ever tried to help that person. I doubt that, but it can seem that way – society rejects those who harm others, especially over and over. However, I’m proud to do this job because, in spite of the facts, in spite of the law, it is a vital function. I enjoy my colleagues and I like the counties where I practice – in a sense, it restores my faith, in spite of everything I see and read.
And maybe, just maybe, I get a kick out of representing the underdog.
Douglas D. Ford is a commercial litigation and criminal defense attorney in metro Atlanta.