Martin Beeson: Guest Opinion
Special to The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Truth hurts. When it hurts too much, spin doctors kick into high gear, self-righteous indignation and outrage abound, ad hominem attacks become the strategy de jour, and the real issues are covered up. Such is the case with regard to the government defense attorneys and their allies. Let’s look at some hard truths that these folks don’t want you to know.
The truth is that the Aspen Daily News has, with slanted reporting, grossly misled its readership. It has led citizens of this district to believe that the government defense attorneys’ office handles the same number of cases district-wide that the Office of the District Attorney handles and that it does so on one-fifth the budget and with only four attorneys. Nothing could be further from the truth. They handle only a small fraction of the cases handled by your prosecutors.
The truth is that the Aspen Daily News, in its first report on this issue and in large, bold print that was set apart from the main story, misquoted my remarks by omitting the salient point. That is, that law enforcement – not government defense attorneys – defends you and me and our families. The courageous men and women, who, to the potential devastating detriment of themselves and their families – including their small children – put their lives on the line every time they walk out the door so that you and I and everyone else can enjoy life safely, are the true defenders of the public.
The truth is that these heroes make this sacrifice without hesitation even for those who routinely demean them in court, question their integrity as a matter of course, brandish them as liars, and then have the audacity to refer to themselves as your protectors.
The truth is that the Aspen Daily News report that “roughly two-thirds of criminal defendants qualify to be represented by the public defender” is false. Most criminal defendants at the county court (misdemeanor) level do not face the possibility of incarceration because my office does not seek it. Thus, under Colorado law, they do not qualify for government funded representation. Many, if not most, other defendants in both county court and district court either choose to represent themselves or are represented by private counsel.
The truth is that the report of the Aspen Daily News that “the elected DAs statewide … get a mandatory raise every year” is misleading and false in that it implies that this has always been the case and always will be the case. For years many DAs statewide were grossly underpaid and paid less than their counterparts in the government defense attorneys’ office. Beginning in 2009, the state Legislature implemented a gradual plan to raise the minimum salaries of DAs over a period of four years. It did so, at least in part, on the basis that the qualifications to be an elected DA are precisely the same as those required to be a judge and yet the minimum salary for judges far exceeded that for DAs. The “mandatory raise” was long overdue and ends in 2012.
The truth is that the vast majority of cases – well over 90 percent – involving criminal defendants end in conviction. The truth is that a “criminal” is defined in Black’s Law Dictionary as, among other things, “one who has committed a criminal offense.”
The truth is that the behaviors of criminal defendants put the rest of us in mortal danger, whether they involve domestic violence, drunk driving, sexual assault on a child, the rape of our young women, or the murder of our young fathers. It is the prosecutor who defends and protects these victims in court. It is the prosecutor who represents you, the people. It is the defense attorney who represents the interests of the perpetrator who has forever devastated the life of the victim.
The truth is that many of these victims, as well as their families, are re-victimized by defense attorneys before, during, and after trial. This is standard operating procedure all in the name of the criminal’s constitutional rights. The result includes jurors being left with impressions such as the rape victim is a “coke whore” who asked for it and sentencing judges being told that a murdered father wanted his head blown off and wanted to leave his small children fatherless.
The truth is that prosecutors and law enforcement officers live with the pain of victims of crime. Defense attorneys do not.
The truth is that when a reasonable offer to resolve a criminal case is made; when the defendant expresses his desire to step up to the plate, take responsibility for his crime, go to prison and do his time; and when his lawyers reject that offer and engage in 15 months of protracted and meritless litigation at tremendous taxpayer expense only to accept the same offer 15 months later, that is a colossal waste of taxpayer resources.
The truth is that defense attorneys – public and private – file stock motions with no thought whatsoever given to whether or not there is merit to the motions. The overwhelming majority of these motions are devoid of merit and are used for purposes other than those intended by the law. Defense attorneys should, at a minimum, be required to actually analyze the facts of the case and the applicable law and file only those motions that have constitutional merit. That is their job. That is what they get paid to do.
The truth is that these meritless motions clog courtrooms and unnecessarily use up tremendous resources at taxpayer expense.
The truth is that government defense attorneys should not solicit cases. Their clientele should be referred to them by judges after making the appropriate financial inquiries. The lawyers should not be participating in a defendant’s case in any fashion until a judge has appointed them as the lawful representative of that defendant.
The truth is that while most criminal defense attorneys in the private sector are honorable officers of the court, some are not. Twice your elected district attorney has been accused in court filings of committing crimes – one a felony, the other a misdemeanor. Both accusations had no basis in fact and were leveled simply for the purpose of trying to gain an advantage in the case. This type of behavior is unethical, plain and simple.
With regard to the misdemeanor, I was accused of committing a crime because I commissioned a criminal investigation after a judge brought to my attention behavior in his courtroom that he believed was criminal.
With regard to the felony accusation, it was I who requested the court to commission a special investigation of myself. My accuser opposed this request. Not only did this episode require the needless expenditure of taxpayer resources in the 9th Judicial District, it exacted the same of the 5th Judicial District as its elected district attorney and lead investigator were required to complete the investigation. The special investigator reported that when asked what evidence my accuser had to substantiate the allegation of suborning perjury, my accuser “admits that he does not have any reliable information that District Attorney Beeson instructed [the witness] to lie. He merely has a ‘theory.'” The report further stated that “it is very disturbing to the undersigned that [the accuser] would make such allegations against anyone, let alone a sitting District Attorney, without a shred of evidence.”
The truth is that unethical behavior and abuses of the system by defense attorneys – both public and private – abound. If one does not think this is the case, one is not dealing with reality. These abuses of the system are the real issues in this debate. The presumption of innocence and the right to counsel are simply smoke screens thrown up by those who have a vested and pecuniary interest in protecting their dirty little secret. Thus far, no one has demonstrated the courage to step up and address the abuses in any meaningful way. While the rantings of defense attorneys and their spewing of platitudes make fodder for the Aspen Daily News, they do not constitute meaningful dialogue in addressing and resolving these issues.
The truth is that I have never disavowed the presumption of innocence. In fact, my attorneys and I apply it every day to every case that comes into the office. I apply it on a daily basis perhaps more than most private attorneys deal with it in a lifetime. However, the presumption of innocence does not grant license to abuse the constitution and the criminal justice system in the name of “zealous representation.”
The truth is that you, the taxpaying citizens of this district, have common sense even if the lawyers don’t. You see the real issue of unchecked abuse of the criminal justice system, abuse that is justified and legitimized by distorted views of what the framers of the constitution intended. You see the vitriol employed by those who hold these distorted views against anyone who exposes their dirty little secret. You see through the pathetic, thinly veiled threats of those with political ambitions who use this debate as a launching point for a political campaign. And you recognize that for what it is, the fox’s attempt to gain entry into the henhouse.
The truth is that, notwithstanding the ignorant clamoring for apologies and resignations, the only apologies needed are from those defense attorneys who routinely re-victimize the good and decent people of our communities who have suffered devastating and life-altering experiences at the hands of their clients. When that happens, and when defense attorneys rein in and correct their abuses of the criminal justice system, then I will be the first to step up to the plate and thank them for making this profession respected once again by you, the common sense folks of our communities.
Finally, the truth is that in the end you, the citizens of this district, will decide for yourselves what is waste and abuse and what is not. You will decide for yourselves what appropriate conduct is for an officer of the court and what is not. You will decide for yourselves who is on your side and who is not. I do not fear those decisions.
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