I wanted to post something today, but what to blog about? There was a new CCA Opinion out yesterday featuring a dissent, (I LOVE a good dissent, and they are rare) but the entire case is 50+ pages, and I just didn't have the time to wade through it this morning.
Then, while mindlessly wasting time online, I came upon this perfect article, about why we need a voice for the criminally accused on the United States Supreme Court. As the article points out - it's a voice that is clearly missing and a presence that needs to be felt. Words cannot express how much I value the rights that we guarantee to the accused.
And, hello! The same thing is needed right here in Tennessee! The story reminded me of how I spent an hour of my time yesterday - which was reading a couple of pieces of proposed legislation here in Tennessee, and then sending an email to each member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, expressing why I disagreed with the legislation and encouraging them to vote "no." One piece of legislation, SB 1558, would create a loophole so that the sequestration rule would not apply to the State of Tennessee during criminal prosecutions. I can summarize my feelings on this very quickly:
1. It's not necessary, it's just adding another law,
2. the judicial system does not benefit in any way,
3. the point of sequestration is that witnesses testify based on his or her memory alone, without influence of other testimony, and this would destroy that fundamental principal, and
4. it's an unneeded advantage for prosecutors.
The other legislation would allow electronic, live-feed testimony to meet the requirements of the Tennessee Confrontation Clause, which has a stricter requirement of meeting face-to-face, than the requirement of the United States Constitution. (Plus, nearly identical legislation was already vetted by the AG's office in 2007, and they determined it would be unconstitutional. BOOM.) Since when should we allow state legislators to determine what does or does not jive with the Confrontation Clause? Civics 101: separation of powers means we have to leave it up to the judiciary, bro.
With less attorneys serving as members of the General Assembly, we have to work a little harder to educate our representatives about why legislation that might sound wonderful in theory can have really harmful effects on our treasured rights. If I were drafting insurance regulation laws, I would have to consult with someone in that area - I've never worked in insurance, so how could I be as knowledgeable as someone that made it a career for 30 years? In a state like Tennessee, where it feels like defendants are under fire from the legislature, we must each step up, take an hour of our time, and explain our side of the story. When I've done so, I've always received a thoughtful response, thanking me for my thoughts - I think, in part, because so few people attempt to contact legislators and respectfully explain the issues.
If you're a solo practitioner, like a lot of criminal defense attorneys (and hell, even if you're not), that means money out of our pockets and time away from clients. But ultimately, stepping up for our clients and for our own beliefs takes time, and not just the type that we can put into a billable hour. I challenge all of us to do one thing - one phone call, one email - to protect what values to us, and our clients, most - their rights.
P.S. -- Here's the link to the Vox story that is wonderful:
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