Monday, November 5, 2012

Why I'm in law school


There is an easy answer to this and a much more complex answer.

Easy answer:  It's Monday night and I'm not supposed to be skipping class.  For the record, class won't start for a while yet, so I'm not ignoring my responsible-student duties by blogging.  :)

More complex answer:  I'm here because of my students.  I actually spoke about this in one of my classes today.  In the past six years, I have seen countless students railroaded by the school district and the Nevada legal system.  I'm not blaming any one person in particular.  It isn't anyone's fault; it is, rather, a culture without forgiveness and without second chances.  Parents and students go blindly, assuming that the schools know best and will do what is fair.  For the record, they won't.  The school will do what it wants to do.

So, you may ask, what does all of this have to do with sitting in law classes?  More than you'd think.  I've seen too many students with poor representation in legal hearings.  The next thing you know, they're wearing khaki pants and going to school at Biltmore.  Or you're forever barred from college financial aid.  Or worse, you're sitting in a courtroom looking at 25 years in prison because you went on a Slurpee run.

That brings us to today's story... the danger of Slurpees.

Three years ago, I had a student named Bobby (he's probably 21 now, I can use his name).  Bobby was a decent kid.  He was smart, funny, social and likable.  That put him in a small group at Biltmore.  Most students are not all of those things.  I knew he was on probation; he had an ankle bracelet and had to have court documents signed on a regular basis.  I assumed he'd had a couple of drug charges or maybe had gotten into a fight which led to legal charges - those were the typical paths to Biltmore.

A few months later, he asked me to write a letter of recommendation.  I asked him why, assuming it was for a job & was thinking about what I should say - it was for a court sentencing hearing - he was begging of leniency because he was looking at 10-25 years in prison.

About six months prior, Bobby was hanging out with some friends & they were going out to do whatever it is they did.  Bobby was in the back seat of the car while his two friends were in the front.  The driver said he was going to stop at 7-11 for a Slurpee and asked Bobby if he wanted one.  Rather than go in, Bobby decided to stay in the car and text his girlfriend.  Little did Bobby know that his friends wanted more than a Slurpee.  While he was texting sweet nothings to his girlfriend, they robbed the 7-11 clerk at gunpoint.  They then came back to the car and drove away.

They were arrested less than 5 minutes later - all three of them.  The two friends were over 18 and had committed armed robbery.  Adults, felony, no question.  Bobby was 16 and his friends admitted that he had no part in the robbery - according to Nevada law, it didn't matter.  He was still committing a felony.  Because he'd had a previous brush with the law - a minor possession charge, I believe, he was certified as an adult and charged as such.

He was given a PD who didn't fight particularly hard; to his credit, he probably couldn't have won.  The law is rigid and the evidence against him was pretty solid.  His best chance was getting charged as a juvenile - but he'd lost that fight before it began.  In the end, there was NO WAY he could win.  The deck was stacked against him.  Bobby was going to prison, probably for a long time.

That is exactly what happened.  As far as I know, he was sentenced to 10 years.  I heard a rumor that he was appealing, but I haven't heard anything more.  I spent so much time thinking about how unfair the circumstances were, about how this kid's life was ruined forever, about how a good kid was in prison for nothing more than being in the backseat of a car.  How many of us could have been in the same position?

And THAT injustice is why I'm in law school....

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