Wednesday, October 3, 2012

an innocent man

Today I walked into court with an innocent man who was facing life in prison for something he didn't do.  By the time we got there, we had an offer from the prosecutor--if he'd just plead to this two-year misdemeanor, he'd walk away with no jail time and maybe 18 months of probation.

What's a guy going to do?  Risk trial and face a possible life sentence?  Cop a plea to something that he didn't really do, but that keeps him out of prison and without the horrible stigma of the other conviction?  I know that most of you would like to believe that innocent people never get arrested, and even if they do, never plead to something they didn't do.  But that's just not true.  So many times, I'm standing by a client who's pleading guilty to something, and I wonder if this is the just result.  I wonder if it's the right thing.  I wonder if they really did what they're claiming they did.

Many, many people who are arrested for crimes are guilty of those crimes.  I'd venture to guess that more than 95% of them are.  And most of my clients who are actually guilty are prepared to plead to something.  So mostly my job is just to figure out how to mitigate the damages that they've already caused to their own lives.

But the innocent ones who maintain their innocence all the way through, they have to have a lot of faith in the system.  They have to trust that a jury of their peers would see through the inconsistent testimony of the complaining witnesses and the shoddy investigation and find him not guilty.  They have to trust their attorneys have their best interests at heart and have been working night and day to prepare for their day of reckoning in court.  And maybe they even have to believe that there is a God who cares about justice and who cares about them.

The only reason I can do this job is because I believe that God cares about justice.  And I believe that when I pray that God's kingdom would come and his will would be done on earth, in part I'm praying that his justice would reign even in the midst of this very unjust world.  I hate that my client had to anguish about this case for the last year while the case plodded its way through the court system.  I hate that he had to pay me and my co-counsel to represent him.  I hate that his life will never be the same again because of what he was accused of.

But my client's case was dismissed today, just before the jury would be called in for trial.  This small measure of justice--not full justice, and very late--but this small measure of justice is an imperfect, incomplete picture of the kind of justice we can look forward to in the fullness of time when Christ finally reigns.  I look forward to a day when there will not be suffering but peace, when no one is victimized and no one is falsely accused, and when there is no more brokenness but everyone is healed.

Until then, I will continue to follow Jesus to this place of opportunity to serve the poor and the oppressed by seeking the kind of justice we can find through our broken system.  And all the while, I'll continue to pray that God will bring his kingdom and his true justice right now to the pain and brokenness that I see every day.

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