Thursday, September 15, 2016

I'm still hanging on

I'm still here. Still hanging on. It's not easy. Every day feels like a mountain to climb. But I'm still climbing. I don't really know why on some days but I do it.

I am still stuck in the sticks, which is soul crushing. But I do get to go to DNA training, which I've been wanting to do for awhile but didn't think I'd get the chance. Only a few of us get to do it & then we are supposed to help with others' cases involving DNA. So my boss wasn't sure if he wanted to burn a spot on me, knowing I don't want to stay in the area. I didn't expect that he would, although I really wanted to go. So it was a big surprise that he picked me as one of the people to go. It's pretty cool. I'm really excited about it. It's like one of the few silver linings I've got going for me lately.

I'm leaving for vacation tmrw, a road trip with my mom. Should be pretty good. Going to a couple national parks. It will be nice to get away for awhile. Maybe a change of venue for a bit will help brighten my mood, at least temporarily.

Thank you to all of you who have reached out in the comments to tell me you're thinking of me & sending good thoughts my way. It really means a lot. It helps me to feel less down. You all are the best. Thank you more than I can say.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The Right to Bear Arms, Part 1

I feel like discussing something other than my depression-induced misery, so in a change of pace, today's post is about gun control. Obviously, the recent tragedy in Orlando has brought this to the forefront of the national conversation again. Sadly, "again" has to be added to that sentence because these types of horrific incidents are all too common. Mass shootings in public locations have become par for the course. Go to a political event, run the risk of being shot & killed. Go to a movie, run the risk of being shot & killed. Go to college, run the risk of being shot & killed. Go to a nightclub, run the risk of being shot & killed. Go to the mall, run the risk of being shot & killed. Go to a place of worship, run the risk of being shot & killed. Even going to elementary school now comes with the risk of being shot & killed. Every public location seems to be fair game for people intent on shooting & killing others.

So the rallying cries of "citizens do not need assault rifles! Stricter gun laws needed!" sound from the left & "what we need is more people with more guns to shoot back! No more gun laws are needed!" sound from the right. It's an endless stream of the same things we've heard after every single one of these incidents. And ultimately, nothing ever changes because each side is beholden to the party line.

But something must change, unless we are willing to accept a routine mass shooting as payment for living in America.  The problem cannot be solved, however, until both sides are working with a correct understanding of what the 2nd Amendment is about. So let's start there.

The 2nd Amendment is not about hunting. It's not about protecting your home from an intruder. It's about protecting the citizens of the country from the government. Anytime you consider anything in the Constitution, it is important to remember that it was written by people who had lived under a government that they felt was unduly oppressive. It was written by people who had seen the lengths that oppressive government would go to in order to maintain its control & power over the citizenry. It was written by people who had seen the necessity to physically fight back in war against that oppressive government. It was written by people who feared a repetition of history by allowing the same conditions to develop again & allowing another oppressive regime to take power of the newly formed country. It was written by people who feared the government & who wanted to ensure that the citizens were protected from the government. That context is crucial in understanding any part of the Bill of Rights. It's why criminal defendants have so many rights, like a speedy trial, prohibition against cruel & unusual punishment, to confront their accusers, etc. Because historically criminal defendants were railroaded by the oppressive government & the Founding Fathers wanted to ensure that couldn't happen in this newly formed country. It's why the federal government cannot quarter soldiers in your home. It's why police are required to get a warrant to search & why that warrant must specifically state what the police are looking for & where it is likely to be located. Fear of government drove the creation of the Bill of Rights. And that includes the 2nd Amendment.

The right to bear arms also mentions the need for a well-regulated militia. A militia isn't a hunting group. It isn't a home security system. It's a line of defense in case of war, almost always against one's own government. The right to bear arms means the right to physically fight back, if necessary, against the government. And that means that yes, citizens do need access to assault-style weapons. Because IF an armed conflict against the government were ever necessary, then the citizens need to be armed with the necessary weapons to fight back. If the government gets AK-47s & the government also says that the citizens can only have access to a 6-shooter, then the theoretical armed conflict is controlled by the government & the citizens have no chance at winning & an oppressive government gets to maintain its power w/o any way for the citizens to resist. The weapons need to be matched, the playing field needs to be level.

Is it a likely scenario that we'll ever come to an armed conflict against the government, a la the Revolutionary War? No. It's not. But that doesn't change the fact that the 2nd Amendment was written with that scenario in mind. It doesn't change the fact that the right to bear arms means the right to bear arms against an oppressive government as a last resort. The Founders attempted to achieve their goals in a peaceful manner through the proper channels in the government. When that failed, they declared independence from Britain. And when Britain came to keep the states from seceding by force, the citizens fought back. Sure, it was considered treason at the time. But they won, so it wasn't treason under the newly formed country. The fact that it's an unlikely scenario, that it's a last resort, doesn't change the reasoning for the 2nd Amendment. It is not meant for hunters. It's not meant for personal protection of your home against a burglar. It's meant to allow citizens to have access to weapons that would be needed in the event of an armed conflict against the government, should it ever come to that again.

To prohibit the citizens from having access to assault-style weapons is to permit the government to maintain its power & control over citizens. When the people in power are benevolent, there's no concern from the citizens about letting them have unchecked power. But when the power is unchecked, a benevolent leader can become, or be replaced by, a tyrannical one. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. So, should regular citizens have access to assault-style weapons & weapons used in war? Yes. Otherwise we stand no chance against a tyrannical leader using force against us to maintain control.

But do we need gun control laws? Yes. And that will be the discussion for the next post on this topic.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Barely functioning

I want to say thank you to everyone who has reached out since my last post. It may not seem like much to send a comment, but it means a lot to me, especially right now when I'm struggling so much to keep my head up. Hearing from you all, people who I don't know & almost surely will never meet, helps me to feel less like giving up. I cannot express how grateful I am for all your support.

I am trying to keep hanging in there. It's hard. It feels like a 10,000 pound weight on my chest most days. I want to curl up on my couch & cuddle Ward & Hubert & sleep & shut the world out. That's the easiest path, the path of least resistance. Getting up in the morning, getting dressed, going to work, being in court, counseling clients, working out, making dinner, running errands, cleaning the house...it all seems overwhelming most days. It seems impossible on some days. As if I've been asked to fly to the moon. It's easier to just give in & curl up & sleep.

Work has agreed to give me a 2 week reprieve on case assignments to help me feel less overwhelmed by everything. I don't think that a complete leave of absence would do me any good, since I'd just end up bawling on the couch all day & that would make me feel worse. But a slow-down would help. That way I still have a reason to get up in the morning but I don't have so much on my plate. I hope it helps me feel less like I'm in a sinking hole.

I have an appt w/ my doctor to review my meds & see if there's something better that I can be on to help with my symptoms. And I still see my therapist on a weekly basis. I'm doing what I can to try to stay afloat. But every day just feels like an insurmountable obstacle. It feels like nothing will get better & I will just spend my entire life pushing a boulder up a mountain. I try to tell myself it's just the depression talking, that it isn't true, that nothing can be bad forever. But logic goes out the window when depression is involved so it doesn't make me feel better to tell myself those things.

All I can do right now is go to work & then go home to sleep. I can't do anything more than hang on by my fingernails.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

My absence

I've been gone for awhile without meaning to be. I've been grappling with some incredibly intense depression the last few months & trying to keep my head above water. I didn't get the federal PD job & things have not been going well lately. I've been struggling to put on a happy face & pretend I can make it through, but the truth is, I don't think I have it in me anymore.

The divorce almost broke me. That was a sudden, deep blow that almost snapped me in two. Lately, it's not a sudden blow. It's an accumulation of years of struggling & pain & hurt & disappointment. It's the weight of a thousand little hurts that are crushing me. It's my resolve to keep going, slowly fading away. Like an injured warrior, losing blood from wounds, trying to keep fighting, but eventually her body gives out & she can't go on anymore. That's how this feels.

The divorce was just the most serious of the wounds. Maybe if it was just that one, I could survive. But the emotional trauma started well before the divorce. I was damaged long before then. The divorce was just the deepest hurt.

So I have been gone, struggling just to keep going. I don't have anything left anymore. Every last ounce of strength I had is gone now. My reserves are used up. I have nothing left.

I don't have it in me to care anymore. I don't have it in me to keep trying & hoping for happiness. I won't find happiness. This is my lot in life. If I accept it, instead of hoping things will change, then I can't be disappointed when those hopes are destroyed.

That's why I've been gone. The last of my strength was going towards trying to hang on, trying to overcome the depression. And now, it's just swallowed me whole. And I'm not able to fight it anymore.

I am a shell of a person now. The world has sucked me dry and plucked out every good thing in me. I am now hollow & going through the motions of life.

Friday, March 18, 2016

It's #PublicDefenseDay!

Today is important but most people don't realize it. That's because today is the day that, 53 years ago, the US Supreme Court held that a person accused of a crime who could not afford an attorney must be provided an attorney. The case, Gideon v. Wainwright, was a landmark ruling.  Prior to that case, a person who could not afford an attorney was basically S.O.L.  They had to represent themselves against the full force of the government's power.  It was a modern-day David versus Goliath.  

Clarence Gideon's tale is not only notable for its creation of the right to court-appointed counsel, but also because the underlying criminal case demonstrated so perfectly why it was unfair to make a person proceed without counsel when they wanted one.  Gideon was charged in Florida w/ breaking and entering with intent to commit larceny, after a local pool hall was broken into, vandalized, and burglarized my an unknown person.  A witness said he'd seen Gideon leaving the pool hall that night with money and wine in his pockets.  That was enough to get Gideon arrested and charged with the crime. 

Gideon appeared in court and requested an attorney to help him defend against the charges. At that time, only people who were charged with capital (read: death penalty) cases were able to have the court provide them with an attorney. When Gideon requested an attorney, the Florida court told him, in a nutshell, "No attorney for you!" (Imagine the Soup Nazi voice).  To which Gideon gave the most perfect, beautiful, and succinct response: " The United States Supreme Court says I am entitled to be represented by counsel."  Sometimes the simplest answer is the best. 

However, Florida, being all Florida about it, still wouldn't give Gideon a lawyer. So, he had to represent himself at trial. And he did. He didn't plead out or plead no contest. He took that em-effer to trial and maintained his innocence the entire time. However, he was going up against a trained prosecutor, who had the full force of the government, police, etc. on his side and who had (presumably) gone to law school and had experience in trying cases.  Unsurprisingly, being outmatched, Gideon was convicted. He was sentenced to 5 years in prison. 

But our hero Gideon refused to give up. Instead, he took it upon himself to write a petition to the United States Supreme Court, arguing he had been denied due process of law by being forced to go to trial without the aid of an attorney, in violation of his Sixth Amendment right to counsel, as applied to the States by the Fourteenth Amendment.  He wrote the whole thing in PENCIL. By HAND. From PRISON. 


He toiled away at the prison library to be able to get this thing together.  It's actually fairly well written, despite some errors in grammar, syntax, etc. He did a damn good job. You can read the whole thing here. And you should--it's not that long and it's worth seeing how this one man's handwritten, penciled petition changed the entire legal landscape. 

And the US Supreme Court decided to hear his case. The Court gets hundreds of petitions a year and they get to choose which ones they want to hear.  There's only a small number of cases they are obligated to hear. Most of the cases that the Court hears are because the Court has determined it wants to hear them. And of all the cases that request a chance to be heard, the Court hears roughly 80 a year.  So, Gideon's chances of having his case heard by the Supremes was not high. Somehow, he hit the jackpot and got his case in front of the Court. 

Interestingly enough, almost as if they were tipping their hand a bit, the Supremes appointed an attorney to represent Gideon at the Supreme Court.  That attorney was Abe Fortas.  Fortas later went on to become a Supreme Court justice himself. 

On March 18, 1953, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Gideon's favor.  The Court held that the State of Florida had violated Gideon's rights by refusing to appoint him counsel and remanded his case back to the Florida court for further action in line with the Court's new ruling.  The Court's decision impacted every criminal defendant in the United States, not just Gideon.  The Court had said that assistance of counsel by a person who wanted it but could not afford it was a fundamental right under the US Constitution and that providing attorneys to indigent defendants was essential for a fair trial and due process of law.  That meant no one accused of a crime who couldn't afford a lawyer could be forced to defend him or herself without the help of an attorney. 

TADA! Creation of the "public defender." 

So, back to our story...Gideon's case was returned to Florida and since he was deprived of a fair trial the first time around, he was given a new trial.  This time, with an attorney to represent him. And you know what happened??? 

Ready??

Want to know????

Gideon was found...


NOT GUILTY!  Of the very same charges he was previously convicted of and sent to prison for 5 years! Because his attorney--his court-appointed attorney--was able to discredit the only witness during cross-examination and destroy the State's case. And the jury took only one hour to acquit Gideon. 

Five years in prison to a complete acquittal.  Same charges, same case, same witness.  The difference? An attorney. 

Gideon's case illustrates the reason why the Supremes ruled the way they did.  Because it's fundamentally unfair to make a person have to defend themselves in court without help against a criminal charge against a trained, experienced prosecutor.  And if the playing field isn't fair, then the results get skewed. As in Gideon's case. He was unable to effectively defend himself, but once he had help, he was acquitted and walked out of prison. 

It's a great story. It changed the entire criminal justice system, for the better. And, the original case shows why legal counsel is so necessary. No one would perform their own surgery--why make someone perform their own legal defense?  Both are technical, complicated worlds that don't often make sense to outsiders and that have a language all of their own. And both have serious consequences if done poorly or incorrectly. 

So, Gideon's case left a lasting legacy for all criminal defendants. The full force of the law and the faceless government could no longer overrun the little guy. Now, the little guy got to have their own fighter to get in the ring and throw some punches. 

Are the sides perfectly, evenly matched? Of course not. The financial disparity between the two sides is stark in many places. But, even if it's not a perfectly level playing field, it's better than it was. And those of us who are here, in the ring, throwing punches against the giant Goliath that is the government are doing it because we want to, because we love the fight, because we love the thrill of victory against the enormity of the State, because we like helping the underdog, because we care. 

Society as a whole doesn't particularly like us. We represent "criminals" and "bad guys." We get people off on "technicalities" (also known as "your constitutional rights"). We stand beside the loathsome, the unwanted, the overlooked, the reviled, and we fight for them. Society doesn't understand how we can sleep at night, defending people like those in Gitmo or people accused of child rape or murder or any number of terrible crimes. They don't get it because they don't understand it's not just about this one client, this one case, or this one charge. It's about more. It's about upholding the idea that we live in a country that values fairness and justice.  That we would rather have it done right.  That we uphold and protect the things our ancestors fought and died for, that the Constitution was created for. 

I am proud to be part of a group of people who defend those that society reviles.  I am in good company. John Adams defended the British soldiers in the Boston Massacre and Abraham Lincoln defended many people charged with murder*.  If I get to be in the same ranks as those people, I am proud.  

I am proud to be a part of Gideon's legacy. I am proud to stand by my clients and step into the ring to throw some punches. I am proud when I get a TKO on Goliath.



*You can read more about how public defense is awesome in this editorial over at Slate.com. 

Friday, February 26, 2016

Time to make some changes

I've decided I need to move. I have lived in rural town for almost 3 yrs & it has not been a good move for my mental health/depression issues. So it's time to do something to make myself happier. And that means moving back to a location closer to my friends & family.

The commute will suck, since it will double my drive time. But I think it will be worth it to have my social life back again. It will be worth it to not feel so isolated & alone.

When I moved to my current location, I had a car payment that ate up a big chunk of money. I paid my car off last year, so I don't have that expense anymore & that means I can afford more for rent. So that frees me to move.

I found a place I'm interested in. There aren't any open units right now, but it sounds like there will be in the future. And that will give me time to pack, etc.

Having a plan to move makes me feel less trapped by my life. It makes me feel like there's a light at the end of the tunnel. And eventually I.hope to get a job near the metro, too. But until then, I can at least live somewhere that makes me happy.

Also I finished my couch! Here's the final result:

Monday, February 15, 2016

The biggest project I've ever done!

So I have had my couch for about 10 yrs & it looks like it. The cats have torn the sides & arms up, so the foam is coming out. I want a new couch, but I don't have the money & I don't want the cats to rip up a new one. So, I decided I should just re-upholster the couch. I've never re-upholstered a single thing in my whole life, so of course why not start with a super big piece of furniture & the only piece in my living room?? Sounds reasonable!!

To the internet I went, in order to find out what it takes to redo a couch. New fabric. Some stuffing to redo the spots that the cats have torn out. Thread. Ability to sew. Staple gun. Really the only thing I didn't have was a staple gun.

But whoa, the amount of fabric needed for the project was huge & upholstery fabric isn't cheap. I could just buy a new couch for the cost of the fabric. After a little more internet searching, I found out that canvas painter's drop cloths are a cheap way to get a lot of fabric! Who knew?? Canvas isn't the softest but for a couch I figured it would be fine.

However, the canvas comes in beige & I'd decided I wanted a robin's egg blue couch. Which meant I needed to dye the drop cloths. This is not a small task. I used 12 bottles of Rit dye & 3 packages of powdered dye. I had to go to 4 different stores to get enough dye. Then I had to dye all the fabric in my bathtub since I needed a container big enough to hold 36 gallons of water. And then I had to make sure the fabric was constantly in motion, so it didn't get streaks or dye unevenly. It was a weird night, me with a big ass wooden dowel, standing over a bathtub full of water that is so dark it's almost black, stirring away for like 45 minutes. But, it was worth it! The color came out exactly the way I wanted it to & looked great!

I next tore off the fabric from the couch cushions & seats & used the old fabric as the pattern for the new fabric. I took the brown piping from the old fabric & recycled it on the new fabric bc I thought the blue & brown would go great together. So I did the cushions & the seats.

I don't want the cats to tear up the new fabric, so I did some additional research & found out that they sell vinyl sheeting that you can attach to your couch so the cats can't scratch the fabric. Good idea, except it looks really obvious that you have plastic on your couch. I love my cats, but I'm not ready to clearly announce that I'm a crazy cat lady to everyone that comes into my apt. I mean, I'd like to date someone again, so... I had to come up with an idea.

Which became taking the vinyl sheeting, sewing it to a contrasting piece of fabric on the back, & then spraying the front with a clear coat that takes away some of the shine. Those pieces then get attached w/ brass furniture tacks like you see in fancy leather furniture. That way, the vinyl sheeting looks more like it actually belongs on the couch, rather than something I added on.

I'm almost done with the couch. But I need a staple gun to complete the project. And I don't want to spend money to buy one so I can use it for one project.  So, I asked Guy if I could borrow one from him. (Yes, Guy & I still talk. Story for another day.) I just wanted to borrow the gun, so I offered to pick it up & bring it back if he could loan me one. He asked why I needed one, I told him my plan, & he offered to come help me. I told him he didn't have to, but he said he wanted to & he'd bring 2 staple guns so we could get it done really quick. So next Saturday, he's coming over to help me finish it up.

I've got the cushions & seats done & the vinyl pieces are ready to be attached once it's time. I'm super excited about the way it's looking so far & really excited about how it will look when it's all done. It's going to look so awesome! And so much more affordable than buying a new couch.

Pictures of the project so far are included. I'll post a picture of the final project when it's all done!

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Scalia was a strange character

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died yesterday. He's been an outspoken force on the Court for as long as I've been interested in the law (late high school/early college) and most everyone who is somehow in the legal world has an opinion of him. Many people not in the legal world do, too.

Scalia was an interesting character in the Court. Oftentimes, I found myself frustrated & disgusted with things he said or wrote. He was a phenomenal writer, even when I wanted to scream bc I disagreed with him so strongly. But I was often at odds with his position on issues & I never counted him among my favorite justices (yes, I have favorites...RBG, I'm looking at you). His social views were appalling to me & I found much of his opinions lacking in any sense of empathy or feeling.

That being said, I cannot deny that some of the most important decisions in the realm of criminal law have been from Scalia. Before Scalia, the Confrontation Clause was essentially meaningless. The Confrontation Clause is the part of the Constitution that says if you're accused of a crime, you have the right to face your accusers in court & make them answer questions. In the past, it was permissible for hearsay statements to come in as evidence against a defendant if the judge determined the statements were reliable. No live testimony needed, just a submission of the statements. Scalia wrote the Crawford decision, which ended that practice. If someone is accusing you, you have the right to make them do so under oath & subject to cross-exam. The importance of Crawford can't be overstated. It changed the way trials & courts operated in a major way.

Scalia is also the reason that an actual scientist/lab person now has to come into court & testify about their results, rather than just submitting a report & calling it good.

Scalia was also a staunch supporter of the 4th Amendment & had a hearty distrust of the State as an actor bc the Founders had that same distrust. He often reminded the judiciary that judges are part of the State & that's why a jury is so important, bc they are NOT agents of the government. He wrote a brilliant dissent in Maryland v. King about the collection of DNA samples from people arrested for crimes but not convicted, in which he skewered the majority for trusting that the government would keep its word & limit the use of such DNA.

Scalia was a justice that I often felt was lacking in compassion & mercy, that was too hard-lined for my taste, and whose social views I absolutely hated. But I cannot completely vilify the man bc he also was a champion of the 4th Amendment & the Confrontation Clause, which are extremely significant legal areas.

I hope that whoever replaces him upholds the good things Scalia brought to the Court while also doing better in areas that Scalia was lacking.