Support the Troops — Acquit a Vet


The lead story in the Houston Chronicle this morning was this: Mayor White Mobilizes Aid for Texas Veterans. “One in 11 soldiers wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan,” begins the article, “is Texan.” (Texas and Washington have lots of servicepeople because they have no income tax.) Unless Texas soldiers are particularly injury-prone, this probably means that one in 11 soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan is Texan, one in 11 soldiers suffering from PTSD is Texan, and one in 11 soldiers suffering from traumatic brain injury (TBI) is Texan.

Practicing criminal defense law in Houston, I’ve represented many soldiers and Marines, both active and veterans. These folks, many of whom have suffered grievous visible and invisible injuries upholding their oath to defend the Constitution, are harshly treated by many in the criminal “justice” system. Some of the jurors who deal most harshly with our servicemen claim to “support the troops.” It has occurred to me that some who say they “support the troops” what they mean is that they “support the government,” and that this support for the government carries over to a jury trial, in which they are happy to go along with whatever draconian measures the government proposes.

“The troops” are not some vague concept that you can support by punching out the right hole on the ballot or listening to the right radio station. They are human beings who put their lives on the line for your safety and freedom. Here’s a suggestion: have some compassion for them.

Cops, if you pull a serviceman over after he’s had a few drinks between tours, think about giving him a ride home instead of to Central Intox. (In fairness to the cops, many of them are veterans, and if a serviceman is going to catch a break anywhere in the criminal justice system it’s before the DA accepts charges. There are a few prosecutors who are veterans, but life experience of any kind, including military service, is not in the typical prosecutorial career path.)

Prosecutors, if a soldier with two tours in Iraq behind him and one ahead is in a car with a couple of guys and some dope, ask yourself whether it makes sense to charge him (and make him hire counsel to fight the charges) or whether it makes more sense to conclude that he was an innocent bystander.

Judges, try to wrap your minds around the idea that TBI and PTSD can cause changes to the personality of an injured person so that he makes “choices” that he wouldn’t have made before his brain got bruised.

Jurors, if a Marine, trained at your expense and for your benefit and sent to Southeast Asia to kill, is caught carrying a gun where the law says he probably shouldn’t, consider stretching the law of self-defense to its limit to cut him some slack.

With TBI (the signature wound of the Iraq war) and PTSD becoming increasingly common and remaining poorly understood by lawyers, judges, and jurors, if we don’t have some compassion for servicemen caught up in the criminal “justice” system their future will be pretty bleak.

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0 responses to “Support the Troops — Acquit a Vet”

  1. Mark,

    Your comment hit very close to home. As I was one of those vets who was stopped, charged and pled to a concealed waepons charge when I returned from Desert Storm. I was a Marine and after coming home I fely “naked” not being armed. I wasnt a gang banger, stick up man or thief; I was just a shell shocked young vet who saw to muc at an early age. Fortunate for me I recieved probation, but applying to undergrad, lawschool and the bar was extremly difficult because of it.
    Now im working in the Pd’s office in MS and now and then we get a few National Guardsmen from Camp Shelby who have one too many drinks or get caught chasing the wrong skirt. I have been very successful with the convincing judges that a year in Iraq/Afganistan is worse than 3 years PRS.

  2. Mark,

    This is great blogging. You are an asset to the defense bar.

    I dismissed many cases so defendants could join the forces. I dismissed many cases of those who were in the forces.

    The courage and duty it take to fight for our country should be an affirmative defense to many of our criminal laws.

  3. Thank you both for the comments. This is something I feel very strongly about; I’m sure I’ll have more to say about it later.

  4. “There are a few prosecutors who are veterans, but life experience of any kind, including military service, is not in the typical prosecutorial career path.)” Why are so against prosecutors? Are they that bad in TX?

    “Prosecutors, if a soldier with two tours in Iraq behind him and one ahead is in a car with a couple of guys and some dope, ask yourself whether it makes sense to charge him” Probably shouldn’t charge anyone because it’s a tough constructive possession case and you can’t prove who the drugs belong to, not because a service man is in the car.

    Justice requires that every person charged with the same crime be treated the same way and have the same laws applied to them. I’m sure people will disagree with that b/c every case is diffenet in soemway. What I mena by it is yu shouldn’t do something for person A that you wouldn’t do for person B. That’s a quick way for people to lose faith n the criminal justice system.

  5. Anon,

    Thanks for the comments.

    Prosecutors are what they are. I call them like I see them. In Harris County the typical (though by no means universal) prosecutorial career path is: nice white high school, nice white college (fraternity/sorority), nice white law school, DA’s office. These privileged folks have had little opportunity to experience bad luck.

    I think getting one’s ass kicked by the universe a few times teaches compassion, humility, and empathy — three traits that (because of the typical prosecutor’s lack of real-world life experience) are in short supply in the prosecutors’ offices with which I have experience.

    You’re right that nobody should have been charged in the dope-in-the-car case. We see lots of those cases, though. The accused’s status as a serviceman on his way back to Iraq should have been just one more factor militating against charging him.

    Justice requires that people in the same circumstances be treated the same way. Military service is a circumstance that should be considered.

    I’m not worried about people losing faith in the criminal justice system. Anyone who has faith in the criminal “justice” system is either on the government teat or oblivious.

  6. “I’m not worried about people losing faith in the criminal justice system. Anyone who has faith in the criminal “justice” system is either on the government teat or oblivious.”

    Do you not accept or recgonize views alternative to your own? It’s yoru blog, so of course you can say what you want. Like my Dad always says “it’s America”

    Let’s say you have a violent offender who has robbed and seriously injured someone to the point they had to go to the hospital or someone who has violently raped another person. Extreme examples, but bear with me. In your world view what would you like to see happen? You have victims who want justice, retribution, what have you. Do we go back to the Old West and round up a Posse to go after the offender? Do we resort to vigilantism and let things work themselves out? We have laws going back to Moses on the Mount, that state how we should interact with one another. Assuming you think that laws are a good thing, should they not be enforced? Understand I’m not talking about drugs, DWI, etc. I’m talking about my examples.Those victims deserve a fourum and the right to be heard. They have an expectation that the person who wronged them will be held accountable. That doesn’t make them oblivious. Whether the jury finds them guilty or aquits, they’re still doing their duty, it’s still Justice.

  7. Anon,

    Thanks for the comment. Yes, it is my blog; I’m right and you’re wrong. But you’ll notice that I posted your “view alternative to my own” here.

    This discussion is getting a little far afield from the topic of veterans in the system. I may move your comment to a new post and respond there.

  8. There are many Veterans of the Viet Nam war in Texas prisons for crimes( mistakes) they made due to PTSD which has not been recognized until the Iraq war . I deal with some of these cases on a daily basis , my husband is one of those who had 2 tours in Viet Nam as Med evac helicopter pilot . The trauma of picking up the dead and wounded day after day has left him scarred and alcohol dependent and he made a mistake under the influence and was railroaded into prison w/o ever being diagnosed with PTSD or any other mental trauma. Many more Vets are in the same situation and no one feels any sympathy for them . Support the troops “after the fact” is not popular. I remember the day my husband returned from Viet Nam the second time and some one at the airport spit at him.
    Not feeling too patriotic,

    Wife of retired Army WO
    Helga Dill, Chair, TX CURE
    (Citizens United for Rehabilitation of Errants)

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