When I recently attended the Trial Lawyer’s College, I had the opportunity to meet and get to know a number of great criminal defense lawyers from across the country. I got to know criminal defense lawyers from California, Georgia, Ohio, Nebraska, and Indiana, among other places. With the exception of a Marine Corp JAG officer who represents detainees at Guantanamo Bay and lives in northern Virginia, I was the only DC area criminal defense lawyer at the College. The trip shattered a number of assumptions that I had brought with me.
I had always viewed the DC as a progressive and enlightened jurisdiction—especially compared to “tough on crime” southern states. I recognized DC had its problems but thought they were trivial compared to states like Florida and my home state of Texas. We have local judges appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate—not elected and subject to the whims of popular opinion. We have a strong defense bar even for people who cannot afford an attorney. We have more former criminal defense lawyers on the bench than most jurisdictions. Most judges in DC take the view that treatment rather than incarceration is the most effective way to curb drug abuse.