Comment of the Day (2): “Ethics Hero: Dallas District Attorney Craig Watkins”

jag

The celebration here of Dallas DA Craig Watkins’ installment of an open file policy to ensure that crucial evidence that might exonerate a criminal defendant doesn’t get “inadvertently” left out of the material shared with defense counsel prompted this comment from one of the Ethics Alarms resident Marine vet, THE Bill:

“I’ve always wondered why the civilian courts haven’t adopted the military practice of having both the prosecutor and the defense council in the same office under the same command as they do in JAG. It would seem that this would eliminate the US versus THEM mindset.”

I responded…

“It’s because of loyalty and trust, Bill. The adversarial relationship and the appearance of such assures the accused that the two lawyers aren’t colluding against the defendant, and attorney-client confidentiality is surely at risk if there is not physical distance. That’s why in law firms a lawyer with a client who might be adverse to another lawyer’s client in the same firm has to be screened from substantive contact with the other lawyer.”

(I will note here that the last section about screening is an over-simplification of a very complex and confusing issue, as when and if screening is permitted varies state to state, and in many cases still isn’t enough to deal with an unwaivable conflict of interest.)

texagg04 then added the following discussion of the cultural differences between the military and civilian America, and how this informs the differences between the ways the respective systems deal with criminal prosecutions.

This is an appropriate place to salute tex, who is among the most prolific, serious and vital Ethics Alarms commentators. As his comments are often in an advocacy or adversarial mode rather than an expository one, his percentage of  officially recognize commentary excellence is less than it should be considering the consistent quality and frequency of his participation here. He has long made Ethics Alarms better and sharper, if perhaps scarier for first time swimmers in these waters, since thanks to tex (and others), the tide is swift and merciless.

I hope he realizes how much I value  and appreciate his thoughtful and vigorous contributions.

Here is texagg04’s Comment of the Day on the post, “Ethics Hero: Dallas District Attorney Craig Watkins.”

There is a presumption given the weight of military Commissions combined with the added weight of the Oaths of Office, that barring any obvious corruption, the officers in charge are not corrupted. Whereas in the civilian world, the presumption that so much burden lies on the state and the accused’s innocence until proven guilty, that even a hint of amiability between defense and prosecution is enough to worry about corruption.

The military, for internal issues, is given more leeway and trust. I recall, once as a Lieutenant, seeing a Sergeant engaged in misconduct… Not court martial worthy, but Article 15 worthy, when he argued with the first sergeant that “here’s what really happened” and I informed the 1SG what I observed, I asked, “what further investigation do you need? More witnesses? Evidence?”

His response- “none sir, you outrank him, and have the presumption of integrity, you’re testimony is beyond reproach.”

Weighty stuff to recognize when you don the uniform.

Had I been a private and given the testimony or had the accused outranked me, further investigation would be required. Or if it was court martial worthy, further investigation would have been necessary. If a higher ranking officer gave witness different from mine, his would receive precedence though if substantively different, there would then be a need to check on my testimony.

Of course I don’t recall if that’s how it would work with summary court martial or even general court martial.

Seems very prone to corruption… If our military were chock full of the dishonorable. But it isn’t. And the system has to work that way.

26 thoughts on “Comment of the Day (2): “Ethics Hero: Dallas District Attorney Craig Watkins”

  1. “Seems very prone to corruption… If our military were chock full of the dishonorable. But it isn’t. And the system has to work that way.”

    Is that verifiable? It seems…. unlikely: Recruitment drives consistently target low income areas because that’s where the military gets most of their warm bodies, and with so many “dishonorable” tendencies trending alongside poverty, this statement seem to fly in the face of expectations.

    I’m also thinking back to some of the stories of the last 10 years, torture of prisoners for information, as in waterboarding… torture just to be cruel, as in Abu Gharib.

    Part of me desperately wants to believe that these are just extreme outliers, but while that might even be true, it’s also true that these situation are the ones we hear about, and God knows that in the blasted corners of the Earth our military stands in, not every citizen has a cell phone camera at the ready, and it’s most likely we aren’t hearing about everything that’s happening overseas.

    I’m hoping you can convince me that I’m just being corrupted by A Few Good Men… Because at the end of the day the cynic in me thinks that people are people, and systems that are prone to abuses and corruption will eventually be abused and corrupt.

    • “unlikely: Recruitment drives consistently target low income areas because that’s where the military gets most of their warm bodies, and with so many “dishonorable” tendencies trending alongside poverty, this statement seem to fly in the face of expectations.”

      Do you have any documentation for that? I worked as a recruiter and can tell you we didn’t target any one population or demographic. we looked everywhere for recruits. Rich, poor , middle class we went every where and we got them from everywhere.

        • Absolutely, Id love to see your documentation. I keep on hearing people make this statement, and then your second one that its well documented, but then can never produce the studies that document it so by all means please go , Id like to read it.

          • In actually doing the digging, it became depressingly clear that this is actually a partisan issue. It’s depressing because it shouldn’t be… the numbers and the practices are obvious: Poor kids are about five times as likely to enlist, and recruiters spend significantly more time in zip codes with lower family incomes. The reason should be obvious: at a salary of about $21,000 a year (benefits included) to start, who give up a career for a temporary job with a relatively high rate of debilitating permanent injury or death? People that weren’t looking at $21,000 to begin with. And where are you going to find these people? Places with low household income! Eureka!

            Organizations on the right, like the Heritage Foundation, have tried to spin the numbers to show that the best and brightest are entering the military by toting things like the acceptance scores to the military admittance tests, ignoring that the vast majority of Americans, and especially the most wealthy will never take the test. So what if the most intelligent people who take the test make it in, if you’re only testing the bottom of the barrel to begin with? They also tried to make a point that because the recruitment distribution matched income distributions, the military is representative. (I’m going to cite them below, charts 2 – 6), but they actually kind of made my point with chart 2… 70% of recruits come from zip codes with average incomes less than the median income, not only that, but because incomes deviate from the average within zip codes, your recruitment will still be more effective on the poorer elements within the zone.

            The left, however, in it’s constant rush to scream -ism has tried to wheel out disparate impact as proof that the impoverished, and especially impoverished minorities, and ESPECIALLY impoverished minority women are targeted for recruitment. It’s true by the numbers, (Black women make up 60% of female military personnel, despite being less than 30% of the American female population, for instance.) But they never quite connect the dots. Something happened. Why? RACISM! How did racism cause that? IT’S OBVIOUS. Not to me… Please describe it. NO, ASSHOLE, THE NUMBERS SPEAK FOR THEMSELVES.

            The numbers do speak for themselves, they show that recruiters go into poor districts to recruit, and it’s most likely because that’s where they’re going to have the most success, and that’s because the military offers a steady paycheque to people that might otherwise not have one. That’s almost certainly not America’s “Best and Brightest” and it’s almost certainly not racist.

            ————————————————–
            http://surface.syr.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1002&context=soc

            Establishes the demographics

            Click to access MilitaryRecruitingReportConLitFinal.pdf

            Outlines some of the more shady recruitment practices, some of which are downright damning.

            http://www.seattletimes.com/nation-world/military-recruiters-target-isolated-depressed-areas/

            Title kind of speaks for itself.

            http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2006/10/who-are-the-recruits-the-demographic-characteristics-of-us-military-enlistment-2003-2005

            Because I cited them, mostly as how NOT to present statistics.
            ————————————————–

  2. A Few Good Men , while a good play and movie , is not realistic.

    The author was tending bar and wrote it with no knowledge what so ever of the Marine Corps.

    The characters don’t speak like Marines do, the terminology they use is a mixture of Army jargon and things he made up.

    The term code red is totally made up. While we did have blanket parties , they were nothing like what is in the movie.

    Gittmo is ran by a Navy Captain not by the Marine officer in charge of the security detachment.

    Junior Marine Officers and enlisted do not speak to senior Marine officers and enlisted like they do in the movie.

    A Marine officer who had no business in flight operations would not have had any access to the flight logs at the NAF at Andrews.

    The security in the courtroom would have been sailors not Marines.

    Marines and sailors only salute inside if they are “underarms” meaning they are carrying a weapon and wearing their cover and then only when the person they are saluting can and will return the salute.

    A lunatic like the character Lt Kendricks would have been dealt with by the first Gunnery Sgt that spotted him.

    The list goes on and on.

    • Right. Ok. But that doesn’t really address my point, does it? Obviously A Few Good Men is fiction, and recognizing that, I was wondering if watching it could have effected my biases. The answer to that isn’t to say A Few Good Men is fiction, the answer would be to provide any evidence, outside of my fervent hopes and dreams, that militaries in general, or the American military in specific is comprised of populations more “honourable” than the population in general.

      • Humble, a lot would actually depend on what you would consider evidence. Certainly I would admit that Abhu Ghraib would not fill someone with confidence regarding the honor of those particular individual soldiers, but it should not be allowed to taint the honor of the rest of the soldiers in the military (just to be clear, while I am saying ‘soldier’, I am also referring to sailors and Marines). Anecdotally, an officer in the military, any branch, may act as a Notary Public in Texas. Officers are referred to as ‘Officers and Gentlemen’, not because they are better than most enlisted men, but because they are, in fact, expected to be gentlemen. NCO’s are and are expected to be, the backbone of any military organization, which means that, on occasion, they might have need to exercise, well, extreme unction against a recalcitrant private. I guess what I am saying is that private society does not demand honorable behavior from it’s members and suffers for it. That is why we wind up with people like Donald Trump. The military does not start out with more honorable people. What the military has, however, is two things; 1) a code of honor, which it quite literally expects everyone to follow and; 2) a whole cadre of people who are prepared to enforce that code in varying ways and with varying results. Like any large organization, there are anomalies. In any case, I think providing evidence of a more honorable culture for the military might be a bit difficult, but I would refer you to the Uniform Code of Military Justice for a beginning.

        • “Certainly I would admit that Abhu Ghraib would not fill someone with confidence regarding the honor of those particular individual soldiers, but it should not be allowed to taint the honor of the rest of the soldiers in the military”

          Of course not, just like the existence of murderers in the population at large is not a condemnation of every person at large. I’m just having this mental hangup… If it’s true that the population of the military is more “honourable” than the population at large, despite being dredged up from the part of the population that is most likely to be “Dis-honourable”, that’s actually quite impressive, and the skeptic in me is looking for some kind of explanation.

          • I’m not entirely sure that I would agree that the entirety of the military is dredged up from what I suspect would be termed ‘the lower classes’, and certainly not exclusively from gang-bangers, felons and miscreants. In actual fact, getting into our military with a felony conviction is at best difficult and with a violent felony, impossible. I suspect the same holds true with yours. The military draws from a cross-section of society and because of that, the first day of basic training is largely a bunch of people who fairly represent a cross-section of society. The difference is in the training each individual receives, And, as I said, the cadre of folks more than willing to point out the error of the ways of miscreants. In short, I think it would be a mistake to assume that the military is composed of ‘gypsies, tramps and thieves’, but by the same token, the military is not necessarily composed of altruistic do-gooders. What it does have is a code of honorable behavior and the means to enforce it.

            • “I’m not entirely sure that I would agree that the entirety of the military is dredged up from what I suspect would be termed ‘the lower classes’”

              I just did the numbers for Bill, 70% of enlistees come from ZIP codes making less than the national average, basically none of them have more than a high school diploma, and it is significantly disproportionately ethnic. I had a hard time finding back up for “Recruiters target the poor.” I had no trouble finding backup for “The average enlistee is poor.”

              “and certainly not exclusively from gang-bangers, felons and miscreants.”

              Almost none, actually. Just as very few recruits have more than a high school diploma. almost none of the recruits had less. And I believe that a criminal record would preclude you from service. That sparked a little bit of hope for me: Perhaps the military IS more “honorable” by virtue of taking the best out of the bottom.

              “The military draws from a cross-section of society and because of that, the first day of basic training is largely a bunch of people who fairly represent a cross-section of society.”

              This is demonstrably untrue. Only 30% of enlistment comes from the top 50% of income zones, the only branch of the military that sees people with any post-secondary education is the air-force, and as you’ve pointed out: convicts need not apply. At BEST the argument could be made that as opposed to the lower class, restrictions on enlistment targets lower-middle class Americans.

              “In short, I think it would be a mistake to assume that the military is composed of ‘gypsies, tramps and thieves’”

              Strawman. My point was a doubt that people in the military were more honorable than the population at large, especially considering that the average enlistee comes from demographics that tend to commit crime at a rate higher than the population at large.

                • I did, but anything with more than two links gets held awaiting moderation.

                  I think this is one of those situations where a Google search would work wonders. Do me a favor: Between now and when my comment gets approved, Google “Does the military target poor people for recruitment?” and see how far you get on your own.

      • There is one thing that I think separates and shows how much honorable the UCMJ is from civilian laws and courts.

        Under the UCMJ a person who is about to be charged is instructed that they a have a moral obligation to themselves to plead not guilty.

    • It sure does. The movie and play are fun, but they are nonsense, and have contributed to mass ignorance. Add to that the fact that the big climax is ludicrous. I don’t care how crazy a Colonel is, he doesn’t blurt out that he was a) lying on the stand under oath and b) ordered an illegal act that makes him a possible participant in manslaughter in open court. That on-the-stand meltdown would be considered too far fetched for “Perry Mason.”

      The attorney alluding to evidence he doesn’t have (the airmen who never testify) is also a bright line ethics violation. And there’s much more, as you say.

  3. I was teaching high school when ‘Welcome Back, Kotter’ was a big television hit. It was preposterous. Entertainment about professions are simply entertainment. I was practicing law when “Boston Legal” was pretty popular. Never watched it, even though I find any work William Shatner does absolutely hilarious. (I did watch his ‘Priceline Negotiator’ ads willingly. Most of them were great. And ‘House’ was fun for a while because of the good acting and great looking actresses until I realized every single show inevitably revolved around anaphylactic shock.) But in any event, plays, movies, TV shows about professionals, with very rare exceptions, are just entertainment.

    • But nothing beats Shatner as The Chairmen in Iron Chef USA. I think they only shot one or two and they are hilarious.

  4. It has been said here in Australia, that if you’re guilty, you’re better off with a civilian trial, if innocent far better off with a court martial.

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