So I put into my client’s pre-sentencing report all about his childhood, the dirt floor, the hunger, the instability, the beatings, the absolute poverty, the one year of schooling, the lack, the paucity, of pretty much everything that would have helped him develop as a social human being. Think about the photos you see to raise money – dirty kids with big bellies from parasites, staring at the camera like what will you do? What will you do? That’s him.
I see a lot of people, in a lot of situations. And a lot of it is sad. But when you sit across from a kid just out of his teens in an orange jumpsuit who just looks right at you and says, “I’m not very smart. I got hit in the head a lot. My parents were very frustrated with me. The teacher told them they might as well pull me out of school because I couldn’t absorb anything,” then even as a hardened lawyer, it kind of hits you in the gut, and you feel bad for the kid. He didn’t have much of a chance.
You know because he had a co-defendant and there were so many police witnesses, along with civilians, that he spent over a year in the county jail awaiting his trial. And I looked at several expert witnesses, but I couldn’t find one to support that his confession was coerced. So his confession was played to the jury.
My report outlined how lacking his whole life had been, both before and after coming to this country. I had an IQ test and he measured in the 60’s even in his native language. He is functionally very low. And he doesn’t sound bright. He sounds a little scary to people who don’t understand about brain injuries and lack of affect. When someone is telling you something horrible, and then just kind of smiling while they talk, that can be shocking, if you don’t understand where that comes from. You have to have a lot of experience with deep pain to understand that people sometimes have to leave their bodies to stay alive. And they cannot always integrate as adults.
I really wanted to speak for him, and be his voice, his only voice, at sentencing, but he insisted on talking, against my advice. And even though everything he said in his own words was already in my pre-sentencing report and in my sentencing argument, something about the way that he spoke upset the judge. I really think it was his low literacy and his lack of affect. His feelings do not show on his face; he just always shows a bland and pleasant smile. A lot of kids with low IQ smile a lot. This judge stated that she found the defendant’s words and his attitude disturbing, and she added 20 months to the standard sentence.
I argued with the judge, and asked her to reconsider. I pointed out that the psychologist who came to see him shortly before sentencing had noticed that he was actually doing much better in the county jail than he had done outside. That was my strongest argument.
Your Honor, I told her. The fact that the county jail would qualify as an enriched learning environment for this defendant should give you a sense of how truly impoverished this young man’s life has been. The county jail – Your Honor – the county jail is the most positive environment this young man has ever known. Can Your Honor please stop for a moment to reconsider, and take into account what a truly, deeply, and tragically impoverished environment this young man has come from?
My decision has been made, she answered. And that was that. And the poor kid just stood beside me, smiling through his pain, as the guards handcuffed him and took him away for twenty years in prison.