The Taste of Freedom

Hello everyone, Kimberly Andrade here. I’m a student, and I am planning to attend law school in the future.  I currently work as a legal assistant for Hunt & Tuegel, PLLC, and I’ll be writing about freedom and justice.

One day the courtroom on the third floor of the federal courthouse was packed. There were people in business attire freely moving about the room. Then at some point, the U.S. Marshalls escorted the defendants into the courtroom. The defendants were dressed in orange jumpsuits with shackles around their wrists and ankles. As the defendants slowly filed into the room, their defense attorneys went to meet them. After a few minutes, the judge entered the courtroom and took his seat. Then in pairs, the defense attorneys and their clients lined up before the judge. The judge went down the line, asking each defendant questions like their name, level of education, and so on. Everything seemed to be going smoothly until the judge addressed a particular defendant. When asked if he had anything to say, this defendant cried out that he had gotten a taste of freedom that everyone else enjoyed.

This defendant’s outcry was jarring in the calm of the courtroom. The defendant demonstrated a clear appreciation for the freedom he had experienced. In short, it was a plea for mercy. It was also a reminder of how lucky we are to be able to go home at the end of the day.

Ideally, only the guilty beyond a reasonable doubt are punished. When someone willingly breaks the law, that person demonstrates they are unable to exercise their freedom well. Depending on the severity of the crime, the justice system takes away the person’s freedom. Unfortunately, our justice system is not ideal. Innocent people can and have been accused of committing crimes. These are the people whom the justice system failed.

Andre Hatchett and Michael Morton were wrongfully convicted of a crime and spent a combined total of forty-nine years in prison. In Andre Hatchett’s case, he spent a total of twenty-five years in prison. To put this in perspective, twenty-five years ago Bill Clinton was elected for his first term as president. The point is, rather than spend all those years with their families and building their lives, these men were confined to prison cells. Sure there are forms of communication that exist between prisoners and their family members, but this is not the same as being with their loved ones.

In the months following his exoneration, Michael Morton said:

“I came out of the gym the other morning, and the sun was just over the horizon and there was orange and purple and a little bit of breeze that was drying the perspiration on my forehead and it felt so good. I’ve been going to restaurants looking for things I have never eaten. I had crabmeat manicotti recently. It was delicious. My bad days are good.”

Michael Morton’s statement is a reminder of how precious freedom is. These men were imprisoned for a long time, and what happened to them is a failure of the justice system. Stories like these show that there is a person sitting next to the defense counsel. When reading reports about the justice system, it is easy to forget about the people who make up those statistics. It’s one thing to read about these stories and another to watch someone beg the judge for mercy. They are real people with real lives, which is why it is so important for those involved in the justice process to do their best, to carry out justice.

Even in cases where the defendant is undoubtedly guilty, there must be justice in administering punishment. To implement a punishment beyond what is due defeats the purpose of the justice system. At that point, the justice system has been corrupted. Injustice within the justice system requires an answer.

[1] This will be a continuation of criminal defense, justice, and freedom.

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