Monday, June 22, 2009

A Conundrum

Over the weekend, there was an interesting discussion on the NACDL mailing list sparked by this story from Spokane, Washington:

Micah W. Hasselstrom, 34, ran when Spokane Municipal Court Judge Tracy Staab ordered him jailed with increased bail after he said he didn’t plan on appearing in court again, a news release said.

Hasselstrom’s public defender, Tony Tompkins, grabbed his leg to hold him in place as Deputy John Pederson tried handcuffing him, and a struggle ensued, according to the Sheriff’s Office.
Two other PDs helped out as well. Which begs the question - should a defense lawyer stop his client from fleeing? As you might expect, it's not a simple problem.

On the one hand, we are not our clients' keepers. We can't keep them from doing dumb (or even illegal) things. The best we can do is try and convince them to make the right choice, or at least impress upon them just how bad things are going to get if they don't take our advice. And, as a practical matter, it's just not our job to catch fugitives.

On the other hand, shouldn't we at least try and keep a client from completely throwing his life away in a moment of fear/anger/passion? An attempted flight is a horse of a different color from a successful flight, or quasi successful flight (any flight that ends with the client in jail, regardless of how far down the road, is arguably not successful in the long run). Besides, a fleeing client might pose a danger to folks in the courtroom or courthouse, including ourselves. Isn't the right thing to do as a citizen, much less lawyer, to try and stop him?

Ultimately, I don't think anybody can really say what they might do in a situation like that until it happens. Instinct plays a key role, and those of us who tend to be more passive probably wouldn't even think to do anything before it's too late. Still a fun problem to ponder, tho'.

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