Your Cause, His Life

One of the two UConn students who was arrested for saying the “n-word” in a parking lot at night has cut a deal.

A judge on Tuesday accepted Jarred Karal’s application for accelerated rehabilitation. Karal, 21, of Plainville, was placed on six months of probation and ordered to complete 20 hours of community service and undergo diversity and bias training, the Hartford Courant reported.

Accelerated rehabilitation is generally for first-time offenders charged with nonviolent offenses. A charge of ridicule on account of creed, religion, color, denomination, nationality or race will be dismissed after a successful probation period.

This evoked shock and the inevitable calls for “something must be done.” Eugene Volokh has explained in some detail why this was a violation of the student’s First Amendment rights, as well as questioning whether this violated any law at all, constitutional or not. His points are not merely persuasive, but the issue isn’t really close.

Yet, here he was, in court, copping a plea. What’s wrong with this system?

Rockville Superior Court Judge James Sicilian approved Karal’s application for accelerated rehabilitation, finding that his offense was not of a serious nature and that it was unlikely Karal would offend again.

It’s my understanding that this is akin to what’s called in  New York an “adjournment in contemplation of dismissal” with a bit of “conditional discharge” thrown in. Assuming the student completes the conditions, the charge will be dismissed and he can go on with his life.

But the charge was wrong, you scream. WRONG! First, welcome to the trenches, where decisions get made for real reasons, not your angst about the existential unfairness of life. For this young man, the choices come down to making the fight against this law his raison d’être, from dedicating his every waking moment to the cause for at least the next few years, not to mention the expense of litigating and opportunity cost of not completing his education and becoming the owner of a lovely hipster coffee house in Stanford.

For the ten seconds this case is on your mind, you are deeply concerned that his rights be vindicated, not necessarily for his sake but because rights matter, and he is the vessel of the moment by which the good fight should be made. But that’s you, and you’re not him. You can care for those ten seconds then go back to whatever you were doing. What you expect of him is to dedicate his life, his family’s life, to your hopes and dreams.

Instead, he has the opportunity to bail out of this nightmare and go back to the life he wants for himself. Quick and easy, it’s done. The kid who never expected to become the posterboy for dumb free speech heroes won’t dedicate his life to being a victim or a perpetrator, but just a kid, hopefully forgotten soon enough in the morass of transitory outrage.

And then there’s the cost. Fighting a law or a charge to have it held unconstitutional is no small matter. A substantial amount of legal time and effort has to be put into the effort to make the case, to make the motion, to brief it, to bring in all the required parties, to get a judge to take it seriously, and maybe, just maybe, to get a favorable ruling. And then the state appeals, because states really hate having their laws held unconstitutional. And on and on it goes, every step of the way costing legal fees and expenses.

Are you paying for this? Here, the student can walk away without spending another dime. There, the costs could crush a cash cow. So much for the college fund, and forget about that new iPhone. There’s an odd sensibility that lawyers should be free that pervades the idiocracy, as if lawyers are priests who take oaths of poverty and live in austerity.

When a lawyer’s kids are hungry, the grocer doesn’t give him free food when he flashes his official lawyer card. And some of us actually prefer to live a fairly decent lifestyle after those four years of college, three years of law school and next ten years of learning that we’re not the most brilliant people on the face of the earth, the next Clarence Darrow, until we realize what it takes to zealously defend our client.

“But why isn’t the ACLU taking this on,” many shouted at the clouds? Aside from the fact that the n-word isn’t on the list of words the newly woke ACLU defends anymore and they’ve permanently closed their Skokie office, it gets tens of thousands of requests for free representation from serious and seriously insane people every year. It’s can’t represent them all, even if it wanted to.

And not to put too sharp a point on it, the ACLU isn’t a criminal defense organization. It’s not as if their lawyers defend individuals as much as their cause. That means they might not care too much about what the client wants when it comes to outcome, so the client gets burned when their interests separate.

There’s an old saying, “discretion is the better part of valor.” For many defendants, getting out of the middle of their nightmare matters far more than fighting the good fight. It’s often more effective to “lose” than win, whether because it gets you out of jail today rather than 18 months from now, well beyond the potential sentence you would receive if guilty. If it’s Pyrrhic, is it really a victory?

To academics, theoreticians and sensitive yet passionate think-tank pundits, the fight is all. To real people, it’s their life. To the lawyers who defend real people in the trenches, the life of our clients comes first. Scream about the cause all you want, but for this student, the nightmare is essentially over and he can go back to the life he wants for himself by cutting a deal, even if it leaves you feeling empty and angry that “justice” wasn’t served.

16 thoughts on “Your Cause, His Life

  1. Patrick Maupin

    “Dumb free speech hero.”

    This. Even a trust-fund baby who can fully afford to fight this while continuing his education might decide that the punishment of having to re-live one of the dumber actions of his life, for years, in public, generating innumerable news articles branding him a racist in the process, would be much worse than the punishment of sucking it up, showing a bit of contrition, and exiting stage left.

    He could, of course, rationalize that he could be a useful martyr to the cause of being able to say stupid shit, but the expensive lawyer that his trust fund hired will carefully explain that it’s not his job, and that, soon enough, the government will charge a real racist, who will be proud to go to the mat for the cause.

    1. SHG Post author

      Ironically, it seems that self-proclaimed victims enjoy basking in the cathartic glory of their victimhood, as if being a victim is a badge of honor.

      1. Patrick Maupin

        That does seem to happen, although sometimes it may merely be strategic.

        As you know, I am personally experiencing using the legal system for catharsis. Since I deliberately stepped in front of the bull wearing a red T-shirt, it’s hard to envision myself as a victim.

  2. Steve White

    I have no dispute with any part of your post, EXCEPT – why not publicize the names of the prosecutors involved? Both the individuals and the person in charge? After all, if it’s an abuse, they are the most direct abusers. Maybe this was given to some junior DA who was ordered to pursue it , but so what? They are at least getting paid, and fully conscious of what they are doing, not walking across a parking lot talking to their friends a little too loudly. Let them be the stupid free speech villain, it’s part of their job, apparently.

    1. SHG Post author

      Some people like shaming more than others. I have no clue who made the actual call to prosecute. Maybe you know more than I do.

      1. Fubar

        The Courant article you linked discloses the name of the (presumably assistant) prosecutor who appeared in court to endorse Mr. Karal’s “accelerated rehabilitation”.

        Whether the person who gave the order, or the person who followed the order to prosecute under a brazenly unconstitutional statute is less culpable for the abuse is another question altogether. I am old enough to recall trials in which “I was only following orders” did not excuse crimes by government officials.

        In that spirit:

        When, if ever, in thought he reflects
        On his role in these legal train wrecks,¹
        Will Thadius Bochain
        Proclaim with disdain,
        “De minimis non curat lex!”?

        FN 1: There are two cases, and two defendants.

        1. SHG Post author

          For all we know, he was the calendar assistant reading from the file note. But more importantly, this wasn’t a war crime. Let’s not get crazy.

  3. Mario Machado

    His cause, his life:

    “You see this manifest injustice going on, the system screwing me over, yet you need legal tender to put your cape on, to put a stop to this?! You greedy prick!”

  4. B. McLeod

    A person can always give up constitutional rights. Whether they be conferred by the first amendment, second amendment, fourth and/or fifth amendments. It happens every day in the great courts of our land. The holder of the right gets to choose. Maybe if somebody had been there to help this guy, he might have chosen differently. Didn’t happen, didn’t happen. People bow to the hat on the pole because it’s easier than fighting back. Bullies and tyrants know this, and that is why we have so very many hats on so very many poles.

  5. kemn

    So, what happens when he’s on six months probation and he happens to use the “wrong” word and someone reports him?

    I understand that he’s taking the best option, I’m just concerned about that sword of damocles hanging over his head….

    1. SHG Post author

      Short of getting rearrested, it’s generally not a problem. You’re right that it could be, but so unlikely that it’s not a serious impediment.

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