The first leg of my summer vacation involved a 14-hour drive to Florida with just me and a golden retriever. (Don’t ask.) The conversations tended to be a little one-sided, but 95 South is painfully efficient, and we made it in one piece.
You have a lot of time to think on a trip that long, coupled with interesting radio choices on the FM dial. One thing is for sure: The lower-numbered FM stations are more likely to make you a better person, either by force or osmosis. It’s all jazz, NPR-type broadcasting or religious songs and preaching.
This is especially true when you hit North Carolina and points south. Frankly, it gets a little too “Children of the Corn” for me at times, but that tends to focus the driving a bit. As in please-don’t-run-out-of-gas focus. I could have sworn Malachi sold me a Frosty outside Savannah, Ga., though. Thank God for Miles Davis.
What stinks about being an attorney is that you’re never truly on vacation. Every now and then a case pops into your head, followed by short bursts of panic. Discovery, experts, deadlines, oh my! Sometimes, though, you’ll think of a great deposition question or a can’t-miss closing argument. I’ve often wondered if you can bill for that time.
Eventually, productive thoughts are vanquished by the 10,000th highway billboard for South of the Border. Just driving by the place makes me want to take a shower –- or maybe buy some fireworks, then take a shower.
When I got back from vacation I tried to catch up on the local news. Apparently Baltimore City is back to being a daily episode of “The Wire.”
In fact, within the past few weeks, there have been two dead bodies found within a two-block radius of my office. I work downtown in what’s normally a safe business district, near popular hotels like the Tremont and the Sheraton. Now when I go out for lunch I find myself on the lookout for Marlo Stanfield and Snoop carrying a screw gun.
All joking aside, it’s getting ridiculous. The most shocking murder in the recent crime wave involved Hopkins researcher Stephen Pitcairn.
You know the story: On his way home from Penn Station, while talking on his cell phone with his mother, Pitcairn is (allegedly) robbed by career criminals on a nighttime hunt for victims. Then, despite complying with the assailants’ demands, he’s stabbed and left to die, near the gutter on a street in Charles Village.
A particularly disturbing part of the story as I’ve read it is that the alleged murderer, John A. Wagner, had been before a Baltimore City judge on several violation of probation (VOP) charges but received none of the backup time, despite his prior crime being violent in nature. In other words, Wagner could have been in jail the day he (allegedly) shanked a 23-year old guy who wanted to help fight cancer.
Here’s the point: Baltimore City is like many urban centers where it’s difficult to suppress crime and prevent recidivism. The main cause, of course, is the “Don’t Snitch”/”Ready to Die” culture that allows criminals to thrive, leaving an exasperated police force and state’s attorney’s office.
A surprising part of the problem, however, is the crop of judges who sentence too lightly –- even when the crimes are violent in nature.
When I clerked, I was fortunate enough to work for a trial judge who seemed to consider the victims’ and citizens’ rights first, especially in cases involving violence and fraud. Repeat offenders were dealt with harshly because that’s what they deserved. Violation of probation was a serious matter because, essentially, it was someone thumbing his nose at a second chance.
I’ve never met the judge accused of letting Wagner off easy. What you hope, though, is that he took the time to review everything before the VOP hearings. You hope he considered Wagner’s record and had a plausible explanation for not sending him to jail.
You hope he’s not the type of judge who exhaled when he was appointed, as if his legal race was run and he could now enjoy shorter work days, a lower golf handicap and a sweet pension. You hope he understands how his job has a direct effect on the safety and well-being of the general public.
Then you hope that all judges realize why Dante reserved the deepest parts of hell for the violent and the deceitful. That they realize it’s a small miracle these days to convict Baltimore bad guys, so erring on the side of lengthy sentences makes more sense than not.
Going forward you hope that, when deciding how long to sentence violent recidivists, they’ll think of Stephen Pitcairn, the kid who may have cured cancer, the kid whose killer shouldn’t have been on the streets in the first place.