Seth Abramson justifiably asks for proof for those who say that defense lawyers blame parents for their clients misdeeds. I have never blamed a client's parents for his actions, per se. However, a parent's actions towards their child can sometimes be a powerful mitigator. Particularly when the parents really screw up a child's mental health. Alaska has some of the worst mental illness/sanity laws in the country (although we do recognize insanity as a defense, unlike Montana and I heard Idaho. Maybe Skelley could tell me whether I"m right about Idaho.) Interestingly, we also have a very high rate of fetal alcohol syndrome.
Now, I can already hear some people start to whine, "See, he's blaming the parents". Unless you have seen FAS to the degree that I or other AK attorneys/prosecutors/social workers/probation officers/judges have, then you do not know what you are talking about. My average FAS case did not involve the child of a woman who drank a couple of times during pregnancy. I am talking about women who would drink quarts of R&R whiskey while pregnant. Their children's IQ would usually be about 75 and their brains would be so fundamentally altered as to be visible on an MRI. FAS essentially arrests mental development between 7 and 10 years of age, limiting (if not removing) the ability to construct abstract thoughts or to deal with life in anything but the most concrete, straightforward terms. Imagine a 7 year old trapped in the body of a 20 year old. a 20 year old with 20 year old desires, but without the impulse control or the ability to understand consequences.
So what do you do when someone like that beats someone else to a pulp over an insult that most sober adults would ignore? What do you do when someone like that sexually assaults somebody because he's horny? Why is it not, to at least some degree, that mother's fault? FAS is 100% preventable. Don't drink and your kid won't have FAS.
FAS is not a defense under Alaska law, and maybe it shouldn't be considering that if it is a mental illness, it would most likely fall under the 'irresistible impulse' test, a test that has not gained substantial acceptance throughout this country. But shouldn't it be a mitigator? Shouldn't someone with FAS get less of a punishment than someone who does the exact same crime as someone without FAS?
I, like every other public defender, get frustrated with my clients sometimes. There are some clients I personally do not like. But there has only been really one person that made me furious - a woman who neglect of her son was so extreme that words quite frankly fail me in describing it. It started before he was born - about 2 quarts of whiskey or vodka a day. She kept up the habit after he was born. He had to take care of his parents after they passed out from their drinking parties so you can imagine what his education and schooling habits were. She would drink his PFD every year (brief digression - PFD is a check given to most Alaskans every year for their portion of oil and natural resource leases. Averages about $1000 a person a year). I started representing him when he was a juvenile. He would call me and plead for me to tell his mother that he was at the juvenile detention center. I needed to tell his mom so she would call him. So she would see him when she came in to Anchorage. So she would send him a package. So she would just acknowledge that maybe for once in her goddamn life she was a mother and not just someone who had once been a baby incubator. I can still hear his voice, assuring me that his PFD was being kept by his mom so he would get a pickup truck when he got out of the youth center.
He wound up being charged with sexual assault a few months after his exit from the youth center. It was not a difficult case. There was really nothing that could be done for him - the evidence was overwhelming and there was no treatment or secured facility. I acknowledge that at this point in his life, there is really no way he can live by himself. He would have to be in some sort of structured, secure environment. It does not have to be jail, just somewhere that can provide someone to watch him and keep him out of trouble. I think of him and all I can do is pity him. Pity him for what happened in his life. But I see her and I cannot help but wonder how she can even show her face. She's the one who screwed up her kid for the rest of her life. Yet she is still free. That is what is criminal about that whole mess - she is still free.
Anybody who reads this and has any experience in the criminal justice system of my former residence will probably know who this is. This is nothing that has not been said before, frequently by probation officers or others in various court proceedings. Of all my cases, though, that is the one where I wanted to blame the parents. I did not. It would have been pointless.
So, having bared my soul, I would join Seth. Put up or shut up. If you've got proof that defense lawyers blame parents for their offspring's misdoings, provide a link. GIve a case citation. Show me.