When I became a federal prosecutor, the day OJ was acquitted, I was barely 26. I may have been the youngest federal prosecutor in the country at that moment, though there have been younger ones at other times. But I always resented the complaining about how young prosecutors don't understand the real world, don't understand defendants' circumstances, don't have any perspective. I rolled my eyes and gritted my teeth when veteran defense attorneys would launch into rants that began "when I was an AUSA . . . ." in an effort to twist my arm to offer some deal or other.
Now, of course, I am that veteran. I'm turning 39 this weekend and have more than my share of gray hair. When I encounter young rookie federal prosecutors, I resist the urge to complain about callow youth, and usually resist making statements that begin "when I was in the office . . . ." But damn, the urge is there. Because many (not all) young people do lack a perspective that is valuable in evaluating a defendant's conduct. Moreover, young prosecutors who have not had the chance to build up self-confidence through litigation tend to be gun-shy — not of a fight, but of appearing to back down from a fight. Too often their greatest fear is not of losing at trial — and not convicting or sentencing someone unjustly — but of being taken by a slick defense attorney and giving some defendant more than he deserves. It's not just the fear that they'll cut some guy a break and he'll get out and kill a nun or something. It's the fear that they'll look weak.
Sometimes their skepticism is understandable and sympathetic. Sometimes it is paranoid and drives me crazy. So I'm very sympathetic to Blonde Justice as she tells a story of such an encounter:
So, I continued, "Look, she's been through a lot, but she's getting her life straightened out. She's seeing a psychiatrist and a psychologist…"
At which point the prosecutor interrupted, "Wait."
Wait? Maybe she's starting to get it?
"Wait," she continued, "You expect me to believe there's a difference between a psychiatrist and a psychologist? You're just trying to pull the wool over my eyes. You're just trying to confuse me."
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