Saturday, August 1, 2015

Life and crimes of the highly intoxicated

My first job out of law school in the mid-1970s was working as a Law Clerk for Justice Dixon W. Prentice on the Indiana Supreme Court. Ninety percent of the Court's caseload and, consequently, ninety percent of my job was to review the transcripts of major criminal trials. There were scores of murder trials, armed robbery and drug trafficking cases. All such major convictions were appealed automatically, whether there were significant legal or factual issues to justify the time and expense of an appeal, or not. With the vast majority of these appeals the conviction were affirmed for the simple reason that the criminal defendants were clearly guilty of the crime, the county prosecutor did his or her job well enough, the trial judge did nothing stupid and a jury verdict carries a lot of weight.

Each appeal got serious individual attention from everyone involved and the process took months from beginning to end.

Reading the criminal trial transcripts was the most time consuming part of the job. Murder trial transcripts were the worst. Not only were the autopsy and crime scene photos grizzly, the oddball stupid reasons people have for killing each other were surreal. I was sick to my stomach for the first six months on the job, but then I got numb to it.

Two guys in a bar got into an argument over a nickle. One goes out to his truck, grabs a shotgun, comes back into the bar and blows the other guy's face off. All because of five cents. Wow. There had to be more to it.

I was amazed the percentage of murders, attempted murders and violent assaults happen in association with alcohol. It was easily more than half of the cases I worked on. Most of the time folks keep their hostility and homicidal urges in check, but it doesn't take much to set it off.

Remember this the next time you are out in public. Just under the surface of that guy with a scowl on his face is a seething fever-bag of fear and anger. If he is carrying a beer, watch out. Alcohol causes some people to do very strange things.


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