Why defense attorneys aren’t cheering Brock Allan Turner’s wrist-slap

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Ken White was once a US Federal Prosecutor, but he’s also served as a defense attorney, and when he was defending clients, he routinely told the judge about the ways in which his clients were good people, and what talents they had.

That’s just what Brock Allan Turner’s attorney did, too, and so convincingly that Turner will not serve a meaningful prison sentence, though he is undisputably a rapist who irrevocably harmed the survivor of his crime.

White explains why defense attorneys do this: to transform “your client even momentarily from an abstraction or a statistic or a stereotype into a human being with whom the judge feels a connection.” But he also explains how judges are supposed to have the judgment to put limits on that connection, to empathize with the crime’s survivors, and to do what’s right.

White says that Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky failed in this duty, that he “rendered good defense attorney practice irrelevant.” That much is obvious, but White goes on to unpack the systemic reasons for Persky’s dereliction of duty, and how this resonates through the whole justice system.

People throw around the word “privilege” a lot, and it’s easy to see its evidence around us, but what White does here is expose its mechanism, and that’s an important addition to the debate.