January 01, 2018

Making Peace, Restoring Trust

Hon. Darlene A. O’Brien

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The highly structured adversarial system of criminal justice in the United States inevitably creates winners and losers in a litigation contest. The process is often stressful and isolating.

Communication typically is from lawyer to lawyer. A criminal defendant is routinely prohibited from having contact with alleged victims, including family or friends. Apologies, no matter how sincere, are discouraged because they may be considered incriminating. The labels “defendant” or “juvenile delinquent,” while accurate, can lead to diminished self-worth and, with time, may become the lens through which defendants see themselves.

Are these simply the unavoidable consequences of due process?

Many judges begin their careers hoping to make a positive impact on the lives of those who come before them. But a sentencing judge’s comments, even coupled with incarceration, fines, and costs, are too often insufficient to affect fundamental behavior or change, as many criminal defendants return again and again.

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