I’ve made some punishment arguments to juries that I’m very proud of—arguments that gave me shivers, that got my clients exactly what they wanted. But I don’t believe I’ve ever read—much less made—a punishment argument anywhere near as powerful as this argument to a judge in an intoxicated-manslaughter a second-degree murder case by California criminal-defense lawyer Jacqueline Goodman (via Simple Justice):
Everyone is pretending. Pretending that Andrew isn’t a good person, not an ordinary young man. Pretending that three sets of parents who held their babies in their arms and dreamed about their futures are any different from parents who, at that same time 23 years ago, on those very same days, held their first baby boy, Andrew, bounced him on their knee, and dreamed of his future, full of love and promise.
Pretending those innocent parents are not victims themselves. Pretending their pain is less relevant here.
Pretending that the victims were not themselves human– beautiful and yes, flawed. Pretending that Courtney Stewart’s mistakes did not exist, and that Andrew Gallo’s mistakes were intent to kill. We’re pretending that Andrew is on par with those depraved killers who look into the eyes of their victims and determine wilfully to take their lives. We’re pretending that 51 years to life will have any impact on whether a different young man or woman drinks, and then foolishly gets behind the wheel, believing, as they do, in their omnipotence, their immortality. We’re pretending that here, today, that we are somehow not taking another life with cold intention, in response to the loss of lives in a tragic accident.
Well I will not pretend.
Andrew Gallo is a good and gentle soul who never set out to harm another person, and who does not deserve to lose his life.
He comes from a good family– a military family, his own brother a marine. A family who, in deference to the pain of the parents of the victims, and without thought of their own sorrow, every day gave up the front seats in their son’s own trial to the parents of the decedents here. They quietly sat in the back, entered and exited last, even as their son’s taking was on display in slow motion.
And it is absurd to think that we can summarize in a few sentences the infinite value of any of these lives or the depths of sorrow at these losses. But the only way we might spare a life or several lives from a similar fate is to allow Andrew the opportunity to share the lessons he’s learned at such great a cost.
That would be a far greater and more fitting legacy to Henry Pearson, Courtney Stewart, Nick Adenhart, and Jonathan Wilhite. That in their names was dealt mercy and temperance and understanding instead of vengeance and blame. That in their names, others were spared their own lives. This would be the most fitting tribute to these extraordinary people. They would stand for forgiveness over blame.
My own father is dying. He saw me in court one time, and that was here, in closing arguments. My father is a recovering alcoholic. He had about 30 years of life-affirming sobriety. But it took him about 40 years to reach it. Fate denied Andrew as much of a chance.
Today Andrew and I know that we come into this battle to lose. The victory, sometimes, is in showing up. The victory is speaking truth to power. It is in speaking love to hate.
At this moment, my father is dying. Because I am in this hearing today, I may not be by his side when he passes out of this life and into the next. But know this: That I am profoundly privileged to stand next to Andrew Gallo. And in my father’s name, I proudly stand on the side of honesty. Of hope and redemption over blame.
(Did it work to reduce Andrew’s punishment? Of course it didn’t: as a society, we’re all about honoring the dead with destruction. But, like Goodman says, sometimes the victory is speaking truth to power, love to hate.)