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The Law of Attraction

By:N.M. Silber

The Law of Attraction


N.M. Silber




Commonwealth v. Harris

I stood in front of the jury delivering my closing argument in a shoplifting case that my client had insisted on taking to trial against my advice and despite my begging.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we live in a country where every citizen has a right to trial by his peers. The prosecution must carry its burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt, the highest legal standard of proof possible in this great country of ours. We are here today because my client is a citizen, and he has a right to a trial if he wants one.”

We lawyers often couldn’t let people know what we were really thinking. I often pictured the things that I would like to say and do, though, and I called those thoughts “inner-Gabrielle,” for lack of a better term. Right now inner-Gabrielle was sighing and rolling her eyes because I was breaking out the old “right to a trial defense” again. It's what we public defenders did when we found ourselves addressing a jury without the one thing that would come in most handy under the circumstances – an actual defense. After all, you had to say something. Technically, my client did have a defense in this case. It was just so stupid that nobody in their right mind would believe it, so I figured what the hell, it never hurt to bring up the Constitution.

“You heard Mr. Harris tell you that he simply made a mistake,” I went on, “one that perhaps you yourself have made. You go into a store, expecting to pick up only one item, and so you don't bother with a shopping basket. Then you see another item that you need. And then another.”

I paused and gave the jurors a friendly smile to show them how very reasonable all of this was. I hoped that it said: “See, citizens of Philadelphia, who have put off your obligations, hired babysitters, and missed work; I’m a nice person, so you shouldn’t hate me or my jackass client for wasting your valuable time.” After all, this was all a big misunderstanding, right?

“Mr. Harris claims that’s what happened to him on that day in May. He went to the store for one item and then saw another that he needed and then another. Rather than go all the way back to the front of the store for a basket, he simply stored some items in his clothing, fully intending to pay for them.”

I looked into each juror's eyes as I slowly paced in front of the jury box. I could see that some of them actually wanted to believe me. That was nice of them. Obviously, not being clinically brain-dead, they didn't believe me, but they wanted to, and it was the thought that counted.

“That's his story ladies and gentlemen, and he has a constitutional right to tell it. If you feel the prosecution has not proven their case beyond a reasonable doubt you must acquit. Thank you.”

I sat down with as much dignity as I could muster, as a tired-looking, fifty-something, assistant district attorney rose to his feet and addressed the jury. He cleared his throat and I could see that he held a list in his hands. Inner-Gabrielle cringed. Oh shit.

“Mr. Harris had three boxes of Melba toast, a can of smoked oysters, a wheel of Gouda cheese, two bunches of grapes, a package of smoked salmon, a can of sardines, a bottle of sparkling grape juice and a can of cocktail weenies in his pants. I simply ask you to please use common sense. Thank you.”

He sat down again as I just continued to stare straight ahead doing my best, “Did someone say something?” look. (They teach you that one in law school.) The judge charged the jury and they left to deliberate as Mr. Harris went out for a smoke. I stood and gathered my things as the public defenders and the assistant district attorneys working on the next cases set up. I had seen two familiar faces among those waiting, so I was already prepared for the humiliation that I knew would be forthcoming. Adam Roth and Braden Pierce were good-looking young prosecutors – very good-looking. We usually worked the same courtroom these days and both of them liked to tease me. It fact, it seemed to be their favorite pastime. I didn't mind terribly, though, as I was deeply in lust with Mr. Pierce.

“A can of cocktail weenies.” Mr. Roth fired the first shot.

“It would be a shame to have to hurt someone as pretty as you, Mr. Roth.” I straightened my papers and tried to look busy. (They teach you that one in law school too.)

“Sounds like it was going to be quite a party,” Mr. Pierce said.

“Feeling lucky, Mr. Pierce? I’m not afraid to take you down too, you know. I work with two hundred criminal defense lawyers.” I saw him try to contain his laughter as I heard my friend, Jessica's, voice behind me. I turned around, eager to see a sympathetic face.