There are certain American myths about crime and criminals.
On the one hand, there are black-and-white images of tough guys in dark alleys armed to the teeth hellbent on destroying the world. In this myth, criminals aren’t people and crimes aren’t societal problems; criminals are dangerous beasts and crimes are the natural consequences of weak defense measures.
On the other hand, there are the hard luck stories of adults struggling to cope with the scars of toxic childhoods. Here, there are no criminals; just terrible fortunes. Star-crossed damnation. Cosmic neglect causing children to be born into deeply insufficient or actively hostile families and societies causing those children to develop dangerous mechanisms for coping with the profound adversity flooding their lives. And, out of necessity following this series of bad rolls of the dice, people run afoul of the law.
People like to swap half-baked anecdotes that fall under each umbrella. These anecdotes and these myths form the basis of our favorite TV shows, movies, and books. They form the core of a lot of viral social media content. While most crimes are for petty offenses and most criminals do suffer from economic, racial, and environmental conditions that shape their lives, these stories miss something essential about crime in America.
In this country, an act becomes a crime through a formal, complicated, boring process. Crimes do not announce themselves. Criminals do not wear name badges. Crime requires some authority to recognize, realize, or decide that an act is a crime and proceed accordingly.
In this way, American crime is not really a matter of morality, it is fundamentally a matter of bureaucracy. Crime is what happens after the state or federal government outlaw a kind of behavior, law enforcement learn that someone engaged in that behavior, and state attorneys decide to do something about it.
Consequently, a degree of randomness permeates the American criminal process. Fate intervenes. A person becomes a criminal not due to his malicious intent or nefarious schemes, but because his behavior falls under just the right statutory scheme and he didn’t correct his behavior before a cop realized what’s what.
The American justice system is a heap of human choices stacked together and afforded an institutional sheen. And it has a profound impact on the well-being, safety, and flourishing of our local communities. I chose to pursue a career in criminal justice because our system’s issues can be resolved when the right people join in and contribute to making the system function more fairly, more justly.
The purpose of this blog is pop the hood on the criminal process in one American state, Wyoming, and describe how it works. It is intended to be used by nonlawyers. Whether you are a law enforcement officer trying to understand more about search and seizure law, a person charged with a crime, or a student interested in criminal law, the posts on this blog will give you useful information to help you on your way.
If there is a topic of interest or a burning question you have, shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will try to address it here.
Note: I am a criminal defense lawyer. However, by reading this blog or interacting with me through the blog, you are not establishing nor can you establish an attorney-client relationship with me. By visiting this site, you understand that I am not providing legal advice on your specific issue nor have you created an attorney-client relationship with me. Please consult an attorney if you or a loved one are charged with a crime.
If you would like to consult with me about a legal issue in my capacity as an attorney, please contact my office at 307-265-3455 or email me at email@example.com.