Criminal Justice

Call me Captain Justice: Lawyer requests euphemisms after prosecutor seeks ban on 'government' word

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A Tennessee lawyer is making no secret of what he thinks of a motion to ban references to prosecutors as “the government” during trial.

If the court allows the parties to pick their own designations, says Franklin, Tenn., defense lawyer Drew Justice, then he should be addressed by the name “Captain Justice.”

His response, filed with the Williamson County court, offers other acceptable terms for defense attorney (such as “guardian of the realm”) and the defendant (such as “citizen accused”). Above the Law published the entire motion; the Tennessean also has a story.

Justice is defending Donald Powell, one of two defendants accused in an attempted aggravated burglary, the Tennessean says. The prosecution motion sought to ban the word “government” because it makes the prosecutor “seem oppressive and to inflame the jury,” according to the newspaper.

Justice began his response by arguing that the proposed ban on the word “government” violates the First Amendment, and the state “offers precisely zero legal authority for its rather nitpicky position.”

“Should this court disagree, and feel inclined to let the parties basically pick their own designations and ban words, then the defense has a few additional suggestions for amending the speech code,” Justice wrote. “First, the defendant no longer wants to be called ‘the Defendant.’ This rather archaic term of art, obviously has a fairly negative connotation. It unfairly demeans, and dehumanizes Mr. Donald Powell. The word ‘defendant’ should be banned. At trial, Mr. Powell hereby demands he be addressed only by his full name, preceded by the title ‘Mister.’ Alternatively, he may be called simply ‘the Citizen Accused.’ This latter title sounds more respectable than the criminal ‘Defendant.’ The designation ‘That innocent man’ would also be acceptable.”

Justice goes on to suggest substitutions for “lawyer” and “defense attorney.”

“Counsel for the Citizen Accused should be referred to primarily as the ‘Defender of the Innocent,’ ” Justice writes. “This title seems particularly appropriate, because every Citizen Accused is presumed innocent. Alternatively, counsel would also accept the designation ‘Guardian of the Realm.’ Further, the Citizen Accused humbly requests an appropriate military title for his own representative, to match that of the opposing counsel [since prosecutors are sometimes referred to as ‘general’]. Whenever addressed by name, the name ‘Captain Justice’ will be appropriate. …

“WHEREFORE, Captain Justice, Guardian of the Realm and Leader of the Resistance, primarily asks that the court deny the state’s motion, as lacking legal basis. Alternatively, the Citizen Accused moves for an order in limine modifying the speech code as aforementioned, and requiring any other euphemisms and feel-good terms as the court finds appropriate.”

The judge found that the word “government” isn’t derogatory and denied the prosecution’s motion, Justice told the Tennessean.

Williamson County District Attorney Kim Helper told the newspaper that the prosecutor who wrote the motion was just trying to make sure the trial stayed focused on the facts. “We’re a little disappointed at the response that talked about ‘Captain Justice, Defender of the Realm,’ ” Helper said. “From my perspective, it seemed a little bit—I don’t know what the right word would be. The response did not appear to be in good faith.”

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