They Take Rules Seriously These Days: Stay On The Boat

I recently returned from the Windy City where I took a brief break from the turbulent work of defending the accused, many of whom are alleged to have committed very minor offenses.  Chicago turned out to be just the break I needed.  It is one of the most architecturally beautiful cities in the country where it is built around the Chicago River.  The river’s main attraction is an architectural boat tour; a tour of design beauty so delicate and detailed that it takes one’s mind away from a stressful work:  keeping good people’s lives from being altered by their minor bad choices.

The tour passed through a lock that controls the water flowing between Lake Michigan and the Chicago River.  Floating through the lock was an experience to be remembered.  All were enjoying themselves  – a wonderful experience on a beautiful day.  In the midst of experiencing the lock, a couple that had been “cut off” by the tour bartender, decided to venture out onto the lock and into the city in search of more drink.  One may think “fun and innocent enough.”

The lock is federal land and is maintained by Chicago law enforcement and federal military authorities.  Large signs warn that the lock is federal property and not open to the public.  Placards on the tour forbade exiting the boat while it was in the lock.  No warning seemed ominous enough that the inebriated couple believed that their “walk” might be life altering.  No sign warned of the prospect of a federal arrest.  How could their drunken stroll onto a lock (that looks like a park) affect their life?  Their quick arrest by local law enforcement was the answer.

The reality is that the world today is a more serious place.  Society punishes violations of rules with a severity rarely contemplated for similar conduct in decades past. Conduct that previously may have been punished with a verbal scolding, now has potentially severe direct and collateral consequences.  The formerly  broad discretion of an officer is trumped by fear of terrorism, lack of trust, politics, prejudice and 24-hour media.  The likelihood of being criminally charged with a minor, often unwittingly committed crime is exponentially more likely.

That fun unwitting walk on the lock will likely result in a costly stroll through the criminal justice system.  That path may lead to a federal or state trespassing conviction, mug shots splashed across the internet, a “criminal record”, getting fired from a job, the loss of a school scholarship, being declined for a loan, the denial of federal funding or financing and more.

If you find yourself walking on the lock, know that I am back from my trip, working hard every day to take care of good people – that step off the boat.


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