Actus Reus

ac·tus re·us \ˈak-təs-ˈrē-əs, ˈäk-tu̇s-ˈrā-u̇s\

noun : the wrongful act that makes up the physical action of a crime

Latin: guilty act

Reflections from the Criminal Defense Clinic – Jeff Wilson (Fall 2013)

They serve and protect

But what they servin’ is cold

Four walls, three meals,

And a place to grow old


A place where time passes

Just to let it pass by

Where so very few

Have the gall to ask why


It’s taken as fact

As truth, not trend

That those it controls

Brought about their own end


As if it naturally followed

Like winter does fall

As if it wasn’t

A human decision at all


But we made it all up

And we make it go

And if we want it to stop

Then we can say so


So hold on to that dream

And someday we shall see

A land that is brave,

A true home of the free





Looking back at my time in the CDC, I can honestly say that it was the best of times, the worst of times, and everything in between. Pretty much no known emotion went unfelt at some time this past semester. And for that, I commend myself and my colleagues. We have weathered the first of what will be many storms in this line of work, and we now know that we can withstand many more. Trial by fire means sometimes you get burned, but it teaches lessons and resilience that cannot be unlearned.

Though at times I felt discouraged, my time in the CDC has powerfully reinforced my desire to work with indigent defendants. And certainly not because I love the work itself. As far as I’m concerned, it’s tedious, nuanced, uncertain, confusing, and at times downright nerve-racking. It isn’t comfortable work. But neither is ditch-digging, and I’ve done that too.

Ultimately, I want to pursue criminal defense because I love the clients. I truly like people, even when I disagree with, or don’t understand, their decisions. In fact, I feel especially connected to others when times are tough and mistakes are made; to be human is to err, and to succeed in life is not to avoid problems (that is impossible) but to overcome them. When people are in trouble is when they need help the most. Whether they brought about that very trouble themselves, I really don’t care. I come to help, not to judge. I sympathize with any and all human predicaments, and especially those of the underprivileged, the subjugated, and the poor. I am angry that we as a society work tremendously hard and exhaust immense amounts of resources trying to control, to stigmatize, and to punish large sections of our population, often for conduct that has minor impact upon others or for circumstances beyond the control of the individual. History will look back on the war on drugs and our current climate of mass incarceration as a barbaric practice, just as we now look back with disgust on slavery, segregation, and gender discrimination. I want to help bring about its end as quickly as possible.

Ultimately, I want a world that is less driven by fear, blame, and vengeance, and instead falls back upon love and understanding when times are tough. I may never see it in my lifetime, but I will nonetheless live every day as if it were already true, and I can think of no better place to take up resistance against fearmongering and hatred than in the criminal justice system.

I hope all y’all fight this fight alongside me. Even if not in the trenches, then in your hearts—that is the only place such a fight can ever be won anyway. I have had a wild experience this semester, one that I wouldn’t trade for anything, and I thank each and every person involved for making it possible. Y’all are great, and if you ever need someone to go to bat for you (or with you), my (at this point metaphorical) door is always open. Peace and love!

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