The state in a criminal case in Tennessee as represented by an assistant district attorney general did not want to be referred to as “the government.” Why? Because the prosecutor thought repeating the use of the term “the government” in pursuing the case against a burglary suspect would prejudice the case with the jury because the word was used in a “derogatory” way intended to “inflame” the jury and make the jury “dislike” the state’s attorney.
Has government’s reputation fallen so low that even a representative of the government doesn’t want to use the term in a courtroom? Well, yes, I guess so when you look at the polls measuring voters’ attitudes toward Congress or the reaction to the recent scandal involving the IRS.
After making First Amendment and other arguments to oppose the state’s motion, defense attorney Drew Justice – yes, that’s his real surname – responded that if the state wants to change nomenclature for judicial proceedings and the court agrees then he had a few other proposals in mind.
He suggested “the defendant” has a negative connotation and suggested the person on trial should be referred to as “the Citizen Accused” or “That Innocent Man.”
As for himself, Mr. Justice thought to be referred to as “lawyer” or “defense attorney” might have a negative ring. He suggested since his client was presumed innocent, the title “Defender of the Innocent” would be appropriate. Another suggestion: “Guardian of the Realm.”
Since in her formal motion the deputy district attorney general said one of the proper names she could be referred to in court was “General” because of her title, the defense lawyer said it would be okay to refer to him as “Captain” since he is representing an individual and not the entire state as the “General” does.
Along the same lines he thought the word “defense” was not “likeable” and suggested it be replaced with “Resistance.”
The lawyer concluded his motion: “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 decided that the “Defense Lawyer” could address the prosecutor as “the government.”
Words are important as the master of language, Mark Twain told us: “The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter—’tis the difference between the lightning-bug and the lightning.”
You would think that someone who works for the government would be proud of that association. Or is there something to be ashamed of? In a country that was founded in revolt against government, the state will always have work to do to gain and keep citizens’ respect.
Skepticism on behalf of the populous is a necessary check on growing or misuse of government power.
Hooray to Captain Justice for sticking up for “the government” as a term against the government that wields the power.