The burly blond with the gold chains nestled in his chest hairs sits in the stuffy conference room across the wood table, mulling his options. His wife, short, pert, neatly coiffed and crisply dressed, sits beside him, supportive, argumentative, loyal to a fault.He has been charged with disorderly conduct stemming from a violent evening a month ago when, according to her three-page hand-written statement to police, he scared the living daylights out of her and roughed her up, making her—at least temporarily—regret the presence of his many guns in their house. She sits in front of me now to explain it away, to put the incident in context, to describe their solid marriage, and to express her dismay that the State of Wisconsin would think of holding this wonderful man accountable for his actions that terrifying night.
We are engaged in what’s called a “pretrial conference.” At this point in a criminal case, the accused or an attorney sits down with a prosecutor to discuss the case and see if it can be settled short of a trial. The options are pretty simple: either accept the state’s offer—here a guilty plea in exchange for a recommendation of probation as a first-offender, no gun possession during the probationary period, and counseling—or roll the dice and take the case to trial. In this case, a conviction could potentially trigger a federal law barring him from owning guns in the future.
Faced with the possible gun ban, he decides to take his chances with a jury. When all is said and done, he feels that nothing that he did that night violated any law. His wife is equally obstinate. She will not testify against him, period. Women, she states passionately, should become more educated about what unfair consequences could befall their mates if they call 911 during a domestic incident. I walk them to the conference room door, promise them copies of the police reports, wish them luck. I hope he doesn’t kill her when he reads her statement to the police, written when the incident was still fresh. I feel like I’ve gone through the looking glass. But there’s no time to think more deeply about it, because it’s time to call the next defendant in for a chat.
I am an assistant district attorney for the State of Wisconsin. Welcome to my world. I love my job.