At various times in my career I've noticed that I fall into speech patterns. As a defense attorney there were certain explanations that I found to work and continued to use. However, I do wonder if they would work for defendants here in Appalachia as well as they did for the city kids whom I was defending. Anyway, there are two patterns I have fallen into using as a prosecutor, one with victims and the other with defense attorneys.
Victims come in with varying degrees distress and all sorts of expectations, hopes, and demands as to what prosecution should accomplish. Consequently, I've had to come up with a way to describe what I can actually do and the "hammer" explanation seems to work most of the time.
"You've got to understand, I can only do certain things. In fact, I can only really do two things. I can send someone to jail or get them put on probation. I can't fix them or condemn their soul. The Commonwealth of Virginia has given me a hammer and it's not the perfect tool for all situations. All I can do is hit them over the head if they do the wrong thing. I can't make things right, all I can do is punish and hope the message gets through so he, or others, don't do it again."
Of course, the explanation varies from person to person, depending on their state of mind and ability to comprehend. I sometimes use a whack-a-mole analogy, but I worry that too many people won't remember what whack-a-mole was. All in all, this seems to be an explanation that works. Everybody knows what a hammer is and that it only really has one use - to hit something.
Defense Attorneys: My Job to be Obstinate
Then there's a phrase that I find myself using with the defense attorneys. Usually, it's during an equity negotiation (facts not in dispute, just trying to figure out proper punishment). There comes that point in the negotiation where we are talking about different people. The defense attorney is talking about the mother of two who needs to keep her job and has a lortab addiction she needs help kicking. I'm talking about the person who has six misdemeanor convictions in the last 3 years and has been caught shoplifting from the Wal*Mart the 4th time.
"Sorry, Bob, but some times it's just my job to be obstinate. This is the best offer I'm going to make."
There are variations on this as well. On Monday, I found myself saying that "sometimes it's my job to be the bad guy" (I blame Edintally for that). It's a polite way to end the conversation and state your final position. Usually it means we part ways amicably, agreeing to disagree, and move on with whatever comes next. I'm sure there are other ways to do the same thing; it's just a pattern I've noticed myself adopting over time.