One of the most remarkable things about the collection of short stories by Ferdinand Schirach entitled Crime is that the legal system he describes (i.e. Germany’s) is far more humane and just than the system we’re familiar with here in America. His abrupt claim therefore in the very last sentence of the Afterword that the differences between the two systems are “insignificant,” after everything that’s gone before, strikes the reader — or at least the informed American reader — as intentionally and enigmatically untrue.
Two significant differences: In Germany, the prosecutor is supposed to remain “neutral” and is apparently not even supposed to take a position at trial on the defendant’s guilt or innocence, leaving that determination to the judges and jurors. Another significant difference is that in Germany there is no such thing as “plea bargaining,” which we here in America imagine is indispensable.
Two of my favorite stories were “Summertime” and “Self-Defense.” I remain befuddled by the last paragraph of the former story, which suggests that the criminal defense attorney pulled a fast one on the prosecutor and the court and by that legerdemain got his more-than-likely guilty client acquitted of murder. I still fail to see the flaw in the argument that persuaded the prosecutor and the court, and would be grateful to any reader who would be so kind as to cure my blindness.
“Self-Defense” begins with a heart-warming account of two neo-Nazi thugs looking to have a little ultra-violent fun at the expense of a mild mannered bespectacled middle-aged man on a subway platform getting their comeuppance when the man goes all Jason Bourne on their asses and fatally dispatches them to the netherworld with uncommon skill. Turns out the middle aged man is very likely a professional hit man for very wealthy and connected people. The criminal defense attorney of course gets this man acquitted of all charges and released back into society. The story ends with the criminal defense attorney giving rare expression to feelings of disgust (feelings which weren’t expressed at the conclusion of “Summertime,” for example), although it’s not clear whether that disgust was solely in reference to the man himself or whether it was directed to the attorney’s own role in securing his release. If the latter, it might conceivably be explained by the observation that there is dangerous and there is dangerous. A man who has committed a murder and has thereby demonstrated that he is capable of murder is undoubtedly more dangerous than your average man, but a man whose very profession is murder will undoubtedly commit more murders. This cannot sit well with a man whose profession is to defend people, even if his job may call upon him to try to set a professional murderer free.
One little gripe with the book: The author in his Preface makes it sound like these stories are true crime stories drawn from his own criminal defense practice, and this impression has found its way into more than one review. While I don’t doubt Schirach found inspiration in real life cases, his stories are obviously fiction.