Switching sides in pursuit of justice

NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Thursday, June 11th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. 

Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.

MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: And I’m Megan Basham. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: Christianity and criminal defense.

EICHER: As you heard several minutes ago, events surrounding George Floyd’s death have shed light on problems with policing. WORLD reporter Jenny Rough talked with a lawyer who knows first hand about that. He used to be a criminal prosecutor. Then he had a change of heart.

JENNY ROUGH, REPORTER: Attorney Tom Kidd arrives at the Butler County Jail in Hamilton, Ohio, and heads inside. In the sparse lobby area, a few scattered visitors sit and wait in plastic chairs. A framed poster on the concrete wall displays the county’s Most Wanted list. At the window of the jail control room, Kidd presents his credentials. 

KIDD: Do we have a room?
KIDD: Excellent. I only have one to see.
CLERK: Who are we seeing?

He’s here to meet an inmate caught in a drug bust. And to start a difficult conversation about life behind bars. 

Kidd’s career plan wasn’t to defend the accused. He graduated law school a little over 20 years ago. And was influenced by the tough-on-crime, law-and-order approach to the legal system. So he took a job in his home county prosecutor’s office and got to work. Proving guilt. Arguing cases at trial. Pushing for heavy sentences. 

Over the years, Kidd noticed a serious problem. 

KIDD: I noticed that there were a lot of turn signal violations.

The traffic stops only happened in certain communities.

KIDD: A turn signal violation would be the one that kind of shocked me. You have probable cause, you broke the law, and the government—it’s a rightful stop, and there’s nothing illegal about it, but it was done with a purpose.

The purpose? According to Kidd, law enforcement was looking for opportunities.

KIDD: …to pull over vehicles in the hopes of being able to smell marijuana, for example. If you smelled marijuana, you then have a right to search the entire vehicle and in the hopes of finding drugs, firearms, whatever. 

Kidd says this type of active policing shouldn’t happen. 

KIDD: As a Christian, that views all men and women are prone to sin, that’s that a problematic view, to be able to hold a certain segment of society opposed to another segment of society, and that the one can do no wrong…

Kidd sees another area in need of reform: over-criminalization of behavior. People who commit violent crimes should be separated from society, but non-violent offenders? Like a dad who failed to pay child support? The last thing he needs is to be locked up. Another example: Drug use. Possession. And sale. Kidd says, incarceration often doesn’t make sense.  

KIDD: And we were punishing, and we still are punishing, people for years, not for direct violence. And some would say, well, drug trade is always intertwined with violence, and there is some truth to that. The question is, what causes that? 

Prison Fellowship founder Chuck Colson and theologian Francis Schaeffer were proponents of restorative justice, restitution, and second chances. Their ideas appeal to Kidd.

KIDD: Why aren’t we looking toward restitution? Victim-offender mediation, instead of incarceration?

So after eight years as a prosecuting attorney, Kidd made a big decision. 

KIDD: I did switch sides. I did switch sides indeed.

Now as a criminal defense attorney, he makes sure the police aren’t violating the law.

KIDD: What I’m looking for are potential violations in regard to the Fourth and Fifth Amendment, and in regard to search and seizure, things like that where again the government, some people would say, messed up on a technicality. I would say the Fourth and Fifth amendment is anything but a technicality. You’re talking about being secure in your homes, in your person, that those rights are instrumental and that if we don’t defend those rights for the downtrodden, the drug dealer, then what right do we think that they should apply to us? 

He’s defended people accused of murder—it wasn’t easy. But the government has the burden of proving guilt. Kidd says we should be thankful it’s not the reverse.

The idea of good evidence for a proper conviction comes straight from God’s law. 

KIDD: Seems like God liked multiple witnesses. You can talk all about DNA evidence and all that, yeah. But we should think long and hard before we take someone’s liberty just based on a he said, she said, or minimal evidence. 

Back at his law firm—an old house converted to office space—Kidd meets yet another client. 

KIDD: Hey, Michael. Good to see you.
MICHAEL: How are you?
KIDD: Good. C’mon in. Let’s step back into the conference room. 

Much of Kidd’s day is spent working with hurting people. Mental health issues come into play. And so many people are rootless, Kidd says. Without a real connection to community. It contributes to a crisis of meaninglessness. 

KIDD: We have raised a generation of people that have no support systems. We’ve raised a generation that simply doesn’t know what they need to do to move forward, and prison doesn’t help that. The idea of rehabilitation is a noble aspiration. Prison is probably the wrong instrument to do that.

Bookshelves line Kidd’s office. He has a well-used two-volume set of the United States Sentencing Guidelines alongside books about Abraham Kuyper. Kuyper was prime minister of the Netherlands in the early 1900s. He was also a theologian. His Christian view of life was rooted in sphere sovereignty. 

KIDD: God created different areas that govern certain parts of creation. You have the sphere of the family, you have the sphere of the church, and you have the sphere of the civil government.

The civil government sphere is still too powerful today, Kidd says. The other two, not enough. But he believes that’s the best place for rehabilitation. 

KIDD: It would look like being connected with, I think, a church, having a reason to live, establishing a family, having a purpose, having gainful employment where you know you’re contributing.

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Jenny Rough in West Chester Township, Ohio.

(Photo/Jenny Rough)

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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One comment on “Switching sides in pursuit of justice

  1. LeighAnn Phillips says:

    I love this. I’m always trying to walk the tension between love and grace. We adopted two girls and the younger’s birthmom is currently doing time in prison for Drug possession and prostitution. She has been in the system since she was 14 with really no change. She’s miraculously given birth 5 times to healthy babies and placed them all in good homes. Prison has saved her life but when she gets out she goes back to that drug life again and back in prison. She has no desire to work and her father always takes care of her needs when she gets out of prison. My question is, if prison isn’t the right place for her where is?

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