With liberty and justice for all?

9 Oct

There is a young man with whom I’m slightly acquainted through mutual acquaintances.  Apparently, at some point in the past, he was charged with some type of theft or burglary, the details of which I have no idea, so we’ll leave that part out.  The crux of the matter is that he swears he didn’t do it, while admitting there is substantial circumstantial evidence that he is in fact the guilty party.

He was offered some sort of pre-trial program that would ultimately leave him without a criminal record (these are felony charges) after he fulfills the requirements.  He wasn’t happy about these requirements either, which included substantial monthly payments for restitution, fees for the program, fees for drug screening, attendance at church, and community service as well.  He was also told that if he missed a single payment, he would be immediately jailed and the program revoked, resulting in his serving a prison sentence.

Wow, talk about late penalties, right?

But back to the young man.  His girlfriend of several years lives with him, and they have two very young children together.  The young man has a long history of frequent unemployment, a reputation for drug abuse and a violent temper, and is definitely not anything resembling “financially stable.”  The girlfriend is also not financially stable, although she is currently employed at least part time at a minimum wage job, which she claims she really likes.  The young man takes care of the two children while their mother is at work.  This young woman has  a family that is emotionally supportive of her efforts, even if they are not able financially to assist her, whereas the young man seems to not have anything but friends who also seem to lack employment for a support system.  The young woman graduated from high school, the young man apparently did not, nor does he have a GED, which is a serious problem for anyone trying to support their families.

The young man has decided that he can’t afford this pre-trial program and does not want to abide by its restrictions, objecting in particular to the church requirement.  Advice given by acquaintances was that this was Mississippi and that was simply the way it was…and fighting it was not going to be in his best interests at this time, that he was simply better off to agree to it and dispute the requirement over time…while attending whichever church.  I happen to agree that the church requirement was pushing the separation between church and state a bit, but I could also understand why it would be ordered–he seems to need some kind of moral guidance to help him find his way in life.  The court was leaving it up to him to choose what church it was, although I could see where they might not approve of some of the potential choices either.

Upon that, we discovered that he felt that he would end up either with himself and his family homeless or he was going to miss payments.  Therefore, he had determined that he would not try to meet the requirements of the program.  He would simply see if he could get a plea bargain and get his time over with in prison.

To me, that was a cop out.  If he’s truly honest, he is still putting his family at risk of being homeless, just he wouldn’t be around to help solve the problem.  He wouldn’t have to take responsibility for his children and their needs, to find a job and stay working, and learn to manage money effectively.  He wouldn’t have to learn how to be a productive, tax paying citizen as an inmate in the state prison for most of his life.  (He stated the sentence would be twenty five years, which seems very long for a burglary or theft charge, but what do I know?)  He would have three meals a day, recreation time, housing, medical care, dental care…without having to do anything.  His children, on the other hand, were going to be at the mercy of their mother’s fortune in finding a better job and perhaps going back to school to provide for them.  They would grow up without their father as an active part in their lives.  He’d miss everything from birthdays to high school graduations.

Would you plead to a lesser charge and take a sentence like that?

Seriously.

Would you plead guilty if you weren’t guilty?  Would you even discuss the probability of this prison term or regard it as a probability if you were truly innocent of the crime?

I’d be fighting tooth and nail.  I’d be mad as a hornet.  But at the core, I would believe that justice would win out, and if I hadn’t done it, how could there really be enough evidence to convict me of the crime?

Oh, I’m sure that there have been cases of innocent people being convicted.  I’m sure judges and juries have, at one time or another, been bribed one way or the other.  But overall, I think justice wins.  I also know that when I was a correctional service officer, it seemed like 75% of the inmates in the prison claimed they’d been “framed” for their crime and hadn’t done anything wrong at all, yet almost all of these people had plead to a lesser crime than that of their original charges.

The plea bargain–I’m not sure it’s right.  I’m not sure it’s fair.  I do know that it is often used when the “state” (prosecutor) isn’t certain that there is enough evidence to get a conviction.  Sometimes it is used to just speed up the process.   Other times, it is used to get the person to testify against someone else or provide information that would not otherwise be available to law enforcement.

What do you think?  Leave a comment below!

2 Responses to “With liberty and justice for all?”

  1. arnoldwadsworth October 10, 2011 at 5:45 am #

    This is when things get dicey. I am a criminal defense attorney in Salt Lake City Utah and I see this all the time. “I didn’t do it” but “get me a deal” and “I will just serve the time”, well it is not that easy. If you come in begging for a deal then the State may not offer one. He really needs an attorney, and if he can’t afford it he should get a public defender. Good luck.
    http://www.arnoldwadsworth.com

    • giascott October 10, 2011 at 9:30 pm #

      I agree–an attorney, whether private or public defender, is critical, but the best attorney in the world can’t help someone who refuses their help and won’t listen to their advice. Sometimes, attitude is everything, I guess! In my case, it doesn’t personally affect me, and as a woman, I’m more likely to see it from the view of the girlfriend or even the young man’s mother than from his point of view. I absolutely cannot imagine myself giving in and being willing to just plead guilty to “get the time over with.” Maybe I’m way too optimistic or way too idealistic, but I cannot foresee myself giving up.

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