Needs of the Many

Bring Your Lies & Half-Truths … I Will Destroy Them

Sen. Craig … & Why Innocent People Plead Guilty

Posted by Casey on August 31, 2007

Now that you’ve heard the audio of Sen. Craig’s interrogation … do you believe he’s innocent, or guilty? Take the poll at the top right of this page.

If you haven’t heard the interrogation yet … go here (about 8 minutes).

I’ve been talking about this the past couple of days on my show, and found that many people now believe Craig to be innocent after I played the interrogation for them. For me the most important part is what is said in the first 1 1/2 minutes.

From the beginning Craig proclaims his innocence, but expresses that he does not want to fight the cop in court, and he must make that flight. The cop makes it very clear that if he pleads guilty this will go away quietly, and he won’t contact the media.

Whether Craig is innocent, I don’t know. However, it was a poor decision to plead guilty because there is no way in hell he would have been found guilty in any court of law. There is no evidence at all against him … other than his plea … which really doesn’t mean much (I’ll explain in a bit).

One thing I’ve been saying since this story broke is that at best this is shotty police work, and extremely unprofessional. Law enforcement never conducts a sting without any form of audio or video confirmation that there was a crime. Yet no standard police tactics used in sting operations were used in this case. I find this highly suspect. The officer could have been fitted with a camera to record the “foot taps” which would have proven his case. Instead, it’s down to the word of these two men with no concrete evidence.

There was also, literally, no law broken. That scares me. People have been saying we are moving towards a “Minority Report” society for some time, and cases like this prove them correct.

There was no illegal exposure, or solicitation. Even prostitution stings require video, and for the ‘John’ to provide money. Merely asking for sex is not enough to arrest. It is not against the law to ask someone if they’d like to have sex (if that’s what happened) … there is only a law against them having sex in a public place, or offering to pay for sex … neither of which happened. So Sen. Craig may have potentially broken the law had he found a willing partner, but he also may have taken his partner back to a hotel room. We just don’t know, and he broke no law. Yet he was forced to decide to fight this publicly or plea when he committed no crime.

For those of you who find it impossible that an innocent person would plea guilty … I have a reality check for you. Innocent people plead guilty ALL THE TIME! Case in point …

Truth In Justice:

A defendant’s actual innocence is more important than a guilty plea, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled today in siding with a man who admitted to sexual assault only to later produce evidence that would exonerate him.

Defense attorneys hailed the ruling as critical to keeping the justice system open to defendants who are convicted but can later prove their innocence.

The court had already determined that a defendant can appeal when new evidence contradicts a guilty verdict during trial. But it hadn’t decided what to do with someone who pleads guilty to a crime. The court ruled 5-4 on a case from Dallas County. The defendant’s new claim of innocence, with the evidence to back it up, outweigh his previous guilty plea, the court said.

Punishing an innocent person violates due process, the court majority said in an opinion written by Judge Tom Price. “The purpose of criminal proceedings is to separate the guilty from the innocent,” Price wrote. “The guilty plea process is not perfect.” Wesley Ronald Tuley went to trial on aggravated sexual assault charges in 1997.

It is not only sad that this man was forced to plea guilty to a crime he didn’t commit, but it is more sad that 4 judges were not willing to overturn his guilty plea after he proved his innocence.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

In the criminal justice system, defendants in federal court can be convicted one of two ways — by pleading guilty or after a trial.

Those who choose to admit their guilt are often “rewarded” with lesser sentences.

Those who choose to take advantage of their Constitutional right to trials are often “penalized” with harsher sentences.

Prosecutors argue that guilty pleas are essential, and without them the system would be crippled by thousands of cases backlogged for trial. Further, they think that defendants who take responsibility for their crimes deserve to benefit.

Defense attorneys and some academics, though, argue that the system is so skewed that most clients are forced to accept pleas, knowing that if they take their chances at trial and lose, they will face sentences that are at least 25 percent higher.

Some view it as a “trial penalty.” Others look at it as a “plea reward.”

“However you prefer to frame it, if you go to trial [and lose], closer to the full wrath of the law will be brought down upon you,” said John H. Kramer, a former director of the U.S. Sentencing Commission.

The article then provides an example of a couple who were charged with a crime. One plead guilty, and was sentenced to six months house arrest. The other went to trial, and was given 33 months in prison … big difference.

Would you plead guilty to avoid 33 months in prison when you know you will only face 6 months at home? You likely would, but just in case you are telling yourself that you wouldn’t … take into account that 1/6 juries get the verdict wrong in this country. Did that change your mind?

By pleading guilty, a defendant receives an automatic sentence reduction of at least two levels, and sometimes three. In some cases, that means a 35 percent reduction in prison time before anything else is even considered — like cooperating with the government or other mitigating circumstances.

A 35% reduction in punishment is pretty enticing if you have a family, and good job.

Carmen Hernandez, first vice president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, calls guilty pleas “the bane of our existence.”

“As a defense attorney, you’re caught between a rock and a hard place,” she said.

Defendants often weigh the consequences they face — even if they are not guilty — and choose to plead just to avoid the possibility of an increased prison term, she said.

“The incentive is so great that it’s hard to stand on principle and say ‘I’m not going to do it,’ ” Ms. Hernandez said.

She also thinks that by avoiding jury trials, there’s less of an effort to “keep the system honest.”

“If the government had to try every case, maybe they’d be more selective in the cases they prosecute,” said Ms. Hernandez, who worked as a federal public defender for 16 years.

And when defendants plead to the charges against them, prosecutors are not forced to prove their cases beyond a reasonable doubt, she added.

Nationally, for fiscal year 2004, 95.5 percent of the 51,666 (federal, not state) convictions were reached through guilty pleas. That means that only 2,316 U.S. District Court cases across the country went to trial.

95.5% of all convictions are guilty pleas, and we know for a fact that several of them are innocent. Most will never be allowed to prove their innocence, however, because unlike the Texas case mentioned above … most guilty pleas are permanent.

Mr. Kramer, who now teaches at Penn State University, believes the American court system has been acclimated to processing guilty pleas.

“It’s a perfectly laughable system,” he said. “The prosecutors love it. The message is any sane defendant, guilty or innocent, ought to do the prosecutor’s bidding.”

Congress keeps increasing possible criminal penalties and establishing mandatory minimum sentences, which in turn give prosecutors more leverage to convince defendants to plead guilty, Mr. Alschuler said.

“We keep jacking up penalties to induce guilty pleas,” he said.

“We have built up an opportunity for prosecutors to pile on,” added Mr. Kramer. “It is a significant armament in the prosecution.”

Naturally, the prosecutors disagree, and like the system. The defense attorneys also go too far in saying that all cases should go to trial. We just don’t have the resources for that. That ruling in Texas has the right idea. You should be free to plea guilty if you don’t have the evidence to defend yourself in court, but you should be allowed to retract that plea once you do have the evidence so you can defend your innocence. That is the only fair way of doing things.

That is why I see no problem with Craig retracting his guilty plea to defend himself. He clearly states several times during the interrogation that he wants this to go away, and the cop tells him it will … if you plead guilty. Well, it went away for 3 months, but is very public now. Therefore, Craig should be allowed to withdraw his plea, and take his chances in court. Given the release of the interrogation … Craig would win his innocence in such a case.

Michael Vick fans should also watch the Craig case closely. If Craig succeeds … you may see Vick withdraw his guilty plea at some point in the future to fight his charges.

Note:

I am not saying Vick is innocent, or guilty. Frankly, I would not be surprised either way. I do have many questions about the case, and I’m not convinced that Vick is guilty. Other than the word of 3 people (some already back in jail on other charges) that now only face 25% of their original sentence because they are fingering Vick … there isn’t any concrete evidence. At least not made public. That may mean that Vick will take his chances in court at a later date, if Craig is successful, as long as he can build his own case.

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