Archive for the ‘Courts’ Category

PostHeaderIcon Buying Justice: Myth Or Reality?

Who stands a better chance at walking out of a courtroom free and clear of all criminal charges? Is it the rich businessman and his team of high-priced attorneys? Or, is it the average Joe, a hardworking ditch-digger who barely gets by earning minimum wage and is represented by an overworked, underpaid court-appointed attorney who’s fresh out of law school?

I think it’s safe to say the answer to that question is, well…it goes without saying.

I’m sure you’ve all heard of the latest high-profile case where a young man of more than substantial means, while driving drunk, crashed and killed four people. His family hired a couple of “big name” attorneys, and when the dust settled the defendant skated out of the courtroom with a sentence of probation. His defense had been that he was raised in the midst of extreme wealth and riches and had never been disciplined for doing wrong. As a result of living in those “horrible” conditions he suffered from affluenza, meaning that he couldn’t/didn’t know any better. Apparently, affluenza renders rich people totally and utterly stupid beyond all definitions of the word.

At least, though, the young man’s attorneys managed to come up with a defense that has a name attached to it. But what about the wealthy one-percenters who never seem to serve any real time for their crimes? How do they manage to avoid the orange jump suits and sharing a 6×9 concrete and steel room with roaches and rats? Has it always been this way, where the well-connected enjoy a different standard of justice than do folks of meager means?

Let’s begin our exploration on a small scale—the wannabe big fish in a tiny pond. You know, the upper crust of small town U.S.A.

There was a deputy who’d decided to come in off patrol to catch up on a bit of paperwork. He parked in front of the jail and, after that unseen person buzzed him through the gates, he headed upstairs to a private room where several deputies shared a bank of desks and a few typewriters.

As he made his way up the steps he heard someone clacking away at one of the old Royals. He thought it was odd to hear someone hard at work in the office because he hadn’t seen any other patrol cars parked outside. When he turned the doorknob and pushed the door open, he was quite surprised to see a young man, a non-employee civilian, sitting behind one of the army-green metal desks. The stranger looked up from his typing and, without so much as a “kiss my tail feathers,” he went back to pecking the keys.

The deputy placed his folders and other do-dads on one of the other desks, and said, “Excuse me.”

The interloper stopped typing and looked up. He was obviously irritated that the lowly deputy had the gall to bother him.

The deputy continued. “Did someone give you permission to be in here?” The deputy was concerned because their lockers, which contained evidence, firearms, chemical sprays, and other police goodies, were also in the room.

The little snob said, “Yeah…they did.” He went back to work.

“Who?” the deputy asked.

“Who, what?” was the kid’s snotty reply to him, without bothering to stop punching the keys and dinging the bell.

The officer had heard and seen enough, so he placed his hand over the typebars and said, “Who gave you permission to be in this room using our typewriters?”

“My daddy told the sheriff to let me do my homework in here, and he TOLD the sheriff I was not to be interrupted.”

“And your daddy is…?”

“Judge So and So. You may have heard of him.”

Well, after checking his story, it turned out that Mr. Typewriter was indeed the judge’s son, and the little darlin’ had been convicted of manslaughter in another jurisdiction (driving drunk and crashed into a car, killing the elderly couple inside).

His father, the judge, pulled some strings and arranged it so that his baby boy could serve his sentence in this particular jail. The judge had also worked a deal with the sheriff to allow the kid to remain outside of the cell blocks until lights out. He was also to be allowed to hang out in the employee break room, watch TV, enjoy meals delivered to him from the outside, wear street clothes, and to use the desks and typewriters normally reserved for deputies, to complete his papers and other projects for the college he attended (assignments and notes were also delivered to him). Deputies were not to disturb the judge’s son while he was using their typewriters and their desks.

In another instance, a wealthy businessman was arrested for his 4th DUI, and he was sentenced to a whopping 30 days in the county jail. This man was one of the county sheriff’s golfing and drinking buddies. You can imagine how this went. During the duration of his incarceration, the man was allowed to wear his street clothes. He was also allowed to wear his gold bracelet, watch, and a gold chain around his neck that was nearly large enough to use as an anchor chain on a battleship. It didn’t stop there.

Jailers were instructed that this man’s cell door was to remain unlocked and open at all times. Jail cooks had to prepare made-to-order meals for him (he sent his orders to the kitchen via the on-duty jailers). He received a daily newspaper. He used the phone anytime day or night. He received visitors anytime day or night. He was allowed to run his business from the jail. He roamed the halls and corridors normally patrolled by jail staff. And, he was even allowed to use the conference room for business meetings!

A first time offender was arrested by an FBI agent for possessing less than $100 worth of crack cocaine. Thousands upon thousands upon thousands of dollars were poured into the investigation—search warrants, canines, dozens of officers, agents, state police, prosecution team, etc. All for less than $100 worth of crack cocaine. That’s it. That’s all they found and that was the defendant’s only charge.

The FBI and federal prosecutors threatened to lock up the man’s family (as accomplices – they weren’t). Officials threatened the man with a sentence of 10 years or more. And they threatened to seize his home and all of his possessions, leaving his family with absolutely nothing.

However, the officials offered a five year sentence if the man pleaded guilty.

The defendant hired a very prominent attorney to represent him…for a base fee of $25,000. Shortly after, the attorney came to the man (who was in jail under NO BOND) and said the plea deal he’d negotiated was for just over three years in federal prison. The attorney, by the way, placed a lien on his client’s home for the $25,000, and he’d done so the moment he was retained. The defendant had no access to any funds other than the equity in his home.

The attorney, in the same conversation, said he could probably have the sentence reduced to probation or home confinement if the defendant could somehow find another $25,000.

Remember, this was between the attorney and his client. We have no way of knowing if it went any further, or, if anyone else had any knowledge of the “negotiation fee”.

So, what are your thoughts? Is there a special justice system for the wealthy/”one-percenters”? Are harsher sentences handed down to the average Joe’s and Jane’s in this country? How about the poor? Do they stand a chance against the courts and powerful prosecutors? Do some prosecutors routinely step on the “little people,” chalking up big conviction numbers to further their personal career goals—like an appointment as the head of the CIA, FBI, etc.?

Can money truly buy freedom?

 

PostHeaderIcon Hear Ye, Hear Ye, All Rise For…The Mayor?

It’s a small red-brick building nestled between Betty Lou’s Cut ‘n Curl and Smilin’ Bob’s Hardware and Pawn Shop. The lone parking space in front is reserved. The sign reads “Chief’s Parking Only.”

Inside, the hallway to the right takes you to the water department and the office of the building inspector. There, you can also purchase dog tags and yard sale permits. A left turn leads to the village police department, a force comprised of five dedicated, hardworking police officers—one chief, one sergeant, two full-time officers, and one part-time guy who’s also the mayor of the next town over.

Complaints can be filed with the dispatcher at the window, or by dialing the local number. Calling 911 in the Village of Bubbling Falls works the same as calling 911 in Big City, USA. Well, there is a tiny difference in the two…when you call 911 in Bubbling Falls, somebody always shows up to see what’s wrong. Not necessarily so in Big City.

Bubbling Falls dispatchers also work the computer terminals and NCIC. They know CPR and they know every single village resident and the quickest route to their houses.

Officers in Bubbling Falls attend the police academy and they receive the same training and certifications as the officers over in Big City. No, the Bubbling Falls PD doesn’t have all the latest fancy equipment with the shiny, spinning dials and winking, blinking lights. They don’t have specially trained detectives who only work homicides or white collar crime. And they don’t have divisions dedicated for traffic, vice, narcotics, and internal affairs. Budgets simply don’t allow it.

Instead, officers in Bubbling Falls are cross-trained. They each know how to run radar, direct traffic, dust for fingerprints, collect evidence, interview suspects and witnesses, and they know how to investigate a murder. They work burglaries and assaults. They also arrest drunk drivers, drug dealers, people who abuse their spouses, rapists, pedophiles, and robbers. They break up fights, help kids cross the street safely, and they locate lost pets. And, if one of their officers  steps out of line they’ll straighten his butt out too.

Of course, Bubbling Falls is totally fictional, but there are many actual small towns and villages with small police departments. And those small departments work the same type cases as the departments in larger cities. No, not all departments are large enough to have officers who serve as detectives. But they all employ police officers who are fully capable of investigating any type of crime. And they do, from traffic offenses to murder. Sure, they do the same work as a detective, but they do it while wearing a uniform instead of some fancy-smancy suit and high-dollar wingtip shoes.

So you see, most small departments operate the same way as the large ones, just on a smaller scale.

For example:

The Yellow Springs Ohio Police Department serves a village of slightly less than 4,000 residents. Therefore, the department is small. However, there’s a college in town and the village is located near Dayton and Springfield, which translates into the potential for a higher crime rate than would normally be found in a town that size. And, the potential for more crime means more proactive police work for the small number of officers.

The YSPD doesn’t have plainclothes detectives to investigate major crimes. Instead, as is the case with many small departments, uniformed officers investigate all crimes. So, when an officer receives a call from the dispatcher they see it all the way through—from the 911 call through court, including evidence collection, interviewing witnesses, etc.

If the officers need additional help, or resources, they call on the sheriff’s office.

Remember, not all departments operate in the same manner. Some smaller departments DO have detectives, and those investigators may or may not wear a uniform. They could dress in a coat and tie, and they could have the title of detective, or investigator. If they’re a detective who wears a uniform their rank would normally remain the same as it was when they were assigned to patrol duties. There is no standard rule. It’s entirely up to the individual department.

One other thing to remember—a police department and a sheriff’s office are not the same. Deputy sheriffs work for sheriffs, not police chiefs. But that’s a topic for another day.

YSPD dispatcher

NCIC equipment

Felony traffic stop

Issuing a traffic summons

An arrest

Small departments may not have LiveScan fingerprint terminals. If not, they’d still use the old ink and ten-print cards

Ten-print fingerprinting station

Small departments collect and preserve evidence using the same methods and materials used by larger departments

Evidence storage is on a smaller scale in smaller departments

 Evidence room in a small department

Evidence safe in a small department (for narcotics, etc.)

Officers’ shared workstation/office in a small department

Small departments follow the same procedures as any other department

Interior of a small department patrol car features the same equipment as any other patrol car

One interesting point to note is that Ohio mayors are authorized by law to hold Mayor’s Court, where they hear misdemeanor cases, such as bad check cases, assaults, tax-related issues, cases involving animals, trespassing, shoplifting, traffic offenses, etc.

Ohio law requires that prior to hearing certain cases, such as drug and alcohol related traffic offenses, each Mayor must attend 6 hours of classroom training. They must also attend a three-hour continuing education class each year.

State law also requires each Mayor’s Court facility be:

- Easily accessible by the public

- well-lighted and heated

- the mayor should preside from an elevated bench or table that separates them from the public. The table, or bench, must be flanked by the state flag and the U.S. flag.

- tables and chairs must be positioned so that all parties involved can see and hear the proceedings

- mayors must dress in attire that’s appropriate for the dignity of the proceedings

- smoking, foul language, and eating are not permitted in mayor’s courts

- Even though most mayor’s courts are held in small towns and villages, where nearly everyone knows his neighbors, first names and nicknames should not be used during the hearings.

- if an offense carries the possibility of jail time, the mayor must appoint an attorney to represent the defendant(s), if they haven’t already retained one.

*Of course, a defendant could save everyone a lot of time by checking the “guilty” box on the form handed to him at the start of the proceeding.

STATEMENT OF RIGHTS

WAIVER OF RIGHTS

PLEA OF GUILTY OR NO CONTEST

Defendant’s Name: ____________________________________________________________

In the __________________________________ Mayor’s Court, ____________________, Ohio

Case No. _________________Charge(s)____________________________________________

I am present in Court today and have been told:

(1)The law requires this Court to bring me to trial within thirty days of the date I was charged.

(2)I have a right to have a lawyer here at anytime, and I may have my case continued to get a lawyer(s).

(3) If the charge I am facing carriesa possible jail sentence, the Court will appoint a lawyer at no cost to me if I cannot afford to hire one.

(4) If the charge I am facing carries a possible jail sentence, I have the right to a jury trial.

(5) I have a right to remain silent. Anything I say can be used against me.

(6) The maximum penalty I can receive if I am convicted. If this is a traffic case, I also may lose the right to drive for some time and have points added to my driving record.

(7) If I am not a United States citizen, that a conviction could result in my deportation or denial of citizenship according to the laws of the United States.

(8) I have the right to remain free on a reasonable bail while my case is awaiting trial.

I HAVE READ THIS STATEMENT AND I UNDERSTAND IT. I WAS GIVEN THE CHANCE TO ASK QUESTIONS AND THEY WERE ANSWERED.

I have decided on my own to waive my rights and proceed today. I do not want a continuance to talk to a lawyer.

I plead:

Guilty ___

No Contest ___

Signed: ___________________________ Date ______________________________

Witnessed by: ___________________________ Date ________________________

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