Archive for the ‘Courts’ Category
Basically, a grand jury’s function is to control the start of prosecutions for felony cases. In 1215, the grand jury was established to keep a tight reign on the king, preventing the possible despotic abuse of his powers against the citizens.
Each state has its own laws, rules, and regulations regarding court systems. However, the goal and end results are the same…to provide a fair trial to the accused. For the purpose of this article, though, we’re speaking of Grand Juries in the Commonwealth of Virgina, simply because that’s familiar to me. However, the process is basically the same in the areas/states using the Grand Jury system.
In Virginia, criminal court proceeding normally begin with an arrest, usually by warrant, which is a formal, written accusation stating that the person named has committed a crime.
– Crimes are divided into two classes—misdemeanors and felonies. A misdemeanor is punishable by a sentence of up to 12 months in jail and/or a monetary fine. Felonies, the more serious of the two crime classifications, are punishable by confinement in the state penitentiary (remember, we’re only talking about state and local courts, not federal offenses).
– Offenders arrested for misdemeanor offenses are brought to trial in District Court (lower court), where he/she is tried before the district judge. There is no jury in District Court. The district judge hears the case and makes one of two decisions—not guilty, which results in dismissal of charges, or guilty, which results in imposition of sentence.
A District Court judge has no authority to try felony cases, only misdemeanors and traffic cases.
If the accused is charged with a felony offense, he makes his first court appearance in the lower court where a district judge conducts a preliminary/probable cause hearing to determine whether or not enough evidence exists to try the case.
Both the prosecutor and defense present evidence during preliminary hearings. Keep in mind, though, these hearings are not trials, therefore not all evidence is presented, nor are all witnesses or experts called on to testify.
If the district/lower court judge finds that a felony has been committed, along the necessary evidence to back it up, then he/she sends the case to Circuit Court (high court) for trial. Sending a case to the higher court is called “certifying” the case (Judge I. R. Mean certified the case against Ima Crook).
– Once a case has been certified it goes to the Regular Grand Jury, whose duty is to once again determine whether or not there is probable cause to believe the person has indeed committed a felony. The defendant may or may not be released on bail while waiting for the Circuit Court trial to begin.
After a case has been certified to the Circuit Court (the high court), the prosecutor (Commonwealth’s Attorney in Va.) prepares a “bill of indictment,” which is a formal document accusing the defendant of the felony.
Prosecutors may elect to bypass the lower court entirely by bringing the case/bill of indictment straight to the Grand Jury. This step can be done in secret to avoid “tipping off” the accused. This is often done in major cases involving multiple offenders, such as drug dealers, child porn operations, etc. When the indictments are “handed down” police officers begin rounding up the accused criminals. These arrests are often carried out simultaneously in large multi-jurisdictional/agency sweeps. Again, this is done to avoid tipping off co-defendants/conspirators.
Following an indictment and subsequent arrest, the accused is arraigned—charges are formally read and the accused enters a plea of guilty, not guilty, or nolo contendere (no contest).
Grand Jurors are selected randomly (voter registrations, DMV, etc.) by the clerk of the court and are summoned to appear by the sheriff (serving jury summons is one of the duties of a sheriff, but not a responsibility of a chief of police). In Virginia, Grand Jurors serve, as needed, for a term of six months (they do not meet every day, or even every month). The Grand Jury consists of 5-9 jurors.
Before the Grand Jury begin their duties, the judge reads a list of instructions of their official duties and rules. This reading of instructions is called “Charging the Grand Jury.”
The Grand Jury’s purpose is to determine whether or not there is sufficient probable cause to try the accused for the crime in question. The Grand Jury does not determine guilt or innocence.
Grand Juries normally meet in a jury room, not in open court.
Once in the jury room, the members of the Grand Jury begin hearing testimony from witnesses. Witnesses are called one at a time and are questioned by the members. No attorneys and no judge. And, only witnesses for the prosecution are called before the Grand Jury. The defense is not permitted to present their case at this time.
When all testimony is heard, the Jury then votes. If four or more Jury members vote yes, then it has been decided that they will issue a “true bill,” meaning enough evidence/probable cause exists to proceed with the trial. A vote of “not a true bill,” means the jury did not find an ample amount of probable cause to proceed with a trial at that particular time. However, it is rare to see a Grand Jury return a “not a true bill” finding since all witnesses are prosecution witnesses.
– Grand Jury proceedings are held in secret.
*Remember, rules and regulations governing Grand Juries vary from one state to another. Also, please remember that the above information is basic. There are, as always, exceptions.
The Sixth Amendment guarantees that “in all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury.” The Constitution further guarantees that the accused will have the assistance of counsel and may be convicted only if an impartial jury of his peers unanimously determines that he is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
So what about plea bargains? There’s no judge or jury involved in that process. Instead, a plea agreement is reached when both the prosecutor and defense sit down and hammer out a really good deal for both sides, right? Well, not quite.
A plea bargain is about as one-sided as it gets, and the side that wins nearly every single time is that of the prosecution. In fact, less than 3% of all federal criminal cases make it to trial. This translates into a whopping 97% of all federal cases being decided by a plea bargain. And, it is the prosecutor who decides how much time the defendant will serve behind bars, not a judge or jury of anyone’s peers.
The defense is at a huge disadvantage at the onset of the process because prosecutors hold all the cards—secret grand jury testimony and evidence, crime scene evidence and lab test results, witness statements, and the authority to charge the accused with the most severe offense he believes he can prove…UNLESS the defendant agrees to plead GUILTY in exchange for a charge of a lessor offense, which would result in serving far less time in prison than had he been found guilty of the more severe charge. In many, if not most cases, “far less time” could be a decade or even more.
The way a federal plea bargain works, in short, is like this.
1. Police conduct an investigation and hand over their collected information and evidence to a prosecutor.
2. The prosecutor presents his/her case to the Grand Jury who almost always issues a “true bill,” meaning there is enough evidence/probable cause to proceed with the trial. After all, the only people testifying before them are witnesses for the prosecution. The defense is not a part of the Grand Jury process.
3. The suspect is arrested and incarcerated. A favorite prosecution trick is to have agents/officers make the arrest on a Friday afternoon. This is so the suspect will have to sit in jail throughout the entire weekend, until judges/magistrates return to the bench on the following Monday to hold/conduct a bond hearing (holiday weekends are a bonus because courts are also closed on Mondays). This provides the defendant a bit of eye-opening time behind bars before having an attorney appointed to their case. When Monday morning finally rolls around, many defendants are willing to do or say almost anything to return home, including agreeing to a quick plea deal.
4. Bond is either set or denied.
5. Prosecutor and defense attorney meet either in person or by phone.
6. Prosecutor offers a deal—a lessor charge if the defendant agrees to plead guilty, or face the top charge possible, along with the standard obstruction of justice for not accepting responsibility (not pleading guilty) with as much time in prison as the law allows. Obstruction, by the way, could result in an additional sentence of ten years. And that’s on top of the time for the original charge.
7. Defense attorney presents the “deal” to his client—either plead guilty to the lessor charge and serve time in federal prison for ONLY three years, for example, or refuse the deal and face the possibility of being found guilty anyway, but receive a sentence of twenty years in prison. And, this deal is open for discussion only at that moment. There’s very little time given to consider it. It’s either now or never in most cases. Of course, prosecutors will most likely accept a deal at a later time to avoid taking the case to trial, but the first offer is always the best offer. The longer the wait the more time the defendant will have to serve in prison.
8. The deal is almost always accepted. As I stated earlier, this is so in approximately 97% of all federal criminal cases, including deal acceptance by defendants who are innocent of the crimes for which they’re charged. These folks plead guilty because they’d rather agree to a shorter time in prison rather than face decades behind bars, or, in some cases, the possibility of receiving the death penalty…for a crime they didn’t commit.
In 2012, the average sentence for drug offenders (in federal court) who agreed to plea deals was five years and four months. Defendants who rolled the dice and went to trial were sentenced to an average of sixteen years. It’s a “no-brainer” decision and prosecutors know it and they rely on it. And, a plea deal typically includes a “no appeal” stipulation.
A fair and voluntary system? What do you think? Before you answer, consider this. Of the 2.2 million people in American prisons, over 2 million of those individuals are there as a result of a plea bargain devised by a prosecutor who also determined the amount of time the defendant was to serve behind bars. No jury. No judge. All prosecutor.
Some have said “having our day in court” is a thing of the past. What about you? Do you agree with the current method of plea bargaining?
As a sitting judge on a general trial court for twenty years, I ran across many things that made me wonder if anyone knew anything about the law. There is, of course, no secret that lawyers and their co-conspirators in all levels of government work daily and diligently to make the law incomprehensible. (CPAs are also guilty, but that’s another blog post.) So if we lawyers make things difficult, we shouldn’t complain when people don’t understand it, right? Wrong.
Here are but three of many things that make me growl.
(1) “A divorce (or dissolution of marriage or whatever your state calls it) is not a lawsuit.”
This one baffles me. Once I was speaking to a non-lawyer and I said, “John sued Mary for divorce.” The fellow answered, “No, he didn’t sue her. He filed a divorce. That’s different.”
If you are married and you do not want to be married, the only legal way I know of to accomplish that is to file a lawsuit asking the court to unhitch you. You must file a petition (or complaint or whatever your state calls it) and the court that hears divorce cases. That makes you the plaintiff (or petitioner or whatever your state calls it). The other party to the lawsuit (your soon to be ex-spouse) is called the defendant (or respondent or whatever your state calls it).
In some states, if you’ve agreed on everything, you can file a notice of settlement and some judge will sign a judgment, declaring you and your sweetie to no longer be married.
If you can’t agree, there could be a knock-down, drag-out courtroom battle that concerns everything from child custody to who gets the matched salt-and-pepper shakers from Hawaii.
That, my friends, is a real lawsuit, the same as if it was Standard Oil and the EPA.
(Note: I heard a divorce case where two judges were getting a divorce. They couldn’t agree on the disposition of a manure spreader. [Insert manure spreader joke here.] I decided it for them and they haven’t complained since.)
(2) “If you have a will, you don’t need to go through probate court.”
As far as I know, there is no such thing as an automatic will anywhere in any state or territory of the United States. (Correct me if I’m wrong. I’d love to see how that works! And, keep reading.)
When you die, there are two ways your stuff (if you have any stuff leftover from paying taxes all your life) is split one of two ways: You have a will or the government decides where your stuff goes.
This one I shouldn’t get too upset about because of the growing prevalence of trusts and other non-probate transfers of property. Such things keep you away from the probate division of the court to some degree or the other (depending on your state).
Free legal advice: Go to a competent—meaning you’ve done your research on the person—estate planning lawyer. Get a financial power of attorney, a healthcare power of attorney, a will, a trust, and advice on how transfer/pay on death works in your state. This can save you a lot of money and heartache. If you don’t care where your stuff goes and you don’t care if you have heartache and grief, then don’t do anything or use forms you found on the Internet.
And there’s no “reading of the will” except on soap operas. In fact, after you make out all your estate-planning documents, you should give photocopies to your potential heirs—you don’t have heirs until you die—and make sure they know how to get to your safe place after you pass. Protect your valuable documents from fire, flood, wind, earthquake, and critters (four- and two-legged).
(3) “Bail and bond mean the same thing.”
BAIL is generally how much the judge wants before you get out of jail and BOND is generally how the bail is made. Don’t ever expect journalists to get this right. And judges and lawyers often confuse it also.
The best way to knock this one flat is to give you three scenarios.
ONE: Danny Defendant has been arrested for a felony and the judge says, “You’ve always shown up in the past when you’ve been arrested so I’ll let you out on your own recognizance and we’ll take your word for it that you’ll be back for your trial.” This is a recognizance bond (or signature bond or whatever your state calls it).
TWO: Danny Defendant has been arrested for a felony and the judge says, “$10,000 cash only bail.” Danny’s decrepit grandmother who barely scrapes by on Social Security, sells her great-grandmother’s diamond ring and forks over $10,000 in cash to the court and gets a receipt made in Danny Defendant’s name. When he shows up, she gets the dough back. If he doesn’t show up, the government keeps the money. This is cash bond (or whatever your state calls it).
THREE: Danny Defendant has been arrested for a felony and the judge says, “$10,000 bail.” Chico leaves the Little League game he’s sponsoring and hustles down to the jail. Chico sells Danny a bail bond for $1000 which is paid for by Danny’s decrepit grandmother who gets a receipt made out in Danny’s name. If Danny shows up when the court tells him to, then the bond is cancelled. If Danny does not show up when the court tells him to, the bond is forfeited and Chico sues the decrepit Grandma for all she’s worth since Danny is gone. This is a bail bond (or whatever your state calls it).
* * *
After two decades on the bench, Bill Hopkins captures readers with his Judge Rosswell Carew murder mysteries. How does a judge manage to wrangle his way into investigating so many crimes? And can he do it without crossing into the dark side himself? Find out by reading the complete series beginning with Courting Murder, followed by River Mourn and Bloody Earth.
Bill Hopkins is retired after beginning his legal career in 1971 and serving as a private attorney, prosecuting attorney, an administrative law judge, and a trial court judge, all in Missouri. His poems, short stories, and non-fiction have appeared in many different publications. He’s had several short plays produced. A book of collected poetry, Moving Into Forever, is available on Amazon. Bill is a member of Mystery Writers of America, Dramatists Guild, Horror Writers Association, Missouri Writers Guild, Romance Writers of America, and Sisters In Crime. Bill is also a photographer who has sold work in the United States, Canada, and Europe. He and his wife, Sharon (also a published writer), live in Marble Hill, Missouri, with their dogs and cats. Besides writing, Bill and Sharon are involved in collecting and restoring Camaros.
Please take a moment to visit Judge Bill Hopkins at www.judgebillhopkins.com
You’ve all seen the deputies and other officers who guard courtrooms. Yes, they’re highly visible and they’re there to protect everyone from harm. However, courtroom security is far more than just watching prisoners inside the actual room where the trial is held.
Courtroom security officers diligently monitor spectators, witnesses, and defendants. They also watch the victim’s family members for any signs of potential violence against the defendant(s). And they’re always on high alert for escape attempts by prisoners.
But what we see in the courtroom—stern faces, sharply creased uniforms, and holstered weapons—is the tip of the iceberg. Behind the solid oak door at the rear of the courtroom is a well-oiled security machine with wheels that begin to turn long before the judge, jury, and witnesses sit down to have their breakfasts. In fact, many security measures have been in place for months, maybe years.
Security starts with things like landscaping around the building and parking areas. Plantings and hardscapes must allow an unobstructed view and no potential hiding spots for snipers and others who may assist in an escape attempt during times of inmate and witness movement.
Outdoor lighting must be adequate, and prevent areas of darkness and shadow. Those yellow posts sticking up through the sidewalks and pavement? They’re in place to prevent a driver from rushing the building, or people. The barriers also prevent vehicles (those containing explosives, getaway vehicles, shooters, etc.) from getting too close to the facility.
Windows and doors are equipped with a shatter resistant film between the layers of glass. As a means of even greater protection some lower floor windows may be fitted with bullet-resistant glass. Doors are tamper proof and are connected to alarm systems.
Visitors to the courthouse, and their belongings, are carefully screened prior to entering secured areas of the facility.
Officer stationed at x-ray machine and walk-through metal detector.
Monitors for x-ray equipment.
Many judges have panic buttons hidden somewhere on their benches.
A quick press of the button and the alarm sounds in manned stations within the courthouse and in nearby police departments.
Help is on the way in an instant.
Designated parking areas for judges and other court employees is a standard. The same is true for police and inmate transport vehicles. Any unauthorized vehicle in those areas is cause for concern and would require immediate investigation.
To further prevent breaches of security, the public is not permitted in any unauthorized areas of the court buildings.
Courthouses also feature secure areas for weapons and other sensitive material.
Inmates are awakened, fed, and dressed long before the courtroom is open. All prisoners with hearings on a given day are transported from the county or city jail to the courthouse, where it’s quite possible they’ll each remain until the last trial of the day.
While at the courthouse prisoners must receive meals, bathroom facilities, etc. for the duration of their time there, which could be many, many hours.
Holding cells, where prisoners wait until the time of their trial, are located inside court buildings. After their time in the courtroom is complete, prisoners are returned to the holding cells where they remain until they’re transported back to the main jail, often at the end of the day when all inmates are transported at once.
*It is possible that transportation officers make trips to and from the jail and courthouse throughout the day. This depends on availability of staff members and vehicles. Remember, the fewer times inmates are out and about in the public, even in secured transport vehicles, reduces the opportunities for escape.
Inmate movement inside the courthouse is conducted through special hallways or passageways that are typically not available to the public.
FYI – Some courthouses are directly connected to jail facilities via underground/basement hallways.
In most areas, the duty of courtroom security falls on the sheriff of that particular jurisdiction. The sheriff assigns deputies to each courtroom, and each of those deputies receive specialized training that’s specific to the courtroom and inmate transportation.
In the federal system the job of courtroom and inmate security falls on the shoulders of the U.S. Marshals.
Transporting prisoners via the U.S. Marshals’ Justice Prisoner and Alien Transportation System (JPATS). JPATS operates a network of aircraft, cars, vans and buses. (U.S. Marshals photo).
Protecting our courtrooms, and shuttling prisoners to and from those facilities, is a tough and dangerous job, a job with duties many people never see.
Federal Judge Cormac J. Carney ruled that California’s death penalty is unconstitutional, dysfunctional, and beyond repair. In his ruling, the judge said California’s system is so broken that inmates are left wondering about their fates for decades, or more. In other words, death sentences in the Golden State have been transformed into life sentences with a slight chance that they’ll end in the inmate’s death. More than likely, though, that death would be due to natural causes, not by the hand of an executioner.
The death penalty in California basically serves no purpose. That’s no shock to anyone who’s ever followed one of their death penalty cases (Scott Peterson comes to mind). But how does it compare to the rest of the country? Does the sentencing phase of a death penalty case in California stand on equal ground with other areas of the country? Of course not. California jurors don’t face the same pressures as do their counterparts in…well, let’s say Texas. Texas jurors, when they sentence someone to die you’d better believe they know that within a reasonable amount of time (if you can believe that 10 years, or so, is reasonable) the state is going to kill that prisoner. California…not so much. In fact, the last inmate executed in California, Clarence Ray Allen, spent 26 long years on death row.
Terri Lynn Winchell, a 17-year old Lodi, Ca. girl, was murdered 34 years ago. Her killer, Michael Morales, was sentenced to death for the murder. As his execution date finally rolled around, in 2006, a federal judge ordered a hold on all death penalty cases due to a court challenge of the state’s lethal injection process. The hold is still in place because the state has yet to submit a suitable method of lethal injection for the courts to review.
It will most likely be many years before this mess is sorted out. Until then, nearly 800 men and women sit on California’s death row, mocking a system that spins its wheels while costing taxpayers staggering amounts of money. For starters, the cost of a death penalty trial and one appeal (attorneys, experts, etc.) can exceed a standard criminal trial by $1.5 million, or more.
To put the numbers in perspective, it costs California approximately $137 million annually to house death row inmates. In comparison, the cost to house non death penalty inmates, including those serving life without the possibility of parole (which is basically the same sentenced served by death row inmates in California) is over $11.5 million.
Let’s not stop there, though. Let’s dig a bit deeper into the costs associated with California death penalty cases.
– The Supreme Court automatically considers all capital cases if a sentence of death is handed down – the Court’s budget for hearing these cases is well over $15 million.
– The budget for the State Public Defender’s Office (for death penalty cases) exceeds $12 million.
Shall I go on? Okay, one more, out of many. The state funded Habeas Corpus Resource Center has a budget of over $13 million to assist indigent inmates with their appeals.
Is it truly worthwhile to spend the extra bazillion dollars just to see the words “condemned to death” on a piece of paper? After all, in most California death penalty cases, those two words mean about as much as the cost of the paper on which they’re printed…not much.
Why not convert all death penalty cases to life in prison without parole and call it a day. The state could then put those savings toward desalination plants or other means to ease the drought. By the way, I saw where California just passed water restriction regulations that include a fine of $500 per day to residents who waste water (hosing off your driveway, washing a car without a nozzle, etc.). Yet, a city-owned park near our new home ran mega-giant sprinklers 24 hours per day for a week to water a soccer field that hasn’t been used in months. Well, let me back up a bit. The field hasn’t been entirely vacant. A couple of homeless guys have been sleeping near the fence beneath the shade of two large eucalyptus trees.
After a couple of days of non-stop watering, there was so much standing H2O that birds and other wildlife played in it for days, splashing and bathing and sliding around. I’m sure the two homeless men enjoyed the entertainment.
I wonder if the same people in charge of water conservation also control collected tax money and corrections budgets? For some reason, when I close my eyes and picture them, this is what comes to mind…
*Also in Judge Carney’s Wednesday ruling was the stay of execution for Ernest Dewayne Jones, who’s been on death row for almost 20 years for the rape and murder of a Southern California accountant.
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?