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Innocent Defendant To Avoid Massive Risk Pleading Guilty To A Lesser Offense

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By Gabriel I. Pittman

     How many times have you ever heard of a person with healthy gums and the perfect set of teeth visiting the dentist for a routine checkup and volunteering to have all of his teeth extracted because the dentist suspected there was something wrong with one tooth? What about a person in excellent health going to the doctor for a routine physical and volunteering to have a lung removed because the doctor suspected something was irregular with her breathing? And in both instances it was later discovered that nothing was ever wrong. It’s hard to imagine such things happening. But if these egregious accounts of malpractice were to occur to someone you know and cared for surely you would advise them to file a lawsuit against the offending party. Then you would probably advise them to see a psychiatrist (at the risk of being subjected to a lobotomy) for being so gullible and so easily compelled to give up an essential or vital body part without further tests or a second opinion.

In our judicial system in America, innocent people are incarcerated. Speaking conservatively, in order to give the American justice system the benefit of a reasonable doubt, every year (if not every day) innocent men, women, and children are hauled into court on the basis that they are “suspected” of having violated some law. Despite adamant insistence of their innocence they are sometimes compelled by overzealous prosecutors to plead guilty to the alleged crime. Again, it’s hard to imagine such a thing happening, right? No one in their right mind would admit committing a crime that they actually didn’t commit…right? Believe it or not, it happens. But don’t take my word for it. Take the word of one of the nine highest justices in the highest court of the land — the United States Supreme Court. Certainly, he had to be “high” (figuratively of course) at the time he admitted such a gross miscarriage of justice is allowed to transpire during criminal proceedings:  “In the United States, we have plea bargaining a-plenty, but until today it has been regarded as a necessary evil. It presents grave risks of prosecutorial overcharging that effectively compels an innocent defendant to avoid massive risk by pleading guilty to a lesser offense; and for guilty defendants it often – perhaps usually – results in a sentence well below what the law prescribes for the actual crime. But even so, we accept plea bargaining because many people believe that without it our long and expensive process of criminal trial could not sustain the burden imposed on it, and our system of criminal justice would grind to a halt.” (Emphasis added).

This particular portion of Justice Antonin Scalia’ dissenting opinion in Lafler v. Cooper, 566 U.S. (2212) (slip op., dissent at 13) reveals the dispassion for pure justice inherent to many judges, prosecutors, defense lawyers (who would advise defendants to take such a “bargain”), and citizens in of federal convictions and ninety-four percent of state convictions it seems justifiable and just that the justice system would require a right to effective assistance of counsel during the plea bargaining process, which is precisely what the seminal case of Lafler v. Cooper now mandates. Yet, Justice Scalia would lead society to believe that because the practice of plea bargaining also benefits those defendants who are guilty we should accept the trade-off of sacrificing innocent individuals as well without the right to effective assistance of counsel during the critical stage of the plea bargaining process. Far from being a “necessary evil”, this dirty little secret of the American justice system is actually an evil of necessity to protect the coffers of the state and Federal governments. Plea bargaining is not about justice…it’s about the

dollar. So much for the age-old adage that it’s better to set one hundred guilty individuals free than to convict one innocent individual.

For full disclosure, the defendant in Lafler v. Cooper “may” have been guilty, as Justice Scalia pointed out later in his dissent, but that is beside the point. Guilt is not the issue. The issue is innocence and the fact that in the land of the free where there is liberty and justice for all we tolerate a judicial system that allows the reality of an innocent individual being compelled to plead guilty to a crime he or she didn’t commit out of fear of being found guilty by a jury or judge of more severe charges. This travesty is akin to the individuals above who lost all their teeth and a lung unnecessarily. Except in the context of an innocent individual pleading guilty, something infinitely more valuable and vital is lost — innocence and freedom. Adding insult to the injury of being wrongfully convicted, unlike individuals who suffer a medical malpractice, for wrongfully convicted individuals who are fortunate enough to establish their innocence (which rarely happens) there is no recourse to challenge the legal malpractice committed by prosecutors. They are afforded absolute immunity in their prosecutorial role to do absolutely what they choose to do in order to secure convictions at the expense to the guilty and innocent alike.

In closing, ask yourself two questions. The next time someone tells you that the American justice system is the best in the world and operates as it should, in innocence will you respectfully disagree? Or will you be proven guilty by agreeing? If you agree maybe you’re the one who should see a psychiatrist (at the risk of being subjected to a lobotomy) for being so gullible despite having been presented with clear and convincing evidence to the contrary. Please be advised, you have a right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in the court of your conscience.

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This entry was posted on June 22, 2013 by in Prison, Social Issues and tagged , , , , , , .

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