Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Plea Plea Me

To understand your rights, the idea of having a trial with a jury of your peers is a constitution right.  To say that is a good idea is putting your faith in the American public who are ill informed, poorly educated and a system that gerry rigs the jury to ensure the outcome that was already decided before you ever set foot in a courtroom, that is if you do beyond arraignment.

So the reality is that few cases go to trial. The lack of counsel, the endless revolving door of jurisprudence. 

When and if you get to appeal as that too depends on funds, the willingness of a Lawyer or Defenders appellate arm to take the case.  Then comes the time which may mean remaining behind bars or on bond, regardless it comes at a cost of both time and money. 

The reality is that appeals are few and far between with regards to the bulk of criminal charges. As most plea bargain in exchange for reduced charges but no less fees or punishments as they will include some jail time and money. 

But plea bargaining forfeits the right of appeal. So that information and evidence that could exoneratete you and becomes evident later or admission of Police or Prosecutorial misconduct is waived when you plea.     

 The U.S. Supreme Court estimates that at least ninety percent of criminal convictions are based on guilty pleas. Frequently, criminal defendants are required to waive their appellate rights as a condition of the plea bargain. The Supreme Court has not addressed the validity of these waivers, but most federal and state courts to address the issue hold them enforceable when they are made knowingly and voluntarily. A minority of states grant defendants the statutory right to appeal adverse determinations on motions to suppress evidence following the entry of a guilty plea. California and New York hold that this additional appellate right may be waived in a plea agreement. This Note asserts that waivers of this specific right should not be enforceable because such waivers are often extracted under coercive circumstances that violate due process and contract law principles. Furthermore, waivers of this right contravene legislatures’ interest in efficiency by encouraging defendants to proceed to trial solely to preserve their claims of error for appeal.

The reality is that the many find themselves paying for crimes they never committed and the right to prove so taken from them as well. The best thieves are those who prosecute them.
 
The Injustice of the Plea-Bargain System

Fearing harsh sentences, far too many defendants are pleading guilty and forfeiting their right to trial.

By Lucian E. Dervan
The Wall Street Journal  
The House Judiciary Committee introduced five bills this year in a bipartisan effort to reform America’s criminal-justice system. With incarceration rates in the U.S. five to 10 times higher than in Western Europe and other democracies, the bills aim to provide sensible reforms such as rewriting mandatory-sentencing statutes. Yet none directly addresses plea bargaining, a practice that induces too many defendants to plead guilty to avoid what has come to be known as the trial penalty.

Consider the case of Orville Lee Wollard. The 60-year-old Floridian is serving a 20-year prison sentence for using his legally owned weapon in his own home to fire a warning shot into the wall next to his daughter’s boyfriend. The warning shot came at the end of a day in 2008 during which the boyfriend allegedly attacked Mr. Wollard, assaulted his daughter, and refused to leave Mr. Wollard’s home. No one was injured.

Believing his actions justifiable self-defense, Mr. Wollard rejected a plea bargain of five years probation, choosing instead to exercise his constitutional right to a trial and present his case to a jury. Unfortunately, the court didn’t permit him to admit extensive evidence regarding the boyfriend’s alleged abuse. After hearing the limited evidence, the jury convicted Mr. Wollard of aggravated assault with a firearm, resulting in a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years. In September, Florida Gov. Rick Scott denied Mr. Wollard’s request for clemency and release after serving seven years in prison.

Even in cases without mandatory sentences, it is common for sentences handed down after trial to be far more severe than those offered to induce guilty pleas. This “trial penalty” is weighed by thousands of defendants each day when considering whether to accept a plea offer.

A 2013 Human Rights Watch study found that the average federal drug sentence for defendants who proceeded to trial in 2012 was three times longer—an increase of 10 years—than for defendants who pleaded guilty. In that study, a federal judge in New York described the sentences defendants face if they reject plea offers as “so excessively severe, they take your breath away.”

Not surprisingly, the great majority of convictions come from guilty pleas. According to the U.S. Sentencing Commission, over 97% of convictions in the federal system arise from guilty pleas; state systems aren’t far behind at about 95%.

There are numerous documented cases of innocent defendants pleading guilty, including well-known examples such as Brian Banks. In 2002, at the age of 17, Mr. Banks was wrongly accused of rape yet chose a plea bargain with a maximum sentence of seven years in prison. If he rejected the offer and lost at trial, he faced 40 years to life in prison. He took the deal and falsely confessed. In 2012, after definitive evidence of his innocence came to light, a California court reversed the conviction.

The Supreme Court established the constitutionality of plea bargaining in Brady v. United States (1970). But the court warned that it would have “serious doubts” if the “encouragement of guilty pleas by offers of leniency substantially increased the likelihood that defendants, advised by competent counsel, would falsely condemn themselves.” Sadly, the trial penalty has done just that.

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