Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Why would an innocent person plead guity?

According to the Washington Post

Sen. Larry E. Craig pleaded guilty earlier this month to misdemeanor disorderly-conduct charges stemming from his June arrest by an undercover police officer in a men's restroom at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, a court spokeswoman and the senator's office said yesterday.

Craig issued a statement confirming his arrest and guilty plea, which were reported in the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call. But the Idaho Republican maintained that he had not engaged in any "inappropriate conduct" and that the airport police misunderstood his behavior.

"At the time of this incident, I complained to the police that they were misconstruing my actions. I was not involved in any inappropriate conduct," Craig said. "I should have had the advice of counsel in resolving this matter. In hindsight, I should not have pled guilty. I was trying to handle this matter myself quickly and expeditiously."

If a 62 year old United States Senator can be intimidated by the police into waiving his right to counsel and falsely confessing what chance do the rest of us have?


matt moran said...

I agree completely.

Plea bargaining is the most disturbing element of our justice system. (And that's saying a lot.)

It is usually cheaper for both the state and the defendant to arrange a deal rather than to go to trial.

Since trials deal with absolutes (guilty or innocent) it is hard to see how making these sorts of deals can be considered a positive result for society.

Dave Barrett said...

Indeed it is very disturbing. I am less concerned than you by the plea bargaining and more concerned by the police intimidation. Senator Craig, so publicly known as anti-homosexual, being accused of cruising for gay sex in a public bathroom must have been particularly difficult situation. The police must have exploited his particular sensitivity to this accusation to coerce a false confession from him. Imagine how easily the police must be able to get false confessions using those same techniques from less experienced, confident, educated and sophisticated suspects! Oh the humanity!

thescoundrel said...

The police have done this as long as I have been alive. It is nothing new. Just last year a local individual (I personally knew was not guilty of the crime he was charged with), along with several others I did not know, plead guilty to charges simply because the lawyers told them it was the best and least expensive path to go. The RI county DA was looking to make a deal for fines and time spent in the local jail (less than 24 hours until several of us bailed him out) if they plead guilty to the charges but if they went to trial they faced more jail time, fines plus more extensive court and lawyer costs which they could not afford. This was not the first time I have seen individuals plea out and probably not the last. Justice has always been for the wealthy the poor just have to roll the dice and hope they do not come up snake eyes.

Dave Barrett said...

Yes, the police have been intimidating the the poor and those without power into making false confessions for a long time. But now, apparently, it is happening to the rich and powerful too! If this can happen to a United States Senator then any one of us, if we happened to have gone into that restroom that day, would have found ourselves in the same situation as Senator Craig--publicly shamed and labeled a sexual deviate. Oh the humanity!

tacky said...

Craig obviously thought by pleading guilty and getting out fast, no one would notice who he was--unless, he did say; " Hey, I am a Senator!"
Incidentally, if plea bargaining was not allowed, the courts would be clogged and attorneys would be in courts for days, and even more prisons would be needed. We lead the world with 2 M in prison now.
The undercover cop was doing his job. Now the powerful influential friends of Craig will try to make him out a dope and try to get his superiors to drum him out. The wheels of the powerful never stop turning.

Dave Barrett said...

Good points. In general, it has been the poor and powerless who have been coerced into plea bargains which were not in their best interests. The wealthy and powerful usually have not accepted plea bargains unless it was a good deal for them. (Up until now being rich and powerful in American has meant never having to regret a plea bargain.) That is what is so unusual in this case. Senator Craig is now saying that he accepted a plea bargain he regrets. Are we facing a new situation in America where everyone, no matter how mature, informed and resourceful, now finds themselves in the situation that only the poor and powerless faced previously -- at the mercy of police intimidation and coercion?

thescoundrel said...

But Dave the middle class and the affluent do and always have had the same problem with police. How they deal with them depends on whom they know or how powerful of a lawyer they can afford. Bullying is a standard police tactic. It works because the weak and poor will often cave in to the tactics and everyone else usually has something to hide or they are looking for the least expensive and least notoriety way out of the trouble. There is little juicier to a publicity seeking police officer or a ladder-climbing prosecutor than an unconnected individual with money that they hope they can make a name for themselves by the arrest and prosecution. One of my favorite statements about the law system comes from famous trial lawyer Alan Dershowitz. He was commenting about the guilt/innocent factors in a trial. It went something like this: {All police assume the defendant is lying and guilty – all prosecutors assume the defendant is lying and guilty- the defendants lawyer assumes the that his client is lying and guilty – but the case is not about guilt or innocence, the case is about who wins and neither side is interested in securing justice.} Lawyers are just advanced forms of crooks and thieves that prey on other people’s misery using the law system as a killing field. Which is probably why so many of them turn to politics - the ultimate hunting fields for predators. In government they can make the playing field more bountiful for their hunts.

Dave Barrett said...

I agree. But something must have changed recently because the rich and the powerful used to be able to "lawyer up" and avoid giving false confessions. Somehow Senator Craig was intimidated into waiving his right to counsel in a way that the police and prosecuters previously only were able to do to the poor and powerless.
Do you suppose that they have come up with some new methods of coercion?

Patrick Moran said...

You seem to be assuming that Craig is innocent and that his guilty plea was false. But apparently, there have been rumors about Craig in Idaho for decades concerning this very type of activity. As Craig complains, the Idaho Statesman was investigating those rumors for five months prior to the arrest, something Craig obviously knew about because he complains about the stress that caused. The Statesman did not publish its story, however, until it learned about the guilty plea, which it considered corroboration of what it had previously heard from anonymous sources. Is there some connection between the Idaho rumors and a policeman in Minnesota who presumably didn't know about Craig? No one has suggested any connection. Nor have I seen any suggestion of a motive for a Minnesota policeman to falsely arrest a U.S. Senator from Idaho. (After his arrest, by the way, he did give the officer his business card identifying himself as a U.S. Senator, presumably hoping the officer would be impressed or intimidated and not write the report.)

As for Craig being intimidated, Craig's fellow republican Senators are apparently not buying that. Craig has been a legislator for most of his adult life and, while not a lawyer, is certainly knowledgable about the law. Moreover, everyone, including U.S. Senators, knows that a person under arrest has a right to consult with an attorney before making a statement. Apparently, Craig knew this and did not make any incriminating statement before being released on the day of his arrest. Later, he chose to enter his plea to a misdemeanor by mail without being present in court, hoping that the Idaho Statesman and other media would not notice. Foolishly, he also did not consult a lawyer, although he obviously can afford one and presumeably knows lawyers. He told no one, hoping no one would find out. To me, it doesn't look like he was intimidated, it looks like he was embarrassed and very eager to save his political career.

As for plea bargaining, Tacky is correct that the taxpayers cannot afford a jury trial for everyone who is arrested. The prosecutorial office I work for, the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office, every year files 60,000 felonies, 200,000 misdemeanors and 30,000 juvenile criminal cases. I can remember handling a criminal calendar where there would typically be four to six cases set for trial every day, as well as others there for arraignment, motions, sentencing or probation vioations. At the same time, typically, there was already a jury trial going on in our courtroom and most of the other courtrooms. And most of the DAs and defense attorneys were already engaged. Every day it was obvious that all or most of the cases set for trial would have to be continued to another day or plead out that day. There are not enough courtrooms, judges, prosecutors or defense attorneys to try all the cases and the public would not stand for the expense of trying to provide those resources, not to mention the increased numbers that would have to be called for jury service.

One solution would be to have fewer crimes by decriminalizing the use and sale of recreational drugs, for example. Alas, the vast majority of the public is against that. And if the DA were to announce that he was not going to prosecute all the criminals who are arrested because there are not enough prosecutors to try them, that would not go over well with the public either. That DA would be defeated at the next election by a candidate who promised to prosecute more offenders.

If you have ever seen a jury trial, you know that it involves a lot of wasted time for everyone involved. Lots of high paid people have to be there at the same time (judge, clerk, reporter, defense attorny, prosecutor, witnesses). There is a lot of waiting when someone doesn't show up on time. It takes a lot of time just for the jury to come in or out of the room. Most lawyers think that an agreed disposition of a case is usually a better use of everyone's time. Most jurors probably feel that way too.

Sorry for the long comment. :)

Dave Barrett said...

Thanks for your input. Of course, you are right. I guess my sarcasm was a little too subtle.

Patrick Moran said...


I missed the sarcasm. I tend to take things too literally. I guess subtlety is lost on me. :)