I have learned a lot since my plea deal. Most adults, probably every adult, breaks the law at some point in their lives. I had never given it a thought. Arguably, people knowingly or unknowingly break the law every day and no one cares or gets caught. Sure, it might be for minor things or not. In his book Three Felonies a Day, civil-liberties lawyer Harvey Silverglate estimates that the average person unknowingly breaks at least three federal criminal laws every day.
Are there too many laws? Current estimates on the number of Federal laws in America range anywhere between 15,000 and 50,000. That is a wide disparity and indicative of how much we don’t know about our own system. Then, there are state, county, city, district, etc…rules and laws to consider.
Underage drinking is thought to be the law that is broken most frequently in the US.
There are flat out dumb laws. Considering the fact that this blog is being written at a time of a global pandemic, there is a New York law, “It is illegal to congregate in public with two or more people while each wearing a mask or any face covering which disguises your identity”.
Where is the line drawn between arresting everyone for something and a civilized, law-abiding society? The answer largely rests in the judgment of prosecutors and police.
It is their belief system that guides the criminal justice process.
There are too many laws and dumb laws. When you consider how those that are addicted, mentally ill, uneducated, unhealthy, and impoverished fair when going up against a powerful police force and criminal justice system with some members having deep-seated beliefs that can be racist, biased, and fraught with an agenda, it creates a horrible and completely unfair approach to justice.
Our belief systems are entrenched in the essence of our existence. It doesn’t mean that our belief system completely defines us, but it is likely a significant contributing factor to how we view the world. It is often where a person is oriented in their decision-making process and it is from that point he/she can pivot based on what they choose. Education, training, relationships, family circumstances, and more contribute to develop the whole person.
The people that handed me my plea deal didn’t know me, didn’t do a thorough investigation of the facts. There was much more that should have been done so that all of us didn’t experience financial costs, opportunity, and time we can’t recover, not to mention the injustice I endured. The prosecutor’s own beliefs, immunity, and agenda allowed him to pursue me. Plea deals have become “what gets the case over” and often not what serves justice in the way it should. The whole plea process is presented as though it is a favor from the Government to the defendant and you would be a fool not to accept it.
We are using the wrong strategy to adjudicate justice.
When it’s time to say hard things, I ask myself a few questions:
1. Do I mean what I am going to say?
2. Can I completely defend what I am saying?
3. Can I explain what I need to with respect?
If the answer is yes to all three, I say it. That’s important. Actually say it to who needs to hear it.
Speaking the truth to powerful people should not be daunting, but it is. It shouldn’t be a lonely place to stand, but a united one.
How many people working in the legal community actually stop to question why the criminal justice system is the way it is? Professionals in the system are generally incredibly busy and can’t slow down for any amount of time to question, investigate, take issue with and make significant progress with the way things are, and still get their work done. They can’t take a chance to inadvertently disrespect their employer and industry they work for because that work is their livelihood. Often, the only time that a legal professional can afford the time and effort to invoke change in the system is when a case becomes egregious or personal.
Defendants that go through the criminal justice system are mostly uneducated, poor people with limited resources. Add to that the fact that when a defendant gets out from under the criminal justice system either through getting out of jail, minimal probation/punishment or in the rare case of charges being dismissed, most want to “get back to their own lives as quickly as they can”, but really they are rebuilding their lives. Rebuilding with a criminal record that will be a burden for the rest of their lives. They will be asked if they have a criminal record for most every job they apply for. Tell the truth and you are almost guaranteed that you won’t get the job. Life becomes a never-ending struggle.
I was told that I would want to resume my life as soon as I could, but after about six years of prosecution, that life didn’t exist. My “old life” was nowhere to be found because either I couldn’t recognize it or recognize myself or both. There was no more job/career, no marriage, little income, and plenty of uncertainty about the future. I was starting over but with a perspective that only could have been accomplished by this experience.
Have you ever gone back to someone and told them the truth after you lied? Wasn’t it a relief?