Tuesday, October 03, 2017

Why an innocent person would plea bargain

The Atlantic has a good roundup of US Supreme Court cases related to criminal justice coming up in the term which just began, and Grits was interested to note Class v. United States (see the SCOTUSBlog preview), in which "the justices will ponder an unusual legal question: If a defendant pleads guilty to a crime, does he or she lose the right to challenge that crime’s constitutionality?"

In an era when 97% or so of criminal cases end in plea bargains, this is a significant question.

In Texas the issue of whether challenges to a conviction may arise from a guilty plea in state court arose in Ex Parte Tuley, a case decided in 2002 and which your correspondent hadn't considered in many years. The Tuley case challenged a conviction in which the defendant was in fact actually innocent, but pled guilty to avoid a much harsher sentence in the face of false accusations of sexual abuse by a child victim. The final ruling included a wonderful passage written by then Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Tom Price:
I think it is colossal hypocrisy to exclaim, “we are shocked, positively shocked,” that a person who has pleaded guilty pursuant to a negotiated plea bargain would never do so unless he were truly guilty and believed himself guilty. Who are we kidding? It is true that Mr. Tuley did sign and swear to a form stipulation that “the following facts [tracking the indictment allegations] are true and correct and constitute the evidence in this case.” He, of course, did not design the form. It is certainly accurate to say that there was some evidence already admitted in the original trial that would support a finding that the indictment allegations were true. 
It is also true that the trial judge asked the magic question:  “Are you pleading guilty because you are in fact guilty and for no other reason?” and applicant responded:  “Yes, ma‘am.” Does this make him a perjurer? A self-admitted liar? 
Suppose Mr. Tuley had been given a dose of truth serum. Now, in response to the magic question, he responds: 
Your Honor, I do not believe that I am guilty. In fact, I know that I am not guilty.   However, the present jury is deadlocked. Some of those jurors may believe that I am not guilty, but others obviously differ. A different jury could conceivably find me guilty and sentence me to life in prison. That is a very serious risk to me. Furthermore, I do not have enough money to pay my lawyer for conducting a second trial. I am worried that I might have to go to jail just to be entitled to an appointed lawyer for a second trial. I have a job. I would lose my job if I had to go to jail for months waiting for a second trial. Quite frankly, I am out of money and out of time. I just want to go home. The State has made a very attractive offer of ten years deferred adjudication. This is an offer I cannot refuse, given the obvious risks I face if I continue to maintain my innocence and insist upon a second trial. So, even though I am innocent of this charge, I want to plead guilty because I am making a fully informed, free, voluntary and rational choice among the alternative courses of action available to me. 
The trial judge, hearing this unusual response, is likely to say something along the lines of: 
How can you expect me to accept your plea of guilty? This is a very serious offense and it carries a potential life sentence if you should violate the terms of your community service. How can you expect me to accept a guilty plea to the first degree offense of aggravated sexual assault of a child if you say you are not guilty, but you want to plead guilty anyway? And besides, I heard the same evidence that the jury heard and I am not fully persuaded that the evidence is sufficient to support a conviction beyond a reasonable doubt. I refuse to accept your guilty plea and we will set this case for another trial. 
Mr. Tuley, then, is likely to say: 
Judge, whose side are you on?   Are you on my side? I just want to plead guilty.   I didn't do it. I know that, but I also know that the prosecution has a child complainant who says that I did. I have a drug problem and a jury is likely to hold that against me, and, frankly, I look dishonest. Nobody is going to believe me. Now, do me a favor and let me plead guilty and get my ten years deferred. This is a good deal. I want to take it. Don't stand in my way. 
But an honorable trial judge might reasonably respond: 
But, if you're not guilty, I cannot take your guilty plea. I am worried about this man pleading guilty to something he is not guilty of. That is just wrong, and I can't allow that kind of an injustice to take place in my court. 
Mr. Tuley's honest reaction might well be:  “Don't be my friend. With friends like you, who needs enemies?” Instead, Mr. Tuley's lawyer would probably yank him off to the corner and after a certain whispering back and forth, Mr. Tuley will see the light He will now respond appropriately to the magic question:  “Are you pleading guilty because you are guilty and for no other reason?” with the right answer:  “Yes, ma‘am.”

21 comments:

Anonymous said...

I plead guilty to the wrong crime because of the cause number rather than telling us the crime we committed . Which I had few d u Is in different counties. Being nervous and not knowing what cause I was pleading guilty to. I did 8 years on community supervision for agg
assault when I thought i was pleading guilty to d w I. Because of cause numbers.

Anonymous said...

Allow me to share my favorite lawyer quote with this readership------"So tell me, Mister Harrison, how much justice can you afford?"

Creator_of_SOFAQ SOFAQ said...

I posted this on the bottom of the page here: http://sexoffenderfaq.blogspot.com/p/new-blogs-part-8-updated-august-30-2017.html

This was me back in 1997; when I should have pleaded not guilty and plea bargained for deferred adjudicated probation. Even the mean old judge said "I don't know why anyone would plead guilty to this"

Victim of the System said...

I was charged 13 years ago along with my criminal ex-husband. I divorced him and did my best to distance myself from him. I was awarded full custody of our children and the family home. Part of our divorce agreement allowed him access to a detached garage at the house to store his belongings. Meanwhile, I took my kids and moved in with my parents, leaving the family home largely uninhabited. One day I agreed to meet him at the house to loan him some money as he was broke. When I showed up, he and a co-conspirator were being arrested for attempted manufacturing of meth, engaging in organized crime, and possession of materials to manufacture the drug. He had materials to manufacture the drug stored in the garage. Since I owned the house, I was arrested with them. It is true I suspected him of being up to something, and should have turned him in before then, but I did not have proof and could not bring myself to deny my kids of having a father for the next 20 years. My attorney told me that "willful ignorance is not a defense" and after 2 years of preparing for trial, the day before jury selection my ex-husband ended up taking a plea bargain, leaving me set for trial the following day. My attorney was not prepared for trial, and told me he was going to beg the D.A. for a plea deal which I would have no choice but to accept. So that is what I did. When the judge asked me if I had received proper representation by my attorney at my plea hearing, a standard question asked of all defendants taking a plea, I said, "no". This was not the correct thing to say to the judge. He became angry with me and warned my attorney not to present my plea to the court until I understood how I needed to respond. At that point, I changed my response and agreed to everything I was asked. It crushed me to do so because I was outright lying to the court, but I could not risk a prison sentence and losing my children. I was given 10 years probation. Unfortunately I was arrested 7 months from successfully completing my probation sentence and although the charges were dismissed, I am now facing revocation with my fate resting with the very same judge.

Anonymous said...

Remember, VotS (and those like you), you are innocent up until the judge coerces you (or leans on your attorney) to plead guilty. Judges are not gods. And Defense Attorneys and Prosecutors are not demigods. These people are public servants. If they are not serving the public, say so. Let the public know that these (as yet unnamed) people are not worth the public's time or money.

Anonymous said...

So often true! A corrupt lawyer appointed by the court (running for DA), a DA (prosecutor) running for Judge, and a Judge (admitted to accused that he was God as far as accused was concerned) who has set the bench too long makes for a corrupt court. The Jury is uninformed of their rights and hand picked by lawyer & prosecutor. Some of the Jury works in the court house (public employees), client unable to get jury of peers. No competent investigation & no evidence, Grand Jury (hand picked) should never have tried to indict until prosecutor had sufficient evidence. Result, prison term with ten years probation (revenue). DA during campaign speech told Tea Party that he gives ten (10) year probation to all accused so he can draw them back into the system (more revenue).

Real justice would investigate and remove them from office for breaking their Oath to the people. By the way, the accused was innocent and the accuser received benefits from her accusation and the court all got their promotions.

Steven Seys said...

G. K. Chesterton said, "Beware the rule of law doesn't turn into tyranny by lawyers."

Victim of the System said...

Thanks for the advice. I actually fired my attorney after that court appearance and hired a new one. At my sentencing my judge asked me why I fired my previous attorney. When I told him I was dissatisfied with his representation the judge told me that I should not have done so, that there was nothing wrong with him. Sometimes you just can't win.

Anonymous said...

@VotS-

Who was the Judge? It sounds like the public should know about his superpowers of extrasensory perception given his knowledge of the dynamics between you and your former attorney. Or maybe the Judge just inadvertently disclosed some unethical relationship (or illegal) between him/herself and the ex-Attorney which compromised your due process. It smells...

Mark M. said...

I have something to tell all of you who are dissatisfied by the performance of your lawyer. You might want to sit down, as this will make you very sad...you see, your defense attorney cannot change the facts...Also, and this will sadden you further; merely because you don't understand the law doesn't mean that your lawyer doesn't...

Anonymous said...

@Mark M.-

It's the job of the Defense Attorney to explain it to the client. Zealous representation.

Victim of the System said...

While I would like nothing more than to share his name, I am afraid to. Since I will be going before him in a few weeks for my MTR I don't want to jeopardize my chances of a favorable outcome.

Anonymous said...

1. He/She probably doesn't read this blog.
2. Even if you revealed his/her name, you're still anonymous.
3. Even if he/she read this blog, and assumed who you are, any retaliation by the judge would be demonstration of his/her unfit moral character and could be grounds for investigation by a judicial oversight committee.
4. I'd like to know who NOT to vote for come next elections.

Victim of the System said...

@ Anonymous...
1. Given that his opinion is the topic a previous grits post, he probably does read this blog.
2. I'm not that anonymous. I am pretty sure he doesn't handle many MTR's for cases dating back 13 years.
3. He has already been privately reprimanded by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct for having "exceeded the scope of his authority and failure to comply with the law" in 2011, so apparently that has little to no impact and
4. There are 254 counties in Texas. You probably don't live in his county.

I understand why pleas must be agreed to in their entirety, given the volume of cases on the docket. The judge doesn't have time to listen to selective issues the defendant may have. Plea offers are take it or leave it, and I took it. Just thought I could offer additional insight as to why an innocent person would plead guilty. Kudos to Grits for addressing this issue. (since I can't buy you a drink, I'll make a small donation instead :)

VofS said...

@markm...I sat down, I was sad. And then I went to a half dozen attorney referral sites and shared my opinion about the representation I received. Then I stood up, and was happy.

April Cunningham said...

Wow, my brother is a Victim of a corrupted system. After being Chraged with Possession of a Controlled Substance my brother was advised to go to trial because his court appointed lawyer insisted that there was no affirmative link between him and the drugs found on the night of the arrest. Before his trial began my brother was offered a 2 year Sentence and right before court he was offered 5 years deferred sentencing. But, Per the advice of his "Court Appointed Lawyer" my brother did not plea, went to trial and received a LIFE SENTENCE.

My brother who's a 1st time noneviolent offender/drug offender received a LIFE SENTENCE.

Can someone please explain to how a 1st time noneviolent offender/drug offender receive a LIFE SENTENCE in the State of Texas?

April Cunningham said...

And that's what's all about, MONEY Simple! It's sad but true. The Justice System seems to be getting away from protecting the offender's Constitutional Rights.

My brother is a Victim of not being able to afford enough "Justice" which lead to his Constitutional Rights being compromised. After being Chraged with Possession of a Controlled Substance my brother was advised to go to trial because his court appointed lawyer insisted that there was no affirmative link between him and the drugs found on the night of the arrest. Before his trial began my brother was offered a 2 year Sentence and the day before his trial he was offered 5 years deferred sentencing. But, Per the advice of his "Court Appointed Lawyer" my brother did not plea, went to trial and received a LIFE SENTENCE.

My brother who's a 1st time noneviolent offender/drug offender received a LIFE SENTENCE.

Can someone please explain to how a 1st time noneviolent offender/drug offender receive a LIFE SENTENCE in the State of Texas?

April Cunningham said...

The injustice going on in court rooms by hand of the trusted Public Servants is Unreal.

Unfortunately, my brother is a Victim of the Injustice, Justice System.

After being Chraged with Possession of a Controlled Substance my brother was advised to go to trial because his court appointed lawyer insisted that there was no affirmative link between him and the drugs found on the night of the arrest. Before his trial began my brother was offered a 2 year Sentence and right before trial he was offered 5 years deferred sentencing. But, Per the advice of his "Court Appointed Lawyer" my brother did not plea, went to trial and received a LIFE SENTENCE.

My brother who's a 1st time noneviolent offender/drug offender received a LIFE SENTENCE.

Can someone please explain to how a 1st time noneviolent offender/drug offender receive a LIFE SENTENCE in the State of Texas?

April Cunningham said...

Why Wouldn't a Innocent Person Plea Bargain? I sure wish my brother would have signed a plea bargain, but he didn't per the advice of his court appointed lawyer.

My brother served a pawn.

The injustice going on in court rooms by hand of the trusted Public Servants is Unreal.

Unfortunately, my brother is a Victim of the Injustice, Justice System.

After being Chraged with Possession of a Controlled Substance my brother was advised to go to trial because his court appointed lawyer insisted that there was no affirmative link between him and the drugs found on the night of the arrest. Before his trial began my brother was offered a 2 year Sentence and right before trial he was offered 5 years deferred sentencing. But, Per the advice of his "Court Appointed Lawyer" my brother did not plea, went to trial and received a LIFE SENTENCE.

My brother who's a 1st time noneviolent offender/drug offender received a LIFE SENTENCE.

Can someone please explain to how a 1st time noneviolent offender/drug offender receive a LIFE SENTENCE in the State of Texas?

Anonymous said...

Get rid of the Trial "Tax" and false confessions disappear.

john said...

Minor point no one will see:
HIGH PERCENTAGE OF PLEAS IS PARTIALLY DESIGNED, BY NOT HAVING ENOUGH COURTS, HAVING JACKASS LAWYERS & JUDGES, ETC.
Folks KNOW they're there, to be screwed, hard. The system is intended nearly entirely to raise revenue, not seek justice. Judges rarely even keep an oath on file. No one rich/in-power cares, and there's NO oversight on THEM--they RULE the unionized oversight. (Hallucinate, on your own time, Legislature, mostly lawyers, would care.)*
Then get back to the point the lawyer must kowtow to the State Bar---which takes the place of a union---and swear to whatever COURT, in order to WORK. The lawyer, if to practice big-time or scale, MUST kiss those ruling arrogants.
Then, in their spare time, they can work part-time, FOR YOU, peasant.
_* The TX State BAR WAS installed illegitimately, as lawyers were not to vote---it would be a conflict of interest. WHEN the Bar was voted in, 3/4 of the Senate WAS lawyers. (I know, I know, who cares: everyone is paid in Federal Reserve Notes, anyway.)