Curious, I looked in the dictionary for the definition of a plea. If it’s unrelated to “law” it is, “a request made in an urgent and emotional manner”. If the definition of “plea” is related to law, a plea is defined as, “a formal statement by or on behalf of a defendant or prisoner, stating guilt or innocence in response to a charge, offering an allegation of fact, or claiming that a point of law should apply”. I contend that a realistic definition of a plea agreement in our criminal justice system falls between these two definitions.
To argue that succumbing to a plea agreement is anything less than emotional is ridiculous. You are defining yourself by that agreement and will be treated accordingly, possibly forever. It changes how you view yourself. It has far-reaching effects on countless people that you interact with. The prosecution places urgency to sign a plea agreement often because they can. They use heightened emotions and others involved in your case that might be making a similar deal to incentivize you. For some reason the quicker you “get on the bus”, the better deal you can make. I find it offensive that you are rushed to make a deal with often lifelong consequences. It’s a recipe for disaster. A good, lasting decision is made with a reasonable amount of time, consideration, and wisdom.
In my case, there were five defendants. I was told that one of them pled guilty before he was charged. Not because he was guilty, but because he was scared. The unlimited and powerful resources of the US Government were well known to him. He wanted to be the first person “on the bus”. Is our system so intimidating that you acquiesce and are subsequently told what you are guilty of?
An estimated 98% of US criminal charges in this country are adjudicated as a plea deal. It is because of this statistic that we need to truly examine the whole plea deal process. It seems reasonable that our justice system would use plea deals to limit unnecessary processes and trials, but not at the expense of the justice we are sworn to uphold. Is it accomplishing what it was intended to do? Who are the decision-makers with the experience and wisdom to evaluate if plea deals are working as they should? Defendants should be punished appropriately for what they actually did. The standard should be nothing more, nothing less.
Getting a plea deal is a bit like being charged all over again. It was that same sick feeling in your stomach.
I was learning that being uncomfortable was surprisingly a better place to be than signing a document that was a lie. I received multiple plea agreements for over a year, right up until trial. Apparently, even after a protracted period of time, the” bus” was still making stops. Clearly, instead of the bus, I was walking the road less traveled.
Walking on that road, I was beginning to appreciate that although people say that they want to be “happy”, my belief is that most people want to live a life of meaning, purpose and to stand up when they are pushed. I realized that I was or could be one of those people. It was my time to stand up even if I knew I would keep falling down. I could fall down privately, every day if that’s what it took. I had to just get up one more day.
When my family and friends were not equipped to handle me and the pitfalls of the justice system, I had my faith. Going to church fed me. Understanding that there might be a higher purpose for what was happening gave me some reprieve. “We walk by faith, not by sight.” and I was in a constant state of confusion over what I saw. A higher purpose and my faith propped me up on those days that I found myself on the floor again. You can’t fall off the floor, I would whisper to myself.
I was starting to get more friends in the criminal justice system and that was helpful and interesting. I would ask a lot of questions about the justice system and try to be as unemotional as I could, almost as though I was explaining someone else’s case. Many of the decisions and processes that occur in our criminal justice system don’t compute with a lay person’s approach to justice and I struggled to reconcile them. When I would talk to various people in the legal community, often they had become so entrenched in the way the system “worked” that they had lost a lay person’s perspective. They had chosen to succumb to an absolutely broken system, as though it was the only box to check.
I was trying to understand the logic of how our justice system had gotten to this point, but it appeared overwhelmingly complex. Justice felt so simple to me.
Do you really do a good job trying to understand something before you judge?