Friday, July 24, 2009

Lies and No Consequences

by Pat Brown

I know most of us are pretty sick of Chris Brown from his previous denial of "I didn't hit the bitch" (paraphrased) to his full confession "I am so sorry I didn't act quite right with that lovely lady" (paraphrased). "I know I lied to you and the courts when I said I didn't do it, but, now that I got my plea deal sealed and don't have to pay for my sins ( service is a pretty fine publicity gig for me), now I will tell you the truth and you will go out and by my records again." (paraphrased).

Really, I don't care much what Chris Brown says. He's not my man, never going to be my man, and any woman who considers making him her man can't say she wasn't aware of his violent nature and his attitude toward women. But, I am quite appalled by the multitude of defense lawyers who came forth and publicly stated that Chris Brown waited so long to fess up because telling the truth earlier would have damaged his defense. He might have gone to jail if he admitted his guilt.

Now, I know this is apparently how the criminal justice system presently functions in the United States. But, it sickens me. These attorneys are saying they are telling their clients to blatantly lie, commit perjury in my book, by saying they are not guilty when, in fact, they are. If that lawyer gets up in court and says, "My client is not guilty," when he knows damn well he is because he client has told him exactly what he has done, than that lawyer is committing perjury as well. Oh I know it's the way the game is legally played but legal doesn't make it right.

Whatever happened to the concept in this country that guilty people ought to man up and accept responsibility for their crimes? What happened to the idea that they should do their time because they deserve to do their time? The legal defense system was put in place to prevent innocent people from being railroaded by an overzealous government or to stop one group of people from persecuting an innocent person of another group just because they don't like their skin color, sex, lifestyle, or religion. The criminal justice system was not intended to provide the guilty with a thousand avenues to get off unpunished. The justice system is supposed to provide a responsible and fair way to punish the guilty and protect the innocent. It was not intended to pervert justice and exempt the Chris Browns of the world from doing time for a crime any fool with an IQ over 50 knows they committed.

So there we have Chris Brown caught red-handed and he says, "Not guilty."

We give him a break and he gets a slap on the wrist. Now he says, "Guilty," but don't call me a big, fat liar just because I pleaded not guilty in court and then guilty a little later when I got my sweet deal" (paraphrased).

Telling the truth seems to now be a situational behavior, especially for defendants and their lawyers. Perjury is rampant so I guess lying to the court is no longer a crime. If lying to a court of law isn't a crime, how can lying to the public be a crime? Why should cheating in school be a crime? (It hardly is any more either). Why should lying to your constituents be a crime? (Bill did it; Mark did it). Why should lying to your mate be wrong? (Bill did it; Mark did it). Why should the truth matter at all? Maybe it doesn't any more.

I have read arguments for our bizarre system of pleading guilty or not guilty. The legal explanation is that pleading "not guilty" actually doesn't mean you are saying you are not guilty or that you are innocent; it simply means you are requesting a trial. For most of us who have had little experience inside a court and only have dealt with speeding tickets, we think that pleading guilty means we did do it and we will pay the fine, pleading not guilty means we think the cop was wrong, and pleading guilty with explanation means we understand that technically we committed the act but there was a valid and excusable reason why we did so (like running a red light because one is racing a heart attack victim to the emergency room). These three pleas are pretty clear and any honorable citizen shouldn't be saying "Not Guilty" just because he hopes the police officer won't make it to court that day so he can get out of the fine he deserves.

But, outside of traffic court, pleading guilty is hardly ever done because most criminals won't do so unless they get a good plea deal. Most people who plead not guilty are, in fact, guilty as hell. But, this doesn't matter because pleading not guilty is said to be a code phrase for "I want a trial and I want the court to prove me guilty."

What does this truly mean? The guilty get all the advantages and the innocent all the disadvantages. Here is how it works:

Guilty guy gets the option of pleading not guilty and going to trial or accepting a plea deal. The worst he can get is what he deserves (if found guilty in court) and the best he can get is to get off scot free (if the prosecution fails to provide enough evidence of his guilt or the defense can confuse the jury enough to let him off.) If guilty guy doesn't want to roll the dice in court, he can accept a plea deal and get less than he deserves.

The innocent guy, on the other hand is screwed. He can go to trial and be found guilty in spite of his innocence or he can accept a plea deal if he is too afraid of leaving his fate in the hands of an uneducated jury and get a lesser punishment for a crime he never committed (and a criminal record to boot).

And what of the matter of asking people to be liars? Is there not any ethical and moral concern about this? I don't care how many times lawyers and judges insist that pleading not guilty does not mean you are saying you are not guilty...the words are "Not guilty" and they mean "Not guilty." Why can't the court change the verbiage to "Request for trial"? Why do they insist on using specific words and then telling us to pretend they don't mean what they mean?

It is clear to me that honesty is not the policy of the court and obfuscating is acceptable.

I took my son to traffic court with me once to show him how our court system works. He sure got a lesson that day. I had gotten nailed in a very unfair speed trap. On a six lane road with no residential areas to the sides, I came down a steep hill. From where I turned onto the road I had seen no speed limits. Common sense would tell you the speed limit should be forty or fifty miles an hour. As I had just pulled onto the road out of a parking lot, I wasn't even going that fast. But as I came down the hill the car automatically picked up speed. Right at the bottom of the hill was the cop car with the radar. I was pulled over and charged with reckless driving, going fifty in a twenty-five mile zone! I was floored.

So, I went to court where I was going to plead guilty with explanation and protest what was clearly an unfair trap. When I arrived at the courthouse, there was a huge line of people; this county in Virginia - Arlington County - was known for its speed traps. We were told not to go into the courtroom but stay in the line. The line snaked into a side room where a table of district attorneys sat. Each person was to show the ticket to the lawyer and then he would make recommendations.

I stepped up to the attorney and presented the ticket. He laughed and said, "Yeah, that is the worst trap in the county! You can't get down to twenty-five on that hill unless you know beforehand the radar is at the bottom and you stand on your brake the whole way down." Then he offered me a plea deal. Plead guilty to going forty miles an hour, pay the lower fine, and I would not get points on my record.

"But I wasn't going forty," I told him. "I was going fifty. Are you telling me to lie to the court? Isn't that perjury?"

He became annoyed with me, rolling his eyes. "Take your pick, lady. Plead to forty or go piss off the judge."

I took my seat in the courtroom. I pissed off the judge. I got the higher fine and points.

What kind of court actually tells a citizen to commit perjury? An American court. Honest people get punished and Chris Brown goes on a holiday. Truth is mocked and lies are honored. This is a criminal justice system? It may be but it needs desperately to be fixed


FleaStiff said...

You have a right to plead not guilty and to put the state toits proof even if you are in fact guilty.

"My client is innocent"... well, unless the jury has returned a verdict yet, his client is innocent!

The schoolyard bully wants you to play according to his rules. Some bulies grow up to be criminals, some grow up to be cops, some luckier bullies grow up to be lawyers and even luckier bullies grow up to be judges, but they always want you to play by their rules. You should have pleaded guilty to doing forty.

Pat Brown said...

If the system had a focus on truth and justice, there would be no need for game playing. The police would have to have probable cause for arrest, to charge the defendant with a crime. Then, the trial should be scheduled. No plea should be necessary and no plea bargain permitted (regardless of the arguments for it, it is nothing but blackmail and collusion). The state should have to prove the defendant's guilt and the defendant should have to pay the full, not partial price for crimes found guilty of. The defendant would simply go to trial unless he chose to plead guilty and not wait for the jury verdict. The punishment would remain the same with or without the guilty plea.

Lawyers should be bound to tell the truth if their clients admit guilt to them. It should be a matter of ethics. The state should have to prove its case BECAUSE there is no confessoin of guilt. If there isw one, that should be enough proof in court. If the defendant is lying that he is guilty, it is he that has provided the fabricated evidence that convicts him and he should suffer the consequences of such lies.

The defense attorney should be doing his best to make sure his client isn't railroaded, the the court's evidence isn't false. He should be able to use the information his innocent client gives him to help him fight for his freedom. But the attorney should never be in collusion with the guity defendant to mislead the court, hide and distort evidence, or to lie to the judge and jury about the defendant and his actions. If so, the attorney should be charged with obstruction of justice.
Likewise for the prosecutor if he presents any erroneous information or lies to the jury. Truth should be demanded in the court of everyone: the lawyers, the experts, and the defendant.

FleaStiff said...

There should be a Santa Claus.
There should be a whiskey flowing in whiskey creek.
There should be alot of things.

The system does not have, never has had and never will have a focus on truth and justice.

Blackmail? The resources of the court are limited and so is its ability to determine truth. The threat of enhanced punishment if you do not plead guilty is ever present. The threat of 'we only make deals with the FIRST person to roll over on his fellow conspirators' is ever present.

Its an assembly line processing of files, not individuals.

Pat Brown said...

I think a good part of the problem lies with the idiotic jury system; totally untrained people who are suddenly supposed to be able to judge evidence and determine what it means all while being confused by both the prosecution, the defense, and the bought experts.

If we instituted a professional jury system, maybe proving a case might be easier and then plea bargaining would not be as necessary to put criminals away.

FleaStiff said...

Plea bargains were common even back in the days when jurors were selected from a responsible segment of the community.
There used to be Blue Ribbon Jurors... essentially rich retired republicans who could devote substantial time to complex cases. We should bring those back.

The main thing is get rid of the crack addicts and bus drivers on juries.

Leah said...

I tend to agree with you Pat. When I first moved out on my own to Salt Lake City back in the early 1980s I had to get my own automobile insurance. The agent was reading over the fine print with me and one of the items on the list said "NEVER admit fault in an accident, even if you are sure you are at fault." I was floored and asked him why [because lying to a cop who is investigating my accident doesn't sound like a good idea to me] and he brushed me off by saying that the other driver could be speeding, or run a red light and you might not even know it. That makes sense in a way, but I still would never have the audacity to straight out lie to LE. Especially when I am paying the stinking high insurance premiums for them to take care of my accidents, even when I am at fault.

I believe in the accused's right to be proven guilty and that he doesn't have to incriminate himself, but straight out lying is wrong and the reason we have over populated jails and back logs in out court system. Some people will walk 100 miles to tell a lie and won't even cross the street to tell the truth. Very sad!

Albany Lawyer said...

Pleading not guilty is not saying: "I didn't do it." It's a procedural statement in court. In my work the client doesn't even say it - it goes more like this:

Me: Your honor, please enter a plea of not guilty on behalf of my client.


Me: Your honor, I spoke with the prosecutor and we haven't reached an agreement. We will make motions.
Judge: Okay. I'll enter a not guilty plea.

Your post reflects an obvious bias. Telling the truth is situational for defendants and their lawyers? Are you saying cops don't lie?

I'm puzzled about this. I don't see where you accuse defense lawyers of lying. I'm in court frequently and I don't see it happen.

A common question I get:
How can you defend someone you know is guilty?
My response:
Have you ever asked a prosecutor how they can prosecute someone they know is innocent?

I've seen it. I saw it as an intern in a DA's office and I've seen it as a defense lawyer with prosecutors admitting privately that they're doing it - politics, or following orders, or protecting the cops.

So what's worse for society? Lying defendants or lying cops? Defense lawyers defending the guilty or prosecutors prosecuting the innocent? It appears you think the former is worse in both, while I think the latter is worse.

Pat Brown said...

I never said the prosecution never lies nor that police officers never lie. My point is that all those involved with the courts should be required to be truthful or be jailed for perjury. That I did not specifically address others lying in court does not mean of approve of this either.

However, the worst problem we have with the system is that too many criminals can play it.

SHTHAR said...

I'm surprised he talked to you at all.

The last time I went to court for a ticket there was a big sign that said...

"Prosecutor will only talk to defending counsel"

So you could only plead if you paid another lawyer, which was probably more than the fine would be.

cheryl said...

Back in 1996, my ex-husband of 18 years tried to kill me. We were separated at the time. He had never been physically abusive to me. Mentally and verbally abusive big time.I learned to tune his abusive voice out. I had no qualms about going for a cup of coffee with him to talk about our divorce.

On the way home, (he was driving) he claimed that he had to take a leak, and stopped at the Boardwalk Pavillion in Spring Lake. He opened the car door and out of nowhere...started pummeling my face.He grabbed my hair and would not let go. He said he was going to kill me, and he didn't give a crap about the kids, he didn't care if he went to prison for the rest of his life, he just wanted me dead. He reached for his machete, which he used for work as a land surveyor, and I let my hair go. All I could think of was my children.I escaped from him.

What does this have to do with this post? Well...My ex husband invoked his right to counsel when he was arrested several hours later. His lawyer asked him if I touched him at all. Why of course I did. I scratched his wrist as he was choking me. SELF DEFENSE!! I was the one put on trial. I had to prove that I didn't attack him first.

Here I am, bleeding, bruised eyes and neck, half of my hair gone, and he has a couple of wrist scratches.
How do these attorneys live with themselves or sleep at night?

cheryl said...

Oh, by the way, my husband spent 2 nights in jail and had to pay a fine(??!!) and go see a counselor.

Pat Brown said...

Cheryl, your story and attorney "come up with any defense" is common. I was brought in to profile a case in which a wife killer was getting an appeal. The lawyers handed me the crime scene photos and info and told me to meet them a week later with my profile. I came back and said the husband sure as hell did it, brutalized his wife, chopped her fingers off to get her rings, and then stuffed her in the trunk, leaving the car abandoned by the side of the road. His garage was drenched in blood. No question. Murder one.

The lawyers didn't blink. "Well, couldn't you also come up with an alternative profile like a carjacker?"

I walked out.

When does did the concept of a proper defense change into any sleazy, unethical, manipulative, lying methodolgy that can snow a jury?

FleaStiff said...

A proper defense is one that wins.
If some notional carjacker fools someone, it was a proper defense.

cheryl said...

"a proper defense is one that wins" I know you probably said that with tongue in cheek, because if I thought you were serious, I will have lost all hope that anything good resides in human beings.

Or not.

Pat Brown said...

Actually, Cheryl, I wonder that a defense attorney would not say that is exactly what a proper defense is - "A defense that wins." After all, if a defense attorney is willing to use every trick in the book, not to be sure the prosecution adequately proves its case, but to cause the jury to have some doubt where none should have been, then the attorney must believe that himself.

Attempting to delay the trial in hopes that witnesses die or can't clearly remember anymore, trying to get the case thrown out on every technicality in the book, creating alternative scenarios one knows are bunk, these are employed by defense lawyers on a routine bases. Are they trying to provide their guilty client a reeasonable defemse or simply trying to get their guilty client off. Winning IS what the point of the adversarial system, not truth, and that is why is it poisoned to thc core.

FleaStiff said...

"Tricks" win.
The goal is to WIN.

A prosecutor delays the trial of a young juvenile until he is more mature appearing in front of a jury.

A prosecutor overcharges: recall perhaps the Oregon prosecutor who charged statutory rape when the girl was only six months short of 18 and had used the camera herself and all photos were in her custody.

A prosecutor develops all evidence that supports guilt.

A prosecutor will attempt to rattle a defense witness by making a prompt but meaningless objection.

Defense lawyers play tricks too.

The lawyers goal is to win. They may get paid by the defendant or by the state, but the goal is to win. In sports, the goal posts are often switched at half time, but the object is still the same to win.

Often that win is against someone who believes that good triumphs over evil. Often that win is against someone who told the police he didn't need a lawyer because he was innocent. Often that win is against someone who allowed a search of his property. Its no sweeter a victory when the defendant believes people have good in them. Its just a victory like any other.

cheryl said...

Ok, Flea, I get what you are saying. We are ALL fools to believe that there is any type of "true justice" anywhere in this world, except perhaps in Iran.(They would go over well there)
I get it.
Now go espouse your theories in Iran.