Quatrain LI Rubaiyat
One of the most frustrating and exasperating tasks facing the Equal Justice Foundation (EJF) is dealing with the numerous individuals who call or write after they have taken a plea bargain to charges of domestic violence, violating a restraining order, child abuse, sexual abuse, or what have you.
Let me state up front that I am a research scientist, not a miracle worker! Yes, I know:
Before I became a scientist I took some sensitivity training with Marine Corps infantry (1 st Marines). From that experience I note that it doesn't really matter how scared, nervous, shocked, frightened, intimidated, sleep deprived, or what other condition you were in when you accepted the plea bargain.
You, and you alone are responsible for pleading guilty when you accept the plea bargain. If you say you are guilty then you are guilty. It is not my responsibility, or that of the EJF to try and turn back the clock. And if you are afraid to face a jury of your peers it simply reinforces the public assumption that you are guilty.
What the Equal Justice Foundation is trying to do is reduce the number of people who accept a plea bargain and inform defendants of their rights and the implications of a conviction. We have had some success with that.
The entire DV industry and legal system depends on defendants accepting a plea bargain. In most jurisdictions 90% to 99% of convictions are the result of plea bargains. The whole process comes to a halt if defendants take the nonviolent step of simply pleading not guilty and demanding a jury trial because the system can't handle the load.
Slavery ended when juries would not convict under runaway slave laws. Prohibition ended when juries would not convict under liquor laws. And today juries routinely acquit in domestic violence and related cases. In fact, most jurisdictions dismiss 70% to 95% of such cases without going to trial because the prosecutors know they can't get a conviction in front of a jury.
Thus there is a very simple, effective way to stop the current injustices. If every defendant, or even half of them, would plead Not Guilty and demand a jury trial the current mass incarcerations would cease within months.
We know this is an effective approach because, as the number of not guilty pleas has increased in the past few years, prosecutors have begun using more strong-arm methods to coerce defendants into accepting a plea bargain. Such tactics have included, but are not limited to:
Long delays before allowing defendants to post bail for such specious reasons as they can't be released without an electronic monitor and one isn't available. 5 to 20 days has become common before allowing defendants to post bail and the current record I've heard about is over 6 years imprisonment for William Christopher in Santa Clara County, California.
When the defendant is allowed to bond out the bail is frequently set at ridiculous amounts. A $50,000 bond is a common amount for a first offender but $250,000 isn't unusual. The record I've heard about in a DV case is $600,000. Meanwhile murderers often go free on less bail than these amounts.
Long delays, months, before an arraignment hearing is held, and the clock doesn't start ticking on speedy trial requirements until the defendant is arraigned and charges formally filed. All the while the mandatory restraining order is in effect, movements may be monitored with an electronic device, visitation with one's children is stopped or severely restricted, mental health treatment may be ordered, and other punishments imposed. It isn't unusual for a DV case to drag on for years before being scheduled for trial. Then the DA will usually dismiss the case the day before or the morning of the trial.
Most despicable of all has been an increase in outright torture in attempts to force guilty pleas. In a joint effort with True Equality Network we now have 31 verified cases of victims subjected to both genital electrocution and hypothermia torture, and 61 cases of torture using hypothermia alone. *
There are always costs and risks when standing up for your rights. But freedom has never been free and rights can be quickly surrendered. The EJF is here to help protect your rights, not sympathize with you after you surrender them.
If you've already made the mistake of taking a plea bargain you can help by joining us, or simply passing the word along about our efforts and telling the next guy not to take a plea bargain no matter how good it sounds at the time. But if you, your friends, and neighbors won't stand up for your basic rights, the EJF's hands are tied
* Note: If you, or someone you know, has been tortured in order to force the acceptance of a plea bargain, please contact Terri Lynn Tersak.