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PLEADING GUILTY… THOUGH INNOCENT

Why would an innocent individual possibly accept a plea deal?  Jeffrey Stein, a public defender in Washington DC, responds with a troubling commentary in the Washington Post.    He relates how his client – desperate and in pretrial confinement, and isolated from his family – is sweating out a prosecution sentencing offer which will expire within the week.

Mr. Stein invites you to place yourself in the shoes of a public defender: You’re overworked and may not have time to check whether there are unreliable eyewitnesses, faulty assumptions, or rascals willing to lie.  A trial will take months of waiting before a jury hears the case.  You carefully explain the options to your client including the right to accept the plea offer, regardless of guilt or innocence. In some cases, he says, sentencing difference between accepting a plea and losing at trial can be decades!  [NOTE: in one recent case, a defendant who” took the deal” got three years; the one who chose to litigate got 30 years].

No wonder, 95% of all defendants accept offers, says Stein.  He cites statistics from the National Registry of Exonerations –15% of those later proven innocent originally pleaded guilty. That share rises to 49% of those exonerated of manslaughter and 66% of those exonerated of drug crimes.

It’s legal of course – – a client can admit to something he did not do and take what is called an Alford plea. Attorney Stein recalls the dreadful moment when the judge addresses the attorney and asks if counsel knows of any reasons the guilty plea should not be accepted.   Mr. Stein daydreams that he might shout that the plea is a product of an extortion system of devastating mandatory minimums and lopsided access to evidence; and that his client – facing an impossible choice —  is only trying to avoid a lifetime in prison.

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A PROGRESSIVE CLAIM.    An Internet friend comments that all six current US Nobel prize winners in science are immigrants — last year, all six winners were immigrants as well.

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EQUAL ACCESS TO CARE FOR PTSD.  The Army Times reports that service members receive varying levels of concerned medical health care, depending on what pay grade they hold. The concern is based on a new 18-month RAND report commissioned by DOD.

CIVILITY.   The Washington Post Style Section introduces Bernard and Leah Berman, both former White House social secretaries.  The Bermans authored a new book about treating people well called “The Extraordinary Power of Civility at Work and in Life.”  Bernard worked for the Obamas; Leah worked for George W. Bush.   Both authors insist they had the same goal in the White House – to make everyone who walked through the door feel welcomed, valued, and comfortable.  Today, today, some people believe tough language and name-calling as required.  The authors disagree, viewing incivility as a corrosive force which endangers democracy itself.

Several reasons suggest themselves for the lack of civil discourse –

·         Social media allows anonymity; people assert matters that would never say face-to-face.

·         Standards change – people are now outspoken about things they would never have revealed 10 or 20 years ago

·         Many feel the need for immediate gratification –we want what we want when we want it

·         Reality TV advances the loudest mouths and most outrageous behaviors – these get the most screen time, together with needless drama

·         By tradition, presidents did not speak ill of others in a personal way; that trend has reversed

·         Many feel things are not going well in the country and that they had been treated unfairly. This leads to anger, with many spoiling for a fight

The co-authors agree that there is a difference between being polite and being a pushover. The average person, they suggest, will try to “be nice” in an awkward situation or try to defuse things.  Sadly, many today see such politeness as a weakness.

How to make an uncivil world more civil?   The authors suggest staying objective; refusing to be drawn into the drama of bad behavior: not taking things personally; and simply being kind in daily life, saying thank you to the cashier or hello to the bus driver.

These steps, the authors conclude, will help “reestablish our humanity with each other.”

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LAWYER’S CORNER.  Recent editions of the Champion magazine of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers reveal:

·         Hair samples. No scientific basis exists to identify hairs as coming from a given individual.  So states the National Academy of Sciences, according to the NACDL president in an interesting article.  The magazine contains additional information on FBI microscopic analysis

·         Modern surveillance.  AMERICAN SPIES – MODERN SURVEILLANCE, WHY YOU SHOULD CARE, AND WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT by Jennifer Granick.   A thoughtful book review contrasts our complex world and the need for surveillance and security against the rule of law and civil liberties.


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