I grew up in the Boston area. I remember, when I was a kid, my father reading the newspaper and seeing an article that a former friend of his had pleaded guilty to several white collar crimes.
Actually, the reason the gentleman was a “former” friend was that my dad was one of the victims of the alleged fraudulent acts. Until reading that article, my dad had been convinced that his friend had not intentionally misled him to his detriment, but that the unfortunate result had been simply bad luck.
Now, my dad was convinced that he had been duped. “After all”, he said, “Why would the guy plead guilty if he were not guilty?”
It sounded right to me at the time.
Years later, I became a prosecutor in Brooklyn, New York. This was the start of my real education as to how the system works.
My answer to my dad’s question has rung hollow ever since.
First of all, please remember that, especially since the science of DNA has entered the legal system, there have been many incarcerated individuals who have been set free as wrongfully convicted after having served years in prison . Of course, nation-wide, we also have individuals who we cannot free after being wrongfully convicted…because we have killed them.
Let’s take a composite creation and name him “Danny Defendant”. Leaving his job at a fancy restaurant in downtown Boston, he is whistling a happy tune, with his pocketful of generous tip money (in the hundreds, by the way). It being Friday, he looks forward to going home, reading today’s Attorney Sam’s Take of the daily https://www.bostoncriminallawyerblog.com and having a great weekend.
He runs into his roommate, Barry Badnews. Barry owes Danny money for the rent and, since it was due yesterday, reaches into his pocket and gives him the money in cash.
“Aw, come on”, Barry sighs. “I just use it every once and awhile. ”
“How do we know you are not dealing?”
“Great question, Sherlock. Where’s all the money I would have been making?”
Barry is clearly not a reader of my blog.
“I found it”, calls the other officer who has been searching Danny.
The two are charged with possession with intent to sell. Unfortunately, being downtown Boston, they are in a school zone as well.
Speed up the clock a bit. The matter has been pending in court for months. Each month, Danny has to get time off from his new job (he was fired because of the arrest from the restaurant) at Burger Barnyard, which pays him a fraction of what he had been earning before. Most of his money has gone into the pocket of his attorney and bail. He understandably left his apartment, especially since Barry has decided to make a deal with the Commonwealth and claim that it had been Danny who sold him the drugs. He even brought them to the apartment to his show his own stash and explain that it was really Danny’s, although he kept it hidden in the kitchen.
Danny is facing at least mandatory minimum sentence of two years in the house of corrections. The evidence against him? The observations of the officers regarding the hand-to-hand, in which Barry gave Danny money, the drugs and additional money found in the apartment, the money found on Danny and the testimony of the newly proclaimed drug addict, Barry.
It is his first arrest, though, and has a sympathetic prosecutor who tells his lawyer that they will offer a Guilty finding and probation if he will plead guilty before trial.
Do you think this scenario is farfetched? It isn’t. Take William Wrongplace, a Hispanic gentleman. He is exhausted as he leaves the T-station to go home after a hard day at work. Suddenly, he is surrounded by police cars. They say he looks like someone they are looking for in connection with a robbery. Stand right here.
In the darkness, he sees one more police car pull up in front of him. He barely makes out someone bruised and battered in the back seat looking out of the window.. It is the complainant, who claims to have been beaten quite badly about half hour ago. She had immediately reported the incident, describing her mugger as male, Hispanic, wearing a dark coat and thin. She looks out, sees William, who is wearing a dark blue coat, is thin, male and Hispanic. He looks tired…probably from fleeing the scene. He is the only one standing there surrounded by police and in cuffs.
William is now facing felony charges for which he could be looking at decades in state prison if he loses at trial.
Finally, we have the bad break-up between Allen and Alice Alimony. Boy, does Alice hate Allen! He seems to be making out like a bandit in divorce court. Recently, he was at her home visiting the kids when the two had an argument and Allen told her that he was going to do all he could to make sure that she did not get a dime in alimony from him. Alice, being the creative sort, accepted this as a threat upon her life, threw him out and went to the local district court to seek a restraining order pursuant to chapter 209A. She got it without much difficulty.
Now, Allen, under threat of prosecution can have no contact with either Alice or the kids. But, you see, Allen is still being an annoyance in this divorce. So, one fine day, Alice picks up the phone to report that he is outside her window.
Problem solved. Allen does not even appear in divorce court that week. He can’t. He is in custody because when he was arrested for violating the restraining order, the prosecutor claimed he was a danger to the community and he is being held.
The “good news” is that the Commonwealth may be willing to offer a Continuance Without A Finding if Allen will admit that there are facts sufficient to find him guilty.
None of these cases are far-fetched. They happen. They are examples in which the defendant is facing a tough choice. Are these cases winnable for the defense? With an experienced criminal defense attorney who is good in the courtroom, I would say that they are. However, there are no guarantees and people tend to have aversions to serving jail or prison time if there is a way around it…sometimes, even if that way is to plead guilty when they are not guilty.
So, what does all this have to do with you?
Be aware of the reality of the Criminal Justice System and the factors at play. Most of all, take any criminal charges seriously. Make sure you have the right lawyer for the job. Simply being factually innocent does not guarantee you a “not guilty”.
If you or a loved one are facing such a situation and would like to discuss your options and potential representation with me, please feel free to call me at (617) 206-1942.
In the meantime, have a great, safe and law-abiding weekend!