As a defense attorney, I often have a different perspective on the justice, or fairness of the court process as applied to criminal defendants. However, I recently observed an incident that just made my blood boil.
Every state is different in how criminal matters are administered. In Washington, for instance, a first appearance will include the judge, the prosecutor, and a representative from the public defender’s office to make sure that all defendants have counsel and understand the charges against them. Idaho, at least in misdemeanor cases, is different.
As I was in the courtroom, waiting for my client’s turn in front of the video monitor from the jail, the judge called a particular defendant’s case. His wife and kids were present in the courtroom. There was no prosecutor for his case, and he did not have a public defender. This defendant was charged with Assault-DV, which has serious consequences, to include loss of gun rights.
The judge proceeded to tell the defendant, who obviously didn’t have money to post a low bond amount, that there was an emailed offer from the prosecutor’s office that if he plead guilty, now, that he would be released from jail, credit for time served and be placed on two years of probation. The family in the courtroom were shaking their head to no avail – he obviously couldn’t see them on the video.
The judge asked if he would like to get a public defender. The defendant stated, “yes.” The judge proceeded to state that he would write a not guilty plea down, and set this matter for a pre-trial, likely a couple weeks away. Realizing that he would be stuck in jail during that time, the defendant told the judge, “I’ll take that deal.” The judge promptly accepted his plea of guilty (without the assistance of counsel) – placed a no-contact order on his family, informed him of his loss of gun rights, and that there would have to be a further hearing down the road regarding the no contact order.
From the video – it was easy to see the defendant’s realization that the offer of the “dangling carrot” did not taste as good as expected.
Domestic Violence convictions, as well as other criminal charges have serious consequences – often unanticipated, particularly if done with the sole motivation of being released. The quick resolution is not often the RIGHT resolution.
It is absolutely imperative that if you are facing serious criminal charges, that you speak to an experienced criminal defense attorney prior to pleading guilty.
Warning: This information is not intended to constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon in lieu of consultation with appropriate legal advisers in your own jurisdiction. It may not be current as laws are subject to change.