Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Jury Duty II - Plea Bargain & Public Defender

There were a couple of things that surprised me when I recently sat on a jury. (See my post from April 20 for more about the trial.)

The first of these was the incompetence of the lawyer who was assigned to the defendant. He acted as if he hadn't bothered reading the case before the trial. All he did was misquote the witnesses as if he were hoping one of them would pass on an opportunity to correct what he said. But most of the misquotes wouldn't have improved the case for the defendant anyway. It seemed that this lawyer wasn't enacting a strategy as much as he was revealing how he wasn't paying attention. He argued that one of the girls had collected a mixture of her DNA and DNA from the defendant’s sperm on a washcloth, had injured herself in a way that was consistent with a rape injury, and had conspired with other young women whom she did not know previously. All this, he claimed, was to seek revenge for being told she couldn't attend the high school she wanted to attend. The evidence against the defendant was so strong it is possible that any lawyer would have had trouble preparing a defense, but it is hard to believe anyone else would have been so bad.

The other part of the trial that I found surprising was the sentence. The jury determines guilt or innocence, but the judge sets the sentence. In this case the man received seventy-two to eighty-four years, depending on his behavior. He's twenty-nine, so no matter if he's good or bad he's still going to spend the rest of his life in jail. But the plea bargain he was offered before the trial was for fourteen years. Seventy-two years was certainly more than I expected and fourteen was small enough that he could have been release while he was still young enough to harm another child. Choosing to go to court did not change what this man had done, but it cost him fifty-eight years. I could not understand why the length of time should differ so much based solely on his level of cooperation.

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