» Courts, Prosecutors, Victim's Rights » Sucks Not Eating That Cake, Huh?

Sucks Not Eating That Cake, Huh?

I covered a pretty amazing hearing recently.

It wasn’t amazing because of anything I did. It was amazing because it perfectly showcased the disastrous impact of mandatory sentencing rules and a culture of punishment and cruelty not just on defendants, but on victims. The client was accused of taking money from a family trust. He was left out of it, but his cousins weren’t. He allegedly drained the trust using forged checks.

At his first sentencing, the victims said how they weren’t going to get to go to college. He took their college fund, apparently, and now they had to take out student loans. At least one of them wanted to punish him with a long prison sentence. All of them wanted him to repay what they thought he’d taken. A couple of them saw the problem with the others’ bloodthirsty approach and demanded probation without confinement so he could pay every cent back as soon as possible.

The lawyer I covered for had demanded a probation offer not just to benefit his client, but also for the victims. The client had a good job and was capable of earning money to begin paying back what he owed to them. The lawyer filed a motion for release explaining the fact it was the client’s first offense and that the court would be harming the victims as much as the client keeping him in custody. He could liquidate whatever he had if he was out, but as long as he was in, he didn’t know where any of it was. It would be a complete loss for the victims.

The court denied the motion, and the client sat in custody, bills falling past due and debts going into collections. The prosecutor refused to offer probation and insisted on a very narrow prison range that only allowed the judge the ability to aggravate or mitigate a mere three months total out of a sentence of years. It was a policy offer. What that means is that it’s a silly, cruel offer they know people will take because it’s a silly, cruel system.

The judge was outraged at the first sentencing because the victims were getting screwed. They wouldn’t have been screwed, of course, if she’d left the client out of custody. They also wouldn’t have been screwed if the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office was capable of telling the difference between justice and a set of idiotic policies designed to require everyone who touches them to drop their pants and walk into court backwards.

The judge demanded answers. She was able to figure out that he spent the money on food and smokes and alcohol and some tangible things like a stereo. He had, of course, asked to get out so he could figure out where the valuable stuff was and sell it to pay back restitution. Believe him or not, the court was stuck with the dilemma of being tough on him and definitely ruining college for the victims or going easy on him and possibly making the victims’ lives better.

You’re a hopeless idealist if you think anyone in the criminal justice system aside from defense lawyers has ever actually wanted to help a victim at the expense of the state’s ability to punish someone it deemed worthy of punishment.

The judge insisted that the client sell the stuff he took, which wasn’t possible because she didn’t let him out of jail. The judge demanded his parents sell the stuff he took too. That wasn’t possible because his mom was dying and his dad was dead broke living in a dilapidated trailer and trying to care for his mom with no access to anything his son allegedly took.

Failing to recognize the obvious futility of what she was about to do, the judge reset sentencing so the client could work out some sort of arrangement to make the victims whole. She and the prosecutor, of course, had completely destroyed any possible attempt of the client every paying back any meaningful sum to anyone. They were oblivious to that fact, apparently.

At the next setting, the one I had the pleasure of covering, the judge was fuming before we even got started. I even heard her whispering things about “restitution” and “victims” to the bailiff and clerk before we started. I felt like I was on the spot before I even announced.

The prosecutor had nothing to say. Shy fellow, that guy. Apparently he said at the last setting to the guy I covered for that he didn’t say anything because he didn’t want the judge to scold him. Like I said, shy fellow. She should’ve scolded herself more, though.

I started by explaining that the client was in custody and did nothing because his only option was to hope someone came and saw him with the information he needed or to be let out, which was apparently not a possibility thanks to the court. He could pay them back if the court did a mulligan, but only without any felony conviction sticking, and certainly not with a public conviction for theft or false statement, which was exactly what he was getting. He’s going to be permanently without work, and the victims will be permanently without restitution.

He can’t pay while he’s in, and he’ll never get a job after he’s out. The state could offer probation, but that’s never going to happen because of its stupid policies. He’ll spend way more time in jail and have even more career-destructive felony-conviction counts if he’s convicted at trial or pleads to the court. The only way the judge can help anyone is by not hurting the client. When justice is nothing more that simple-minded cruelty for all who disobey, who’s going to break rank?

Here’s the general gist of the conversation at sentencing:

JUDGE: What did you spend the money on?
DEFENDANT: I don’t know. I’m in jail and don’t have access to anything.
JUDGE: What can you sell?
DEFENDANT: I don’t have anything. I’m in jail, and you wouldn’t let me out to sell anything.
JUDGE: Well, what about the stuff you bought [fumbling for list she lost from first sentencing]?
DEFENDANT: I don’t know. I’m in jail and don’t have access to anything.
JUDGE: This is unacceptable [failing to note the irony she can’t find what she’s mad at him for not remembering].
DEFENDANT: I’m in jail. I can’t do anything.
JUDGE: What I see is that you have no remorse [failing to note the defendant is in no way in control of anything but rather stuck between the option of a plea with a prison sentence and the victims getting screwed or the option of a longer prison sentence and the victims getting more screwed].
DEFENDANT: I’m in jail. I can’t do anything.
JUDGE: I am angry. These poor victims [failing to note he has done the only thing he could possibly do to help the victims but that she blocked it and wasted another month to block it a little more with no possibility of success].

A large part of the judge’s anger was directed at me, which made it even sillier. The crime was over, and she was the one hurting the victims at that point. She made a humorously-unenforceable disaster of an order about the client having to make certain payments after his release from prison. Why couldn’t she see that the punishment-driven system is surely going to frustrate every valid purpose she could have conceivably hoped to have accomplished? She made impotent the only person with the power to do what she wanted.

The victims lost the ability to go to college for free. A guy with no prior history and a steady job was alleged to have caused that, and he could’ve stayed out and earned money for the victims. Unfortunately, the judge held him in custody, hurting the victims. When he tried to get out to work and sell assets and help victims, the judge held him in custody, hurting the victims again. The prosecutor then only offered prison to client, also hurting the victims. The judge was then mad that the plea that hurt the client also hurt the victims. Knowing full well her only option to not hurt victims meant not hurting defendant, she was still unwilling to fail to hurt the client in order to try to make the victim whole.

So there you have it; a meaningless show of power from an irrelevant judicial officer who greases the conveyor belt of convictions at the expense of the rights of the general population and the victims on whose behalf she pretends to dispense justice. She sure did look angry, though. Does that count for something?

If you want a system of punishment and anger where you can reflect with smug satisfaction on the suffering of its targets while the victims of the targets suffer alongside them, we have just the system for you. But if you want to indulge in the cake of trying to do justice by heaping suffering upon people you believe may have done wrong, keep in mind that some of the actual cake-eating, seeing the victims made whole, will forever be beyond your grasp. Our system only scorches the earth.

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3 Responses to "Sucks Not Eating That Cake, Huh?"

  1. Lowadobian says:

    The horror you describe ? I would have thought it an April Fool’s joke, given the date of your post….when reality is fantasy horror, we’re all cooked. We pay for this “system”? How to get the judge censured/removed would be a great next step. Improve that process, one bad egg at a time. Stale cake is bad, but eating it on purpose, is worse. Be the change that’s needed without blowing up your career. Its possible and is a moral imperative, no?

  2. rodsmith says:

    your nicer than I am. If I’d been the defendant at that point I’ve have informed the judge that the whole system was retarded. That at this point in time they now had two options. we’re going to court and if I win the vicitms get NOTHING and if I lose like now they still GET NOTHING.

    Now you can kiss my ass.”

    1. Matt Brown says:

      They would’ve charged you with something. I would’ve really enjoyed watching you do it, though.

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