(Political Cartoon by David Beck-Brown)
By David Beck-Brown
A New PATH (Parents for Addiction Treatment and Healing) Newsletter
I am a Community Ambassador for A New PATH and have written articles for the quarterly newsletter for the past nine years. I have worked with convicts from 1977 to 2009 at State, County and Federal Lock-ups, including the FWPP (Federal Witness Protection Program). The commentaries I have written on the topic of prison-reform throughout my career have been published in the L.A. Times, the San Diego Union- Tribune, The Daily Californian and several other newspapers and magazines in the U.S.A. and the E.U.
Although I have retired from State service as an Institutional Arts-in-Corrections Facilitator, I have not retired from being an advocate for restorative justice. Everything happens for a reason. Last summer I was arrested and spent the night in County jail for a simple misunderstanding. The repercussions from that pivotal moment haunt me until this day. One year later, as I continue to unravel the comedy of errors known as a ‘hotstop’, I find myself focusing on the topic of plea-bargaining. I was one breath away from having to face that decision. I know, without a shadow of a doubt, I would not have made any deal with the hierophants. I will not plea for my innocence, and I can not bargain with my integrity.
Plea-bargaining is defined as “an agreement between the prosecutor and the accused, in which the accused pleads guilty for a lesser sentence or a reduced charge.” Research shows that 95 % of all felony convictions are the result of plea bargains. This means only 5 % of all felony convictions make it to a jury trial. This is a blatant breach of our constitutional rights. The Sixth Amendment states, “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial.” Plea-bargains are illegal and need to be abolished.
Two parties benefit from the plea-bargain. The judge, who accepts the pleabargain, wants to clear his over-crowded caseload and believes he is helping to alleviate prison overcrowding. The prosecutor, who engages in the plea-bargain, is guaranteed a conviction. Having a high conviction rate as a prosecutor is a stepladder to promotion. It also indicates political aspirations. The only party who has nothing to gain from a pleabargain is the defendant.
The clear underlying problem lies with the word conviction. Prosecutors and judges aren’t looking at why their dockets are heavy in the first place – CONVICTIONS. The argument for reducing prison overcrowding through plea-bargaining is a joke. An innocent person “set free” by a plea-bargain isn’t really free. The status of being on parole keeps him bound to the draconian system.
This article is entitled “Pea Bargain.” The con game known as the shell game uses half shells and peas. The person playing the game gambles to win a prize. Usually he loses by becoming confused. The person who controls the game wins. Our judicial system has become the master of the shell game. What will you do when you’re asked to play?