One witness, one complainant, one word. That’s all it takes for your life to start tumbling down the rabbit hole. One accusation, one prosecutor to believe it and one judge who is laissez-faire. That’s all it takes.
For some cosmic reason, this has been the most frequent topic of conversation with clients that I’ve had in the last two weeks. And I’ve always known, in the back of my head, the power wielded by the State in the criminal justice system. Heck, that’s why my job is an uphill battle.
But until last week, I’ve never really had to confront it head on, think about it for a while and explain it to several people, one after the other.
“Can they do that?” asked one client when I informed him that the State had upped the charges against him to a crime that carried a mandatory-minimum sentence. With an apologetic curl of the lip, I conveyed an affirmative response. “They can do whatever they want”, was my response.
“They can do whatever they want”. For the most part, it’s true, isn’t it? The State decides what to charge. The State makes all plea offers. The State decides which co-defendant to try first and which charge to try first. The State decides if it wants a pre-sentence investigation. The State decides what material they think is exculpatory and what needs to be turned over.
The power of the State is fearsome.
What’s more is that the State decides whom to believe. That was Client 2. “You mean someone can make up some shit about me, say I did this to her and I go to jail?”
“Well,” I tried to explain, “that’s what the State believes happened. That’s the evidence they’ll present at trial. It’s her word against yours.”
“That’s bullshit, man” came the understandable response.
Convicted felons with a rap sheet a mile long and questionable moral character suddenly become virtuous citizens who have suffered terrible grievances once they take off the “defendant” hat and slip on the “victim/witness” hat.
I’ve never met a prosecutor who didn’t believe a minor who made an allegation of sexual assault. Oh sure, they’ll concede the weakness in their case, but deep down, every child who says they’ve been molested, has been molested.
Defendants’ alibi witnesses? Liars. Biased.
State’s witnesses? Hookers with hearts of gold.
Intellectual honesty has no place in the criminal justice system.
Inconsistencies in the State’s version are explained away with gymnastics worthy of perfect 10s. Most attempts at probing further and seeking a foothold in the mountain of prosecutorial wrath are met with a stern retort: “take it to trial, then.”
And that’s what we must do.
Take everything to trial. Force the State to stop believing their one. Force the State to prove each and every case and expose each and every flaw in front of a jury of peers.
This tact, of course, is fraught with difficulty. But the difficult path is what must be endured in order to restore a semblance of balance to the system.
As it stands, the State’s one outweighs the defendant’s none.