The law, you will have guessed by now, is not concerned much with the English language and its precise definitions. A fall-back answer that’s almost always right, when it comes to the law, is that everything “depends”.
Even something as simple as ‘impossibility’. When you, laypersons, think about the word “impossible”, you usually think of something that’s not possible. But the law isn’t that easy.
There are different categories of impossibility, each with its own definition and applicability: mistake of law, mistake of fact, legal impossibility and factual impossibility. Legal impossibility is where, no matter how evil your intentions are, your acts do not constitute a crime. Factual impossibility is where it is impossible for you to have committed a crime because you misunderstood the facts. A classic example used in law school hypotheticals is that of Sydney Barringer, the guy who died in a most tragic fashion.
But none of this takes into account the law’s stubborn desire to extract a conviction from just about anyone who wanders into its field of vision, despite the apparent physical impossibility of that person to have committed the crime.
This is how we come to meet Tyree Threatt, 21 years old, facing charges of mugging a woman on June 27. They didn’t arrest him that day, of course, but she gave a description of the mugger. A few weeks later, officers saw Threatt and determined he matched the description. Then they put his photo in a lineup and she picked him out.
Two days after that, a court commissioner signed a warrant for Threatt on a raft of charges, including armed robbery and using a firearm in a violent crime, each of which carries a maximum 20-year prison sentence. Threatt was arrested over the weekend, according to court records.
So there he was, facing a crapload of jail time, when the simple fact emerged that on June 27, he was already in jail.
Case closed, you’d say. He was in jail on the day of the mugging, ergo he could not have committed it! How quickly can you say “released from jail and apologized to”?
Take your time. Because that’s not what happened, obviously.
A public defender who represented Threatt this week says he laid out jail records before a judge Monday showing that his client had what might have been the best possible alibi.
But prosecutors said the issue should be sorted out at trial, according to the public defenders office, and the judge declined to release Threatt (he did get $25,000 shaved off his bail).
Sorted out at trial? The fact that the man was held in jail at the time of the mugging needed to be sorted out at trial? This, folks, is your steward of the law, your champion of justice.
That the judge also failed to release him is doubly shocking. There is no conceivable reason for the judge to hold him in jail other than to attempt to extract a pound of flesh.
There is a massive problem in the criminal justice system called the “meet and plead“, which I’ve written about before. Overwhelmed attorneys are pressured by judges into forcing their clients to plead guilty on the day of arraignment to “discounted” and “one-time only” resolutions.1
So you end up with people who are completely innocent who still plead guilty because they feel like they have no choice and would rather taste freedom again than wait in jail until it’s “sorted out at trial”.
When faced with incontrovertible evidence of a man’s innocence, the system still fails to own up to its mistake and set that man free. It took scrutiny from the press to make that happen. One can only imagine what would have happened if the press weren’t critical, but a pawn of the State as it frequently is.