Abrahams’s death – and no, I still am not ready to accept it – has impacted for the worst my memory, my concentration, and my ability to focus on what I need to do. Last week, I was an hour away from having my house fire insurance cancelled; Verizon did cancel my FIOS service. The tax man sent me a threatening letter the other day for not paying my water bill. Just some of the many bills I still haven’t even looked at.
I have been here before – as I’ve said in earlier posts – and I have come out on the other side, but it took a year each time. At one point, after Irving and Ricky’s deaths (fifteen months apart), Luis came to me when I was sitting on the back porch and said to me, “Who are you – and what have you done with my father?” Yep. I’m not as bad now as I was then, probably because I simply continue to block believing that Abe is dead. Even writing those words just now – Abe is dead – broke through what I don’t want broken through and my tears escaped from where I have them locked up. No, I am not back to normal by a long shot.
And I am missing opportunities to write posts that I don’t want to miss. Including the about-time-they-start-to-get-it article* on plea bargaining from the front page – top story online – of this morning’s NY Times. Plea bargaining and its consequences, as detailed in the article, impacted Abraham’s life terribly.
I once believed that plea bargaining was a great idea: offer the guy a somewhat lesser sentence for a guilty plea to a lesser charge so that we avoid the hassles, expenses, and oftentimes pain for witnesses that a trial brings. I figured that a guilty guy would jump at this chance and an innocent guy would simply turn it down, trusting that his innocence would trump at trial. It was Abraham who taught me what the Times is teaching the rest of us this morning.
In words other than these, but essentially what he told me, when I told him that you do not plead to a crime that you didn’t do: “Pop, I have no money. And I am not white. Whether I did it or not isn’t the issue – although I didn’t. I am going to get a court appointed lawyer who will do a lousy job of defending me and I am going to lose. The gap between what the plea is offering me vs. what a trial conviction will offer me is too scary. I must plead to protect myself as best I can.”
And the Times affirmed this: two years with a plea could become fifty years with a trial conviction.
From the first page of the article: “In some jurisdictions, this gap has widened so much it has become coercive and is used to punish defendants for exercising their right to trial, some legal experts say.” And later: “In Florida….felony defendants who opt for trial now routinely face the prospect of higher charges that mean prison terms 2, 5, or even 20 times as long as if they had pleaded guilty” [emphasis mine].
Among the worst things we can do to other people is to force them to use themselves against themselves. If I am innocent, for me to plead guilty is a violation of my integrity. But to risk fifty years at trial, over the two offered in that plea, is a violation of my need to protect myself – in itself a violation of my integrity. Guilt or innocence are irrelevant: it is a cynical bargain to offer someone.
Damned if you do and damned if you don’t. That’s how Abe experienced it.
There are values higher than punishing the guilty: which is why folks traditionally can’t testify against their spouses. And more importantly, why we have the Fifth Amendment.
Sophie’s Choice, as an analogy, has become long separated from the 1982 movie, and the (William Styron) book before it. But for each of us, we immediately grasp the double horror of forcing a parent to choose between the lives of her two children. Either way, and apart from the children, how does one ever live with oneself? Either way, how does one ever avoid blaming oneself for whichever choice? Either way, how does one ever maintain one’s integrity? Or – the same thing – ever live whole again?
This no-win integrity-destroying-nonsense is what we want for our society? This helps us? Protects us?
In what world?
For Abraham the consequences went far beyond the prison time he accepted as part of the simple plea he took. I will post on that another day.
Excellent points, Jack.
Related to that is what innocent prisoners have to do to gain release on parole. As I understand it, they have to say they did what they didn’t, in fact, do, and they are sorry. So the prisoner who is, in fact, innocent, cannot be released on parole unless he/she lies.
Admittedly, this is not an area that I’m an expert in, so if I’m wrong, someone please correct me. If I am right, what does this system, the parole system, say about the values of our society?