Crime

Plea Is No Bargain In Louisiana

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Another example of legal prosecutorial misconduct:

Mychal Bell, 16, a former Jena High School football star, and five other black students had been facing the potential of up to 100 years in prison if convicted of attempted murder, conspiracy and other charges for the December beating of the white student, who was knocked unconscious but not hospitalized. The incident capped months of escalating racial tensions at the high school that began after several white youths hung nooses from a tree in the school courtyard in a taunt aimed at blacks.

But as jury selection was about to begin in Bell's case Monday, District Atty. Reed Walters reduced the charges to aggravated second-degree battery and conspiracy to commit aggravated second-degree battery, which together carry a maximum of 22 years in prison. Walters, who is prosecuting Bell as an adult, also offered the teenager a plea agreement including a suspended sentence, which Bell's father said the youth rejected.

Plea-bargaining tactics like this have become commonplace in American jurisprudence. Some may view the reduced charges as more reasonable—but anything less reasonable would be hard to imagine.

Some more info on the new charges:

Aggravated second-degree battery involves use of a dangerous weapon, according to state statutes. Parents of the accused say they had heard no previous mention of a weapon.

"Well, anything is better than murder and a lifetime in prison," said John Jenkins, whose son, Carwin Jones, is among the charged. "But it's still strange. All of a sudden they're talking about a weapon. What weapon? We never heard anything about a weapon before."

Hanging a ridiculous sentence over defendants' heads and then offering a reduced plea (which, in this case, is still absurd) to avoid a jury trial is nothing less than an abuse of the judicial process.

More from reason on plea bargaining here.

NEXT: Whose Constitution Is It Anyway?

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  1. I wish somebody would place a noose right above the front door of District Atty. Reed Walters’ home. That way, it would be the first thing he sees when he leaves the house each morning.

    A bonus would be if he didn’t see it on his way out and inadvertently hung himself.

    A double bonus would be if he purposefully hung himself.

  2. If you don’t like the conduct of your local DA, you are free to move to an area where there’s a prosector more to your liking.

  3. I wish the fact that Prisoner’s Dilemma leads to situations where the prosecutor has immense power to secure guilty pleas, regardless of the underlying justice of those pleas and even regardless of guilt or innocence, wasn’t totally lost on those people who were hypnotized by Rawls’ use of game theory in his work.

  4. I Have a serious proposal relating to an unnamed troll. Ignore him and maybe he’ll go away.

  5. Is it an abuse, which implies agency, or is it simply the result of an overworked, underfunded legal system burdened by too many laws?

  6. Absolutely disgusting. Plea bargains have become nothing more than a tactic to increase conviction rates through legalized extortion.

  7. Cicero | June 26, 2007, 11:35am | #

    Is it an abuse, which implies agency, or is it simply the result of an overworked, underfunded legal system burdened by too many laws?

    I suppose I could answer that question by posing another, relevant question:

    How does the voting majority in this DA’s district feel about the case?

    If this DA felt that he would hurt his election chances by following through with the tough prosecution on this case, he would not do it. Unfortunately, chances are the voters will remember that he’s tough on crime, and thus vote for him again and again.

    Dan T. has a point in an odd sort of way. The unfortunate part is that there are very few places where fair and just D.A.s exist.

  8. Gentelmen, click on “Dan T.”‘s name and you’ll see it was a cute imposter. You’ve been pwned.

  9. Actually M, Dan has been d@t.org for some time now.

  10. several white youths hung nooses from a tree in the school courtyard in a taunt aimed at blacks.

    Wow, that is vile. It’s 2007, what the fuck? Oh wait, Louisiana schools.

  11. How severe were the injuries to the white guy?

    So the guy was gang-beaten, knocked unconscious, and not taken to the hospital.

    What, is it open season on white people?

    Shades of Reginald Denny.

  12. he may have refused transit to the hospital. or just happened to blank for a minute or two on the ground. etc.

    i haven’t read anything that indicates they tracked down one of the kids who hung nooses or if they just happened upon the wrong person at the right time.

  13. Hanging a ridiculous sentence over defendants’ heads and then offering a reduced plea (which, in this case, is still absurd) to avoid a jury trial is nothing less than an abuse of the judicial process.

    AMEN

    Also, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama remain illiterate, inbred, idiocracies.

  14. Dan has been d@t.org for some time now

    Oh. Well if that’s the real Dan, what’s the inverse of pwned, which I is.

  15. If you don’t like the conduct of your local troll, you are free to move to a site where there’s a asshat more to your liking.

    …fill-in-the-blanks arguments rock! How about this favorite…

    Millions of children are injured by concrete sidewalks every year. Call your mayor and demand removal of sidewalks if you care about your children

  16. Remember the “Lakawanna Cell”? Those 6 guys outta Buffalo NY who plead guilty to terrorism charges?

    The feds threatened to relabel them “enemy combatants” and remove them from the domestic legal system altogether if they didn’t plead out and “willingly” accept near maximum prison terms.

  17. Call your mayor and demand removal of sidewalks

    As soon as we’re through here, a few floors up.

    >Because of a unique New York statute known as “the scaffold law” that holds builders absolutely liable in most instances for injuries caused by falls on work sites, they are having trouble getting liability insurance.

  18. Because of a unique New York statute known as “the scaffold law” that holds builders absolutely liable in most instances for injuries caused by falls on work sites, they are having trouble getting liability insurance.

    The employer pays when her employee falls off a scaffold. That is . . . so . . . so . . . what is the word I am looking for? Unoutrageous. Normal. Expected. Understandable policy.

    The employer doesn’t even get to blame the employee for the fall. Boo effin’ hoo.

  19. Employer imposes safety regulations (war a hard hat, strap yourself in, etc. . . ), OSHA fines the offending employer, employee disobeys a direct rule, and of course, sues his employer and wins. “They should have monitored my behavior more thoroughly”.

  20. “They should have monitored my behavior compliance with workplace safety rules and practices more thoroughly”.

    We are not talking about Winston Smith and the telescreens here. The idea is that employers have a tendency to push time and eqipment constraints on employees that are not consistent with good safety practices. Employer liability for employee injury is a counterweight to that bad employer tendency. It provides financial incentive for employers to be good doobies on safety and not cost cutters.

    This is one of those subjects where you just know most Hit’n’Runners are thinking, but not saying, “it is just undocumented workers anyway — the accidents will always be their fault — we just send the injured ones back when something bad happens — they are still better off than if they never had a chance to work in America even for a short while.”

  21. Warren,

    And don’t forget, we are also bigots and make blanket statements about people.

  22. ” Also, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama remain illiterate, inbred, idiocracies.”

    Well you should feel right at home in any one of them Warren.

  23. Exactly what are they charging these teenagers with that they could legally sentence someone to 100 years?! They can’t actually have a 100 year sentence for ordinary assult (can they?). And doesn’t the fact that these are minor defendants further reduce the amount of jail time they can be sentenced to? Are there other charges/ agravating factors?

    If they can actually legally sentence someone to 100 years in jail for a single ordinary assult, then I take that as a sign that Louisiana’s sentencing code needs to be changed.

  24. This was an aggravated BATTERY
    in that it was six on one,
    kicked when down and motionless,
    and it was an attack on a juvenile.

    The big charge is supposed to make for a plea, which was the gist of the story.

    I know that fists can be a weapon
    but I don’t know about feet or that 6 on 1 could be.

  25. dj or raleigh

    Ok, I see. But what struck me was the fact that people often get less than that for murder and would almost certainly get less for rape. Thats why I figure that there is something wrong with the sentencing laws or guidelines in that state.

  26. Give me a break people.

    Has anybody here been assaulted? I mean really assaulted? I mean where you lost consciousness or worse?

    For whatever reason there seems to be an effort to portray this as a friendly neighborhood tussle. Maybe it would be a good idea to find out more about what this case is actually about before spouting off about it.

    I don’t know enough about this case to comment intelligently but I have a feeling that I’m not the only one. And with the teeny amount of legal knowledge I have I still think I can suppose that sentences proposed are not what are expected. Am I wrong here?

    And Warren, you are an idiot.

  27. Are you fucking kidding me? If whitey-boy was one of the noose-planting children then he deserved far worse than what he got. Another case of blatant institutionalized racism in our country. Fuck you, America.

  28. Insanely stacked plea bargaining doesn’t go on in white collar crime cases.

    The problem is not plea bargaining, it is racism and money. If plea bargaining were somehow abolished we would just see equally stacked trials, or lynchings or whatevs.

    The real answer is to socialize the criminal justice system. My favorite proposal is to say that the state can only spend as much prosecuting you as it gives you in funds to defend yourself. That way rich people can still have the right to the best defense that they can afford. If this spending parity scheme doesn’t work, then maybe private defense attorneys should be made illegal, and the state should bear all defense costs in every case, rich man or poor man. Your right to defense in a criminal matter simply should never depend on how much money you have.

  29. ed

    I have never been assulted, but I am sure it is indeed horrible. The perpetrators of this crime should definitely go to jail.

    But as I argued in my first post, there are other, seemingly worse crimes, for which the perpetrators would recieve less than 22 years (and certainly less than 100). I (and probably most other posters) think the sentence should be shorter so that the penalty fits the crime.

    I don’t know enough about this case to comment intelligently but I have a feeling that I’m not the only one. And with the teeny amount of legal knowledge I have I still think I can suppose that sentences proposed are not what are expected. Am I wrong here?

    Maybe your right that the actual sentence imposed will not be anywhere near 22 years. But the fact that the state can legally impose a disproportionate sentence is itself undesireable; and means that there will probably be at least a few cases in which such a sentence is actually given.

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