Dec 4, 2007

New Haven Independent;Walker questions post-Petit proposals

This  New Haven Independent Judiciary Reform Hearings Hartford piece in the Independent has a solid  opine on the Judiciary Reform hearings in Hartford Connecticut.

 I warn you, the general consensus within this article is not encouraging, especially if one reads between the lines. When will some of these people, who have been entrusted to review our current judicial crisis, realize that the priority must be public safety- and not money?

The biggest concern with too many legislators and judiciary committee members  within these hearings seem to be prison overcrowding and avoiding the need to build even one more prison within the state.

It is this type of thinking that has resulted in our states ineffectual and willy nilly sentencing practices    early release Parole adds insult to injury as our Parole board regularly paroled inmates without the inmate present nor his criminal records in tow!

We are a relatively wealthy state and the right to personal safety is just that - -a right, not a privilege.Yet our legislature continues to follow its own agenda and ignore common sense putting its citizens in danger with a 97 percent plea deal resolution for all crime including violent assault sexual assault child abduction and sexual assault and even murder.

I also cannot be emphatic enough that the prospect of a three strikes law is not THE sole ANSWER to our states judicial woes. We have a persistent offender law on the books in Connecticut and it is rarely if ever used. Our prosecutors are deciding what if any prison time a defendant will receive.

Connecticut residents need to understand what it means in actual crimes committed to wind up with just one felony conviction. If they did, they would surely realize that we don't want a cookie-cutter three strikes law, translates into three felony convictions finally equals a serious term incarcerated.

Mostly unknown to the general public, the state of Connecticut already has a modified version of the California three strikes bill. In effect, it gives the prosecutor the discretionary privilege to sentence a three time CONVICTED felony offender with a life term. Be aware however that this is a prosecutorial option that is rarely, if ever used in our courts, rendering it a sentencing law in name only.

And herein lies another big part of the problem; Too many judges in Connecticut courts have somehow become relegated to little more than officiaries, simply giving a perfunctory nod to a predetermined DEAL struck between the prosecutor and the criminals defense attorney, prior to each hearing.
Rarely if ever, do most judges refuse a deal that the prosecutor has made with defendant's lawyer. ("... The State has offered....") And even less often will a judge go completely against the suggestion of the prosecutor for the disposition of that case.

In many cases, the presiding judge does not even read the complete file of a violent offender that is before him for said violent offense. It is the prosecutors who are controlling the dispensation of justice in most of our courts, all too often their motives will lie with conviction rates (no matter how reduced the charge) and docket clearing, not to mention factors such as cronyism within the local legal community, something I will not even begin to address within this post.

The sad reality is this- What takes place in many Connecticut courts on a day to day basis is a farce that in no way resembles the justice that we as law abiding, tax paying citizens expect. Unfortunately most people do not become aware of how poorly our court systems run, until they or someone they love becomes a victim of crime.
With this new found awareness, we cannot continue to stand idly by as serious criminals walk free, day in and day out for violent offenses and even crimes against children.

Approximately 2 percent of all violent crime offenses in our state ever go to trial. The rest are systematically nolled, dismissed outright, plead down, or given something called "Accelerated Rehabilitation" Within the year 1999-2000, I was informed by my court appointed victims advocate that she was aware of only 2 cases that went to trial within the entire domestic violence docket within that court. The others, like my case  (which began with 2 violent felonies and 2 class A misdemeanors- was plead down to three two misdemeanors) are given reduced charges and dropped charges within a "plea deal " where the victim has no real say over the end result of his/her case, although her/his broken body and psyche are in essence the very embodiment of that crime.

Even worse than this was the fact that I was told repeatedly-by victims advocates, local police and probation personnel , that my case was one of the better outcomes..

Sure enough, after some research and conducting my own personal court -watch -of -sorts, I discovered that they were indeed correct; Many many violent crime cases and the charges within them, are dropped outright, nolled or given A.R-as so called "first time offenders" by the prosecutor. This can happen for a variety of reasons; ( bad ones all...) If the criminal in question has lawyered up with an attorney whose basically wearing down the prosecutor (and the court) by refusing to plea thereby forcing a trial in effect, And from where I stood as a victim, the prosecutors seemed to dread the prospect of trial- and the accompanying work load- and avoid it at all costs.

This gives a halfway savvy attorney, the ability to in effect blackmail that prosecutor (especially one that is indifferent or unmotivated ) Dozens of continuances (extension of dates for the defendants next hearings that can serve as little more than procrastination for the defense,and sometimes even the state) clog up the court and sooner or later everyone becomes eager to get rid of the case.

 No matter how heinous it seemed (and was) at the outset: "the shine comes off the apple" This is an actual quote from an attorney in the greater Bridgeport area, in reference to the back sliding of prosecutorial zeal for my case from the severe assault kidnapp to the 10 month later disposition of it.

And for the record, despite inflicting brain stem damage and severe inner ear damage on me, the man that committed these crimes received zero prison time (a "suspended 3 yr sentence"with probation)

He was not even made to plead guilty to one of the two felonies that the police so carefully charged him with in their warrant. Instead he was offered a plea deal by the state which allowed to plead down to drastically reduced charges that became mere misdemeanors. After all, they told me ... he is a "first time" offender. ( this despite an AR on his record that could not be OPENED/NOR used in court, as well as a conviction for check forgery-( non violent/ "doesn't count" according to prosecutor.)
This same man also had committed another serious offense at the age of 17, and that record was also sealed therefore inadmissible in sentencing, due to juvenile status. The point is that this was decidedly not a "first time offender" he was well known by the local police in town, and yet our lax justice system designated him this, at the time that he very nearly took my life in March of 2000.

A.R. is a program that was created for the "first time" offender. Now this may be technically a first time offender, for remember, as I have shown, he/she could have been arrested various times. But if they were "minor charges" (including assault or robbery) the defendant could have easily had those first charges dismissed or nolled, and therefore no official record exists. This is not a fluke, it is nearly commonplace in many courts, especially the busiest ones with high criminal traffic such as Bridgeport, which serves parts of Fairfield county.

And When a charge does finally stick they can be given a third, or even fourth, "gift" by the state with the offer of ACCELERATED REHABILITATION. The consequence for the convicted of this amounts to a sealed record for one year, and if the criminal in question does not commit another crime within that time period, the record is sealed permanently and in effect nolled. This mean the charges may not ever be used again in the court to their detriment if and when they re-offend.
Are we getting the picture here folks...?

Let's take an example of a criminal who's actually committed three crimes still has not a criminal record to their name-meaning nothing officially exists in their name in the event that they now commit a serious felony. For the sake of argument lets say assault in the 2nd degree again-which remember is a serious injury assault and requires medical documentation for the police to use this charge. Possibly this criminal might, I emphasize might, wind up, with a lowered charge from the crime they actually committed, ie; an assault in the 2nd degree would be nearly automatically be dropped in the court's plea bargain auto pilot system. And voila! The possible worst case scenario for that person, (who committed serious bodily harm to another) is that they will wind up now with an assault in the THIRD on their criminal record!

By the way this charge is a misdemeanor and although technically the prosecutor could give jail time for this charge- they simply don't. If there is not a felony conviction, there is rarely ever prison involved. More than likely, this by now multiple violent offender will be given an anger management or counseling order from the court for a maximum of 6 months. Again there is a 12 month program but it is almost never mandated by the court.

If the prosecutor is tough or he is not friendly with the defense attorney, he might give community service or probation for a year or so. This equates to meeting with a probation officer once a month to check in for 15 minutes or so.

Understand that the criminal in this example of mine has in fact seriously harmed another person two to three times, committed a serious felonious assault the last time- ( remember; this charge generally requires medical documentation illustrating serious injury, such as the head injury that Dr Petit suffered at the hands of komisarjevsky and Hayes, or my TBI w/brain stem damage and severe cochlear inner ear
In an insult to public safety this criminal is now running around Connecticut with a misdemeanor record, which on paper appears at most that they slapped or pushed a person, when in reality they may have nearly killed a person!
And yet, neither you, nor I, nor the police in the town that he next commits a crime in, would ever know this by the official criminal record that they have accrued thus far.
With all of this in mind please note what it actually would take for this same criminal to get an actual felony conviction on their record. They will have to again harm another person quite severely to get charges with a felony assault, and once again, it will undoubtedly become a plea bargained lowered charge of misdemeanor assault. Even if by a fluke that counters the norm, they get a tough prosecutor or judge who says, " oh no, you will plead to this felony this time buddy..." this criminal will still only get this one felony on their record now.
The three strikes proponents suggest that this person gets two more shots at really hurting someone before he receives any serious prison time.

I have not yet addressed the issue of criminals committing multiple felonies within one set of crimes
What is rote practice here, I was told by the prosecutors handling my case, is that out of the two serious felonies my assailant committed against me, they would HAVE TO DROP ONE, as well as both of the additional two class one misdemeanors in a "deal" if we expected him to plead guilty to just one single felony! This was but one of many unofficial unspoken pre-trial/ plea deal rules of engagement between the state and the attorneys. And by playing ball" like this daily they continue to infuse money into this revolving door court system where justice doesn't live anymore.

Do we really want this clearly dangerous person to get two more such "freebies" in effect allowing a pass on two felonious assaults before the court now considers serious prison time?Who would volunteer to be this criminals number one and number two victim ?

As I have just illustrated, the reality is that there would be a handful of victims before this criminal is even given his/her " first strike"! Is this the value that we give our lives and our physical safety in the state of Connecticut?

Of course I recognize that this issue transcends a problem simply within our state. There has been widespread indifference, apathy and denial on a national level that has contributed to this current state of affairs. However, certain states are renown for being progressive and vigilant in their commitment against violent crime, including domestic violence, (one of the leading causes of homicide for women) But sadly and unfortunately, Connecticut has not been one of them.

I propose that we use the tragedy of the Petit family murders as a catalyst for the reformation of a new strong, intelligent judicial system for our State. I cannot think of a better way to honor this fallen family than to create a system that might someday become a blueprint for judicial reform, perhaps even emulated by other States.
It speaks of us as a government and a people, that we learn from tragedies caused by our prior mistakes and indifference. To me, it is inconceivable that we do not.

. Simply put, our courts need an overhaul, and this must be done with an intelligent multi- level approach. It will need to involve many changes, including the re-training and re education of prosecutors advocates lawyers and judges alike regarding the psychology of crime and patterns of criminal behavior. Much of this has been long documented and utilized by the country's intelligence community. And many states are using professional criminologists more and more.
If  9/10ths  of our "justice" is taking place behind closed doors in plea deal offers rather than in a courtroom trial setting, then this is where the training and education must be.

Most essential would be knowledge re the kinds of pre-cursor crimes that often lead up to more serious violent and or sexual crime from certain types of criminals. Tragically This kind of education would have served the Connecticut Parole board well, in the handling of Joshua komisarjevsky( co murderer of the Petit women.) It also would have helped the judge at his sentencing hearing.

From reading the sentencing transcripts, one can see that the prosecutor in that case was very aware of the dangerous signposts within komisarjevskys criminal patterns at the time of his arrest and sentencing.It would seem that he was quite responsible and tenacious in his suggestions to the court-judge-regarding his opinions on the danger that he felt komisarjevsky posed to the public. And although I feel strongly considering the type and the multitude of robberies he committed , komisarjevsky should have gotten a longer sentence

In re-creating our justice system we must be develop a built in roadblock to previously tried and true methods used by career criminals and their paid defense attorneys, to manipulate the system to the point where the entire judicial process is held hostage in effect by advantageous manipulative wiles of criminal defense attorneys.

The Petit family murders has brought this huge issue into the light for many citizens of Connecticut. So many people relate to the Petits as a family and as like minded individuals trying to live their lives with responsibility to their neighbors, communities and families.
These were good people, who were in essence slaughtered in their own home while going about their peaceful honest lives.
This was a crime against women and children and humanity. I believe that there was a clear hatred and disdain for what was perceived as affluence or privilege. And The sad and ironic reality was that the Petit's were in fact kind conscientious, generous counter-snobs that cared very much for those on the furthest fringes of society.

This family was targeted in a place where they believed themselves to be safe-a supermarket shopping for their family dinner. We all recognize that this could have been any of us, spotted, stalked and followed home, with evil intent to harm and extort whatever could be taken from us- then to brutally and cruelly get rid of us.

We cannot bring back the Petit girls and their mom, Jennifer, but we most certainly can ensure that something like this is as least less likely to happen in our State ever again.

The men that assaulted and murdered this family had been convicted of almost forty crimes between the two of them. Knowing what you now know about what it actually takes for someone to be convicted of just one felony,- how many free passes our state routinely gives criminals prior to finally winding up with a felony charge then you see how bad off a criminal like komisarjevsky was to have accrued 26 felonious convictions!

We've all read what their sentences were supposed to have been, and yet Komisarjevsky served in fact only a third of the judges ordered sentence. If he or Steven Hayes ,had served their full sentence, sentences which were extremely lenient to begin with, the Petit family murders would not have occurred. Dr Petit and family would be whole and with us. And this crime is not an anomaly as our legislators would have us believe. Its a wonder it didnt happen sooner considering the Parole board practices combined with programs like the early release which Mike Lawlor advocated for. .


Talk about it, bring IT into your lives and the public forum. Deluge your local legislators/ Representatives with letters and/or petitions expressing your concern and the DEMAND For multi-level  judicial reform in THE state of Connecticut.

 Use your voting power come election time. From our local legislators to our Governor, we must be willing to cross political lines when VOTING as crime and safety are top issues.Check your town or city's Reps position on all bills being voted upon. This can be found on the CGA website look under rollcall for any bill to do with crime. This will show you how every member of the house and the senate voted on each law.
New Haven Independent: Walker Questions Post-Petit Proposals