Jan 14, 2008

Rell Urges Strengthening Connecticut Justice System - New York Times

Rell Urges Strengthening Connecticut Justice System - New York Times

Dr. Petit said he thought that a properly written “three-strikes-you’re-out” law made common sense.

“It’s almost beyond belief that you could commit a violent crime and be convicted by a jury of your peers and then get out, and commit a second violent crime and be convicted by a jury of your peers, and then commit a third violent crime and then be convicted by a jury of your peers and still get out,” he said softly. “If you haven’t figured it out yet, then you probably won’t, and you should not have the right to remain in civilized society.”

This excerpt from the Dr Petit interview, referenced within this article illustrates the need for some important clarification for both the reader and Dr Petit-and this I say with the
utmost of respect for Dr Petit.

Dr Petits words show that he, like many other innocent citizens in the state who have had little experience or exposure to the day to day workings of our Connecticut courts, assumes that when a criminal winds up with a conviction on his record that it is likely via a trial-thus the" jury of your peers" statement.

I too, thought that this was the general way that things worked before I became a victim of Violent crime in this state. Although I had some working knowledge of the plea bargain system, I never dreamed that plea deals were the norm (other than the motor vehicle docket) and that trials were in effect dinosaurs of some romantic day long gone in the courthouses of Connecticut (and in all fairness, some other states as well)

Suffice to say our Connecticut courts have become little more than Plea bargain mills, where all day long every single or set of charges brought before a "JUDGE' beyond the arraignment process (THIS is the first step in hearing the crimes in most cases of violent and non violent crimes) are given continuance after continuance at so called hearings that typically occur on a monthly or bi-monthly basis as requested and indeed expected by typically both the defense attorney as well as the states attorney's office (the prosecutor whose dept the case in question falls under be it motor vehicle, domestic violence or regular criminal)

These hearings, whereupon little to nothing happens at all other than the defense or the state formally requesting a "continuance" to "explore the facts", ie "make discovery" usually means that the defense attorney has made a pre- determined arrangement already discussed behind closed doors or a phone call with the prosecutor who handles that docket, that they want or need more time...

And usually it is want and not need, for these continuances dually serve to bolster the attorneys bill as well as clear the prosecutors days work. In effect procrastinating on the tax payers dollar, and the victims backs. And this is not only allowed, but has literally become the daily MO of many, many courts in this State-especially those that handle crimes from any city of any size-which includes courts that handle all of the smaller suburbs as well, where folks believe themselves to be safer due to higher taxes and higher rent and property values.
Not so, as the tragic Petit Crimes so shockingly brought to so many surbanites attention.

Now remember, This is merely addressing the issue of excessive continuances, which is but one part of the problem , insofar as criminal cases taking so long to adjudicate. And this is without a trial or trial preparation. When there absolutely must be a trial-as in a murder case where the defendent faces possible life in prison or death and the prosecutor cannot keep face by accept a plea deal to a lesser charge-then the lenght of time that that case is going to take to resolve is obscene-often years and years.

And when there is a victim at the heart of that crime or set of crimes, this is unacceptable, and indeed an overt trampling of a victims rights, according to the Declaration of victims rights as created by the Office of Victims Advocacy in Washington D.C .

We hear so much about the defendants rights, yet we hear so much less about the rights of the victims of crime; Why? This core sentiment must be addressed and revised within the context of our States Judicial Reform package, or none of the so called fixes will matter. The victim is the embodiment of that crime being "processed' in that courthouse. And justice is something that simply does not exist in Connecticut.

Plea bargaining was originally a tool that the court had at their disposal when they wished to reward a defendant for accepting responsibility and accountability for their crimes. Accountability is the first neccesary step in rehabilation. If a defendant came clean and admitted to the actual crimes committed, as well as showed a modicum of remorse, then they were considered possible candidates for a plea deal.

A plea deal typically involved a lowered sentence (and less often a lowered criminal charge, ) generally whatever was appropriate under the sentencing guidelines for the crimes that they actually committed , or were being reduced to. Plea deals are agreed upon between the prosecutor and the defense attorney (or public attorney-which is a lawyer paid for by the state for those who cannot afford a Private one-such as the two men accused of killing the Petit children and women and assaulting Dr Petit)

However the judge presiding over the court is supposed to have ultimate discretionary power over that 'deal" Victims have no real say over a plea-deal resolution of their own case-in fact they are often seen as meddlesome and a nuisiance, if and when they are phyiscally and/or emotionally able to muster the strength to even become involved with the resolution of thier case. When they disagree with a set upon "deal" that so often invalidates thier entire experience as a victim of that crime, this is when it can really turn frutrating. And there is no group that oversees that watchdogs these courts-and when and official complaint is to be made against a prosecutor by a victim, it quickly becomes circle the wagons time.

These plea deals have become the normal mode of resolving cases. For example Less than 2 percent of all criminal cases at Golden Hill street court Ga2 in Bridgeport Connecticut are ever brought to trial-the rest are systematically given plea bargains which are automatic guarantees that each charge against the defendant will be dropped down to a lesser charge, therefore a felony becomes a misdemeanor, and in most cases of multiple charges- such as JK and hayes each had at every arrest, at least several of those charges will be dropped completely within this deal" that the state offers as status quo. Case in point Mr Hayes had two dangerous gun charges dropped completely in a bundle of other charges that he was being heard for. Its as if OK your guy will have to plead guilty to that one and well drop these okay? Never mind the issue of public safety, day after day after day the courts turned an apathetic head to the concept of where did these plea deal decisions leave both the victim's sense of validation over what they had suffered, as well as the possibility of more victims in the future!

And in many instances charges are dropped completely even for multiple offenders again like hayes and J.K the latter of whom had an entire set of burglaries in one town dropped, in light of his prosecution in the other string of burglaries in a different town! And this doesn't even begin to address the plethora of cases that are nolled, given something called "accelerated rehabilitation" (A program supposedly for first time offenders but there are plenty of loopholes here as well...)or... simply dismissed for a variety of reasons, many of which would appall the average citizen.

This auto pilot plea dealing is at the heart and soul of our broken Court system here in Connecticut and therefore any reform package that the Governor initiates in good faith, must include not only addressing this key issue but remedying it. We have relegated our judges to little more than officiaries, who often have no contact with the victims in case, and too many of them wind up merely giving their nod to whatever deal has been struck between the prosecutor and the lawyer.
This leaves way too much room for abuse of power and it needs to stop. It is endangering the lives of our citizens and it has been for a good long time now.
Please write your legislators, the judiciary commitee and the Governor we are a far cry from
"fixed" yet.

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