Federal Lockups: Lost Hope, Guilty Pleas

Tuesday, August 7th, 2012

One of the constant themes in both movies and television shows dealing with crime and the courts is the use of shortcuts by the authorities to nail someone who obviously is guilty. Messy things like due process of law and rights of the accused are so 1787 and have no place in modern society where outcomes are more important than the way one reaches those ends.

The ends can be frightening. The New York Times reports that one of the reasons that more than 94 percent of criminal charges in both state and federal cases end in plea bargains is that prosecutors can hang the prospect of stiff sentences over the heads of anyone who decided to go to trial and is found guilty, a situation that led Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy to note that the American criminal justice system has become “a system of pleas, not a system of trials.”

Innocent people often are swept up on that tide of guilty pleas. Regular readers of this blog may understand this is so, but most Americans are incredulous. Why in the world would innocent people agree to plead to something they had not done? Is it not the situation in the USA that if you have done nothing wrong, you don’t have to worry about being charged or convicted?

Unfortunately, one of the things I hear most from people wrongfully accused of crimes has been, “I didn’t know this was happening in America.” Well, it does and much more often than one would think, especially with federal prosecutors, who have weapons at their disposal that the framers of the U.S. Constitution would have considered utterly barbaric.

Not only has federal criminal law essentially done away with the bedrock of Anglo-American law, the mens rea requirement, but federal prosecutors can pile charges upon charges, taking the same alleged act and fashioning multiple offenses from it. For that matter, federal prosecutors are not even required to know the laws they supposedly enforce and prosecute and when they are wrong, they pay no price and innocent people remain in prison.

In a shocking article, USA Today recently reported on a horrific situation in North Carolina in which federal prosecutors went after “scores” of innocent people for acts that were perfectly legal. According to the newspaper:

Terrell McCullum did not commit a federal crime by carrying a shotgun and a rifle out of his ex-girlfriend’s house.

But he is serving a federal prison sentence for it. And the fact that everyone — including the U.S. Justice Department— agrees that he is legally innocent might not be enough to set him free.

A USA TODAY investigation, based on court records and interviews with government officials and attorneys, found more than 60 men who went to prison for violating federal gun possession laws, even though courts have since determined that it was not a federal crime for them to have a gun.

Many of them don’t even know they’re innocent.

Lest one think that prosecutors even care about what they have done, think again. While the U.S. Department of “Justice” worked hard to put them into prison (mostly on plea bargains, of course), it refuses to lift a finger to right the wrong:

Still, the Justice Department has not attempted to identify the men, has made no effort to notify them, and, in a few cases in which the men have come forward on their own, has argued in court that they should not be released.

Justice Department officials said it is not their job to notify prisoners that they might be incarcerated for something that they now concede is not a crime. And although they have agreed in court filings that the men are innocent, they said they must still comply with federal laws that put strict limits on when and how people can challenge their convictions in court.

“We can’t be outcome driven,” said Anne Tompkins, the U.S. attorney in Charlotte.

For Tompkins to make that quote is especially rich, because federal prosecutors in the federal Western District of North Carolina for years have been nothing but outcome-driven. After her office secured a counterfeiting conviction against Bernard Von NotHouse, who had minted silver coins, Tompkins announced that NotHouse was a “terrorist” who threatened “the economic stability of this country.” (One is left asking how the inflationary policies of the U.S. government create stability.)

Tompkins and her colleagues in the Western District also have another weapon they use to try to force innocent people to plead guilty: the Mecklenburg County jail in Charlotte, which also is used as a federal lockup. To put it mildly, conditions in that jail are horrific, and they violate all human decency, and that works to the advantage of prosecutors.

Prisoners there get only a small cup of water each day, the food is especially bad, with dinner in some cases being nothing but a stale piece of cornbread. Authorities do not give prisoners underwear changes, deny them soap, and because bathrooms are not located in cells, prisoners must ask permission to use the facilities, requests that routinely are denied. Forget having soap for showers, and prisoners who are on prescription medications often find those meds either withheld or given in irregular doses at irregular times.

It is not difficult for federal prosecutors to find ways to hold people in lockups indefinitely. They can claim flight risk, or danger to society, or a thousand other things, most of which are not true but federal prosecutors long ago decided that truth was irrelevant to their outcome-driven missions.

Not surprisingly, people held for any length of time in these conditions become malleable to plea agreements. When someone is denied medications, thought processes may become irregular or skewed, and by actively working to destroy both the physical and mental health of people accused of committing federal crimes, prosecutors are easily able to hold out promises of better living condition — as long as the accused give prosecutors what they want.

It is difficult for someone to maintain innocence while being brutalized by the system, and when prosecutors are able to hold out the unhappy prospects for someone to face such horrific living conditions for decades, we should not be surprised that so many people will plead to something — anything — just to get out of their present circumstances.

Such conditions are not limited to Charlotte, although federal prosecutors in the Western District are notorious for using any tricks, including lying to judges and the media, in order to get what they want. The culture of lying and brutality that has been embedded in the U.S. Department of Justice for many decades is alive and well in North Carolina.

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34 Responses to “Federal Lockups: Lost Hope, Guilty Pleas”

  1. #1 |  adifferentken | 

    Hey, wait. This is Un-possible, the way it works is the crooks get a slick lawyer to get them OUT of jail on a technicality.

  2. #2 |  William Anderson | 

    True. Any prosecutor will tell you that the accused hold ALL of the cards and that poor, beleaguered prosecutors must scratch and claw all the time just to gain anything resembling convictions against the criminal elements of society.

    I remember after the charges in the Duke Lacrosse Case were dismissed, Nifong and his supporters, including the evil Wendy Murphy, were claiming that the defense was refusing to release more than a thousand pages of the case files, and the “proof” of guilt could be found there. (The pages were Crystal Mangum’s medical records that dealt with her mental health issues, including her previous stays in mental health facilities. They had nothing to do with the events of the case, but that didn’t stop prosecutors and they acolytes from making false claims about them.)

  3. #3 |  Stevelaudig | 

    Nigeria, Pakistan, Russia, US, no material difference in the jail/prison/courts, for the politically weak. Nor, for that matter, for the politically strong who needn’t fear ‘justice’ as it is for ‘just them’.

  4. #4 |  Gordon | 

    And, yet, Americans persist in their foolish belief in the legitimacy of the State.

    This isn’t some aberration, some misguided bureaucrats. This is the State working as it always works: ließ, abuse, and force Always.

  5. #5 |  PJL | 

    I have been there – at the state level at least. I started with 3 charges and by the time I got to trial 6 more were added (the last one after we had picked half of the jury!). They arrested me several times on trumped up charges (class “b” felony was the worst they could do) and on the last one sent me to jail with a bond of $1 million. It took 3 months to convince the judge to lower it down to $25,000. Then they started with “you are facing 70 plus years in prison…” All of this was simply designed to elicit the acceptance of a plea deal.

    I am here to tell you that I did not – I took my case to trial. In the end I was convicted of 1 count and sentenced to 4 years in jail. But – I appealed the case and the Connecticut Supreme Court reversed the conviction and ordered that final charge dismissed. Why? Because when they arrested me the last time they took my computer which had my detailed trial strategy on it. At the arraignment we told the judge there was attorney-client privileged information on the computer – he ordered the prosecution not to look at it. The prosecutor told the State Police what to look for, they found it, and turned it over to him. He admitted reading the entire trial strategy and even with that the trial judge would not fashion a remedy to protect my due process rights. The CT Supreme Court ruling slammed the prosecutor for such behavior, but of course he was not punished, my reputation was ruined, and I lost almost 9 years of my life (3.75 in jail). This kind of thing happens every day. I believe that if just 5% more people took their case to trial the whole system would collapse on itself.

    BTW – there is some culpability on the part of defense lawyers – some (not all by any means) tend to push their clients to accept pleas. I fired one attorney over that very issue and then found one who actually took my case to heart.

  6. #6 |  Federal Lockups: Lost Hope, Guilty Pleas « When Tennessee Pigs Fly | 

    […] http://www.theagitator.com/2012/08/07/federal-lockups-lost-hope-guilty-pleas/ […]

  7. #7 |  adifferentken | 

    The sad thing is they actually believe that, at least the ones I have known personally. They think they have to lie because ‘the other side is lying’ so they have to out-lie them.

    Sucks to be an innocent caught up in that. Hey, everybody says they didn’t do it; never mind actually looking at the evidence or anything like that, when in doubt just offer them a sweet plea. Hey, they are doing you a favor, right? Besides, they might not have done that specific crime but must be guilty of something otherwise the cops wouldn’t have arrested them.

    It’s a sad slippery slope.
    The cops are just so sure someone is guilty but hey that slick bastiche keeps outsmarting us, so we will just cook up a reason and arrest them and then we will be able to fish around and find all sorts of evidence, or not, but your already in the chute.

    The prosecutor figures the cops wouldn’t have arrested them without a reason, so leans on them to plea out.

    Faced with the reality of fighting the charges and at best wasting months of your life with court, or worse, folks plea.

    Then the cops see this as vindication, see, we were right.
    And around it goes.

  8. #8 |  Yizmo Gizmo | 

    And, yet, Americans persist in their foolish belief in the legitimacy of the State.

    Well, with the demise of Old Time Religion, that was the next best
    thing for simple-minded people to put their Faith in. And just look
    what happened.

  9. #9 |  AlgerHiss | 

    Related to this subject is recent news of the Gibson Guitar “raid” of last August: “Gibson Guitar Corp. admits fault on imported wood”


  10. #10 |  Bill Wells | 

    Just yesterday, I posted in a comment a reference to a post of mine, Who Is the Criminal, the Convict or the Government?, which dealt with that very North Carolina case. Go read it for the quotes from the Supreme Court. Too bad those quotes do not reflect reality.

    Anyway, I happen to be one of those people who were railroaded by the system. In brief, and skipping perhaps 80% of the legal malfeasance, here’s what happened:

    This girl accused me of sexually assaulting her. I was arrested and shipped off to the state where the girl lived, as opposed to where I lived and where I supposedly had assaulted her. Stuck in a local jail, where I had essentially no ability to communicate with anyone but the federal “defender” assigned to me, I sat there for four months while the “lawyer” told me he was working on my case. Then he told me that I was going to lose at trial. His goal, of course, was to get me to plead guilty to the sexual assault but, in that, he failed. Instead, he lied to me, saying that what I had done was a kidnapping, so I pleaded guilty to that.

    What I did not know, because my lawyer kept this information from me, is that the girl had a long history of making false accusations of abuse and that she gave the authorities three inconsistent versions of what had happened, including of the alleged assault. I also didn’t know that my lawyer had done *nothing* to investigate my case; he didn’t even get the results of the girl’s sexual assault examination!

    I filed a habeas corpus petition. The district court said, more or less: He didn’t do any investigation? Fine by me! The appeals court said, more or less: Nothing here we need to pay attention to; next! And, of course, the Supreme Court didn’t care a whit that justice had been knocked down, spat upon, and kicked in the head.

    I tried to bring my case to the attention of news organizations, lawyers, and legal aid organizations. The news organizations didn’t bother to answer. The legal types, when they did bother to answer, basically told me that my lack of money precluded their interest or that they weren’t interested in dealing with my kind of case.

    American justice? Fuck you!

  11. #11 |  Dante | 

    Totally agree.

    Our criminal justice system provides no justice when it employs only criminals.

    Protect & Serve (Themselves!)

  12. #12 |  En Passant | 

    “We can’t be outcome driven,” said Anne Tompkins, the U.S. attorney in Charlotte.

    A convenient bald-faced lie, typical of prosecutors.

    Prosecutors take an oath of office to pursue justice. Justice is an outcome.

    #5 adifferentken wrote August 7th, 2012 at 10:42 am:

    The sad thing is they actually believe that, at least the ones I have known personally. They think they have to lie because ‘the other side is lying’ so they have to out-lie them.

    I don’t think so. I’ve known prosecutors. Certainly they claim that defense lawyers always lie. But I’ve never known one who actually believes it. But perhaps a few prosecutors thoroughly blinded by their personal ambitions truly do believe it.

    Prosecutors are ambitious, in the Elizabethan sense of the word in Marc Antony’s oration at Caesar’s funeral. They will do anything necessary to obtain a conviction, because every conviction bolsters their job performance review. Every assistant prosecutor hopes he can leverage his successes to become an appointed AUSA, a judge, or win elected office. Innocents wrongly convicted are merely small change in their political currency, and they believe that every penny counts.

  13. #13 |  Sertorius | 

    This is the normal functioning of the legal system. If you lose (either a criminal or civil case), and then you choose not to appeal – your conviction or civil judgment becomes final. You cannot “undo” it just because someone else with the same legal issue chose to appeal and then won. If the system didn’t work this way, nothing would ever be final. A total mess. You get your shot (choice) whether to appeal and you don’t get to free ride on future appeals made by somebody else if you choose not to.

    That said, this is where prosecutorial discretion should come into play. You’d hope they would do the decent thing. But apparently that is too much to hope for.

  14. #14 |  Bill Wells | 

    Sure, convicts and civil litigation losers shouldn’t be allowed to tie up the courts with frivolous re-litigation. If “finality” were about keeping that sort of thing in check, I’d be all for it. But the reality is that “finality” is merely used as an excuse to refuse to look at the legal system’s own errors. It, like the various immunities, are just one more example of a government protecting itself from the citizenry that it supposedly serves.

  15. #15 |  adifferentken | 


    With examples like Nifong out there it’s really hard to argue against what your saying.
    But my personal experience has been more of blind plodding procedure, the conveyor belt/wood chipper of ‘justice’ and good intentions, bad actions, and rationalizations after the fact than blind psychotic ambition.

  16. #16 |  William Anderson | 

    I used to subscribe to the “few bad apples” idea about prosecutors, but after spending years observing them in both state and federal cases, I have concluded that there only a few GOOD apples left and that most of the barrel is rotten. Good people ultimately are driven out.

    Think of it as a form of Gresham’s Law (Good money drives bad money out of circulation if the two have the same face value) in the “justice” system.

  17. #17 |  llamas | 

    @ #14 – not to be nitpicky or anything, but Gresham’s Law is just exactly the opposite of what you wrote.

    Not “(Good money drives bad money out of circulation if the two have the same face value)”


    “(Bad money drives good money out of circulation if the two have the same face value)”

    I’m sure it is just a typo. Anyone who calls out Gresham’s Law probably knows what it says :-).



  18. #18 |  Bill Wells | 

    A funny thing happened on the way to my habeas corpus petition….

    I was trying (and eventually failed) to prove a legal point that could have helped my petition and chanced to read a few cases on kidnapping. After awhile, it sunk in on me that what I was alleged to have done *was not a kidnapping*.

    Well, being in prison I had lots of time on my hands. So, I read *every last kidnapping case in LexisNexis*. Sure enough, not only was I correct in my conclusion, but a couple of courts had issued directly relevant rulings that said that the allegations of my case would not support a kidnapping charge.

    Well, I Am Not A Lawyer, and I’m sure that any legal types reading this are likely to pooh-pooh my conclusion as the wishful thinking of a disappointed habeas corpus petitioner.

    Well, poo on you! I *do* have a lawyer who agrees with me: my per–uh–prosecutor.

    The prosecutor in my case said, in a letter she wrote to my lawyer, that the allegations of my case would not support a kidnapping charge. I have that letter.

    She said this just about a week before she agreed to let me plead guilty to kidnapping. Why did she do that about-face? Because in that week I decided that, regardless of my lawyer’s advice, I would not plead guilty to a sexual offense. So, the two of them (I assume) cooked up the idea of a kidnapping plea. They could tell me that my actions were a kidnapping and I would have no way to know any better. And they could count on the court to not look too closely at the law if both lawyers told it that I had committed a kidnapping. Right on both points, unfortunately.

    I passed that to the courts, too. The courts didn’t care, any more than they cared about my lawyer’s failure to investigate.

    And this time the Supreme Court was one of the criminals.

    (Normally, the Supremes can dodge doing justice by refusing to look at a case. However, my case was in an odd legal position in which I could, and did, require a Justice to issue a ruling. Justice Ginsburg first denied my application. I passed it to Thomas, who passed it to the whole court, which then denied my application. So, in this case, I know for a fact that at least five Supreme Court “Justices” ignored the law in order to subvert justice.)

  19. #19 |  Dante | 


    I thought it was “bad money drives good money out of the system” because people hoard the good money, thereby removing it from circulation.

  20. #20 |  William Anderson | 

    That is correct. They hoard it because the value of the metal is greater than its face value. However, the government will insist that there is no difference between the two different kinds of money.

  21. #21 |  marie | 

    Bill Wells, there are too many stories like yours….people who were railroaded into taking a plea by threatening them with even longer, scarier sentences. The percentage of convictions that come from plea agreements is extremely high. The system has nothing to do with justice, nothing to do with fairness, nothing to do with logic. The system is there to put you in prison. While I know there are defense attorneys who are good people, there are others who like to just keep the system moving along. Their lives and careers–along with prosecutors, judges, probation officers, etc–revolve around the justice system as it is. Defense attorneys are supposed to oppose the prosecution but the fact is that they also need to work with the prosecution to keep the system moving along.

    Until we get rid of mandatory minimum sentences, the prosecutor holds all the cards and the defense attorney has little power.

  22. #22 |  Bill Wells | 

    Marie, I have to disagree. Mandatory minimum sentences are an abomination but eliminating them won’t make any significant improvement to the criminal justice system. It certainly would not have made any difference to my case; I pleaded guilty because my lawyer lied to me.

    The fundamental problem with the criminal justice system isn’t in the system itself; the problem is that it is a part of a government that has long since ceased to care about principle and which has no goal other than serving itself. Unless the government is brought to heel, fixing specific government abuses will be about as effective as rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

  23. #23 |  Personanongrata | 

    Federal Lockups: Lost Hope, Guilty Pleas

    The US justice system has taken the pages straight from the Soviet playbook from the use of coerced plea deals to the staging of show-trials.

    Comrade Stalin would be envious of the US justice system as even at the height of his depraved tyrannical power the Soviet gulag archipelago imprisoned 1.3 million human beings (1953) compared to the US gulag archipelago imprisoning 2.3 million human beings (2011, Local 735,000, State 1.4 million, Federal 220,000).

  24. #24 |  marie | 

    Bill, kidnapping carries a MM of 25 years. If the prospect of 25 years didn’t make you want to plead to something less, then bravo to you. If you were threatened with a kidnapping charge that doesn’t carry a MM, then I am wrong.

    Mandatory minimums give prosecutors a very heavy hammer to hold over the head of defendants. Defendants take the plea, resulting in more people in prison, and NO NEED for the prosecution to prove a damned thing. If we could remove this handy-dandy tool for the prosecution, they would have to work a lot harder and they would probably be taken to trial more often. It wouldn’t fix everything, granted.

    There is any number of things wrong with the system but when there is that much wrong with the system, the system itself IS broken. Otherwise, I agree with you: government doesn’t care about principle.

  25. #25 |  Leon Wolfeson | 

    Yes, keep blaming a system where elected prosecutors have to show they’re locking people up on anything but. That’s the core issue.

    When prosecutors have the right to chase any case they want, they’ll do this. When they are professionals, following a set of rules on bringing charges – which they have to prove to a magistrate or judge they have followed…

  26. #26 |  Roho | 

    I started to respond to this, but then decided to get lazy, and just pull up something I wrote here three years ago on the whole ‘play for the win, not the justice’ legal system:

    This is why I don’t buy the argument about how “the legal system is adversarial by design, and competition ensures that the right side wins.” It conjures up sportsmanlike images, a professional basketball game. If so, in this game:
    1. There are still 10 players on the court; 8 from the home team, 2 from the visitors
    2. The home team’s center is also the referee
    3. The visitors must score in a regulation basketball hoop, set at 15 feet rather than 10. The home team scores in any of 3 hockey nets set at ground level around the court.
    4. During each game, the home team will receive one dozen “Get Out Of Penalty Free” cards, plus one additional card per minute of play. Upon being called for any foul, they may use one card and resume play without penalty. They also have the option to use two, and transfer the penalty to the visitors.
    5. The penalty for all visitor fouls (or those transferred to them) will consist of 3 free throws by the home team, and automatic home team possession.
    6. The penalty for all non-transferred home team fouls will be a 1-yard penalty, and home team possession (whether or not they were on offense or defense at the time of the foul).
    7. Gameplay ends at the discretion of the home team – at any point after the 2-minute mark, they may elect to end the game. There is no maximum game duration.

  27. #27 |  Ted S. | 

    Yes, keep blaming a system where elected prosecutors have to show they’re locking people up on anything but. That’s the core issue.

    Leon, in his haste to show how suprerior he is to us dumb Americans, rather stupidly failed to notice that this post is about US Attorneys, who are in fact appointed, and not elected. Never let a bout of xenophobia get in the way of the truth, however.

  28. #28 |  Leon Wolfeson | 

    @25 – Yes, I’m sure you have to make everything about your innate superiority. Do keep on funding the KKK.

    Rational people will read what I typed, of course.

    @24 – A good description of Japan’s legal system.

  29. #29 |  Sparky | 

    “He got out in 2010 but quickly violated his supervised release by robbing a man. (“I saw him with a whole bunch of money and I just got him like that,” McCullum said during one phone call.)”

    And I should feel bad for this guy?

  30. #30 |  William Anderson | 

    Roho is exactly right. The system essentially is rigged, although juries every once in a while disobey the judge’s order to convict.

    After the Tonya Craft acquittal, I talked to an official with the Georgia State Bar about the conduct and actions of the prosecutors. She told me pretty much that the bar let prosecutors do whatever they wanted, and if they lied, suborned perjury and broke all or most of the rules of conduct, that was just fine with her.

    By closing the door of redress to ordinary citizens actually wronged by prosecutorial and judicial misconduct, the Supreme Court put the processes of discipline into the hands of the peers of prosecutors and judges. Guess what? People in that system look out for one another.

  31. #31 |  Bill Wells | 

    Marie: There were no mandatory minimums in my case. The prosecutorial evil was in prosecuting a case she knew that she could not win in front of a jury and in suborning a plea that she knew was illegal.

    But the bigger issue is never the evil of any particular person, procedure, or law. It is in how the system responds to such evils. When a system does its damnedest to hide the evils within, when it refuses to correct those evils it cannot evade acknowledging, the system itself is evil. No amount of effort to correct particular evils can do anything to change an evil system to a good system. Such efforts are not merely futile, they divert those who care from addressing the evil system itself.

    Focus on the system itself, figure out ways to purge it of its evil, and such evils as mandatory minimums will go away with the evil of the system. But focus on mandatory minimums (or any other particular evil) and, even if you manage to get rid of them, you’ll merely find that the system has generated new evils that are as bad or worse than the evil you vanquished.

  32. #32 |  Bill Wells | 

    William: What’s really disgusting is that in the Supreme Court case that gave prosecutors absolute immunity from suit (Imbler v Pachtman), one of the excuses that they used was that prosecutors had an ethical obligation to further justice and the possibility of being sued might deter them from doing so!

    I don’t know what reality the Supremes live in but it surely is not this one!

  33. #33 |  chvietvet | 

    Criminal activities by federal lawyers are not confined to criminal cases. I served more than two years as an Air Force pilot in Vietnam by voluntarily extending my tour of duty. Apparently that irritated some Communist in high places, so I have been denied employment in the United States for the past 44 years. After receiving my honorable discharge from the Air Force in 1968, I left the country to work in Southeast Asia, Europe, and South America for foreign employers. I returned to the U.S. in 1998 on the false promise of a job with the U.S. Forest Service. Two of its employees offered me $20,000 if I would withdraw from a civil service selection. As a war veteran, I was blocking the list for a less qualified non-veteran. This was not the first time I was discriminated against, and I have filed several lawsuits against the federal government since 1985. Congress stated in the Vietnam Veterans’ Readjustment Assistance Act that, as a matter of law, it is a “national responsibility” to provide employment opportunity for war veterans. Nevertheless, administrative agencies and Justice Department lawyers in the Civil Division have fought tooth and nail to make sure that I would never be employed in the United States. To date, the federal government and governments of three states have spent well over a million dollars on legal costs just to make sure that one veteran cannot get a job in the United States. The costs are approaching several times the amount of money the government would have paid me in a lifetime as a civilian employee. The private sector discriminates against veterans, as well. I have proof that several federal employees committed perjury, obstructed justice, were in the process of misappropriating money, and made fully fraudulent decisions with the advice and consent of federal lawyers. Federal prosecutors have informed me that they are not interested in prosecuting federal civil servants. Apparently, the United States is run by organized criminals with law degrees and sovereign immunity.

  34. #34 |  Leslie Fish | 

    As a certain great defense lawyer once said: “Never plead guilty.” Also, don’t trust to a Public Defender; even the best of them are overloaded with too many cases, and will gladly take the shortcut of a plea-bargain whenver possible. Best thing to do is get a lawyer in advance — there’s a law-insurance company called “Legal Shield” that does this cheap — and keep him on retainer for just such an occasion. Besides, threatening to drag the cops and prosecutor through the expense and time and labor of a jury trial (always ask for a jury!) is often enough to make them back off on the charges.

    –Leslie < Fish