Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Not So Tough On Crime

One of the most disingenuous arguments that are made in the race for Attorney General (and occasionally in the State Supreme Court elections) is that candidates are "soft on crime".  The talking point is usually followed by an example of a criminal that saw charges greatly reduced, a light sentence or perhaps even charges dismissed altogether.  And then the opponents conviction and long sentence for one criminal is touted as that prosecutor being "tough on crime".

As someone who observes the justice system on a regular basis, I can tell you that if the "standard" is to fully charge, convict and sentence every criminal to the maximum allowable punishment to be considered "tough on crime"--then there is not a single prosecutor, District Attorney or Judge that is "tough on crime" in Wisconsin.  Reduced charges, plea bargains, lenient sentences and "second chances" are common--and pretty much necessary--in today's legal system.

In filing charges, prosecutors must know that they have at least enough evidence to warrant a trial on each and every count.  Sometimes police mess up evidence.  Sometimes witnesses contradict themselves in describing what they saw.  Sometimes, there is no physical evidence at all.  It doesn't look good when judges throw out cases at the preliminary hearing stage for lack of probable cause.  And when jurors acquit on one charge, they are more likely to have doubts about other charges that may have more evidence.

And just because there is a plea deal in a case, doesn't mean that a defendant "beat the system".  If every case went to trial because plea deals weren't offered to criminals, we would have to have 50 Circuit Court branches here in Winnebago County alone--and about a thousand people called for jury duty every day.  And remember, all it takes is one person with reasonable doubt to prevent a conviction--so a plea deal is often a guaranteed conviction.  You might also want to consider that the child molester who cops a plea to a reduced charge is also keeping a child from having to get up in front of dozens of strangers and recount on the witness stand what happened to them.  How "tough" do you look making a traumatized child go through that at both a preliminary hearing and again at a trial?

Light sentences are also required today--unless of course you believe that every city should look like Waupun--where directions could literally have you "turn left" at three prison facilities.  Judges and prosecutors need to keep in mind that there is not enough space to lock up every single person that violates the law--so they have to decide who are the "worst of the worst" to lock up--and who can be reasonably kept under control on probation and parole.

So when you hear that next ad saying So-and-So is "soft on crime"--and What's-his-Name is "tough on crime" keep in mind all of those arguments are meaningless.

No comments:

Post a Comment