Someone, somewhere, sometime last week asked me to explain ‘plea bargaining’. My first attempt was fairly pathetic and I was about to bag it with a ‘I can’t talk about it’ sigh of self pity when the perfect image hit me – the box. Then the whole thing fell into place and it goes like this:
When you are held in pre-trial detention, in the absence of bail and most forms of common decency – the ‘back stairs justice system’ I oft times talk of – plea negotiations are surreal. Cut off from family, friends, potential witnesses and access to files and, well, evidence, it’s pretty much like playing poker without being allowed to look at your cards.
My plea ‘negotiations’ began with “Okay, hey, they may convene a Grand Jury and try to get an indictment, but if you get ahead of it, save them the time and trouble and waive indictment, they’ll offer anywhere between 20 and 34 months.”
“What are the odds in the grand jury? Really? Well, if they can indict a ham sandwich…”
“If you don’t waive [the almost sure] indictment and you make them move forward, the offer starts at 42 months.”
“If you take it all the way to trial, by the eve of trial the offer’s 72 months . . . lose the trial and they start at 120.”
“So, whattaya think?”
That’s the pitch and a pretty good reason 97% of all federal cases end in plea bargains. My journals and notes are filled with graphs, charts, flow charts, tables trying to figure it all out while adding in ‘good time’, half-way house/early release, the works. I spent just over three months screwing with the many, many, many permutations.
The whole time I assumed, of course, that the ‘other side’ was doing the same, really putting in the hours to achieve a ‘just’ solution.
The deal done – then screwed up by Connecticut, but that’s another story – I lived with it until I couldn’t any longer, hence the law suits.
All those ‘negotiations’, outlines, decision trees, flow charts, sleepless nights, second guessing, self-doubts, recalculating – were futile. A joke – a bad joke – though I did not get the punch line until almost 4 years to the day from my informed decision.
On that pretty, sunny, warm, early spring day someone high up in the Public Defender’s Office swung by my house with boxes of my business records – they had all been seized months before my arrest.
Four ‘bank’ boxes jammed with files, knick-knacks, office supplies, CDs, floppy disks – the detritus of a 2001-04 law office. As well as the evidence for and against me.
I didn’t have to open the boxes to know everything was in there, untouched. For the simple, gut-wrenching reason that each box was still wrapped and sealed with reddish-orange evidence tape dated a year before my plea negotiations.
It was all a masterful, professional, well done bluff and I played my part perfectly. Like Tony Soprano’s next door neighbor and the box of sand.