Update: Larry Craig

Hennepin County Judge Charles Porter issued his ruling yesterday Larry Craig will not be allowed to withdraw his guilty plea. From the New York Times: "Judge Porter wrote that there were 'no hints of a lack of guilt of the offense of disorderly conduct.' He called 'illogical' the argument that Mr. Craig was unaware of the facts to which he admitted guilt, saying the police report was attached to the plea petition and that Mr. Craig signed or initialed the pages. As for the argument that Mr. Craig did not enter the plea 'intelligently,' the judge said: “The defendant, a career politician with a college education, is of at least above average intelligence. He knew what he was saying, reading and signing.'... 'The defendant chose not to appear and to enter his plea by mail just so he could avoid publicity,' the judge wrote."

The full court order can be read here. How does this all compare to a typical misdemeanor plea? Read More...

Sen. Craig actually had exceptionally good circumstances under which to consider and enter his plea. Though not a lawyer, he is certainly a sophisticated operator, whose professional life consists of reading, debating and voting on legislation. Though not assisted by counsel, he was able to read over his guilty plea at leisure, in the comfort of his office.

Contrast that with the typical circumstances of a guilty plea to disorderly conduct in an urban courthouse. The defendant is a high-school dropout. He meets briefly with a lawyer while waiting in a crowded, fetid holding cell, after having been detained for 12-24 hours. His plea, which he enters before the judge in open court, usually happens very quickly. He may have the chance to ask his lawyer about the consequences of a plea, but this happens quickly, and there may be things he doesn't think to ask about, or his lawyer doesn't mention.

Regret is often a part of a guilty plea - even to a minor charge. Reading about this case reminded me of a message I received once on our office answering machine. An unidentified, sad sounding voice said, "I'm calling because I don't think I want to take this plea..." Of course, he'd already taken the plea, and his chances of ever taking it back were very small.


Phil Bowen said…
Hey Ben and all
Very interesting. Since coming back from NY, I have been struck by how slow British courts are in comparison to what I saw in the Bronx and have been waxing lyrical at how quikly we could get someone from arrest ('crisis point') into their intervention. But I have always cautioned that this is at the expense of the process perhaps being unfair where people plea without knowing what they are doing. That said, simply having longer does not gurarntee udnerstanding judicial processes better. On both sides of the pond, we need to work away at de-mystifying the process and explaining what is going on. Anyway, keep up the good work and hope to see you all soon, Phil