A young man is charged with drug trafficking and facing a stiff sentence in federal court. He’s assigned a lawyer by the court because he is unable to afford a federal attorney at the steep price of a $25,000 retainer. This criminal justice system is not working. Am I saying that people shouldn’t pay the price for their role in drug trafficking? Not at all. What I am saying is that every single American citizen has a right to a vigorous defense, a right to a trial by a jury of their peers. The right to question evidence that is blatantly untrue. Here is the short version of this foray into the criminal justice system. It is not an uncommon story, and is rarely challenged by a defendant for fear of making their situation worse.
An arrest came and a massive property search ensued. A young man’s home was torn apart looking for evidence as he was carted to jail. Participation by the DEA, Maine State Police, Aroostook County Sheriff’s office and others, turned up very little evidence, no drugs, no money, really nothing of value. A not guilty plea and an assignment of an attorney. The very day this attorney is assigned, the conversation leads to entering a guilty plea and trying to get the sentence down to single numbers. No presumed innocence. No trial by a jury of peers, according to the attorney, it is always worse if you go to trial. Worse? In the United States of America? Where we are supposed to be presumed innocent? Unbelievable.
Times passes as the federal courts move at a snail’s pace. Eventually he is given an opportunity to lessen his offense level due the Coronavirus and court closures. He pleads guilty via videoconferencing with no opportunity for his family to support him, alone without even his attorney at his side, but only listening via telephone. This is not even the craziest part.
A presentence investigation, which is a report filed by a federal probation officer, adds points to his offense for an instance that had zero to do with this young man, claiming a car that was stopped in southern Maine was registered to him. Now, you might ask, “Isn’t this easily refuted?” I asked the same thing. I also asked, “Isn’t it kind of unethical for law enforcement to fabricate evidence such as this that can clearly be proven inaccurate?” Apparently not.
We argue with his attorney that this information is not true. His response is, “thank you for your input.” Seriously, aren’t you supposed to be working for this defendant? In fact, he has never been given an opportunity to tell his side of the story to his attorney. He has never been asked exactly what his role in this whole thing was. Actually, he has only met his attorney on two or three occasions, all of which are at the court. The lucky thing for this defendant is that I happen to be his mother. And I am not described as a woman who sits still and shuts up when an injustice is served. Not for my son, not for anyone.
It just so happens that the person who was stopped with the car, supposedly registered to my son, is a very talented electrician and has been doing some work for me. So I asked him if the car was registered to him. No, actually my electrician friend got a ticket for false attachment of plates since the car was not registered at all. In fact, my son actually had no knowledge of him being in possession of the car or its whereabouts.
Now, you might think that a “good” attorney would jump on this and get the false information deleted from this presentence report. Well at least I thought that. Nope, he says, “Maybe you could get a statement confirming it. ” Me? Now imagine the poor person who has no one to help, to stand up for them, to make an effort to understand federal law and how things work. Crazy…. right?