Wednesday, October 6, 2010

"Justice" in Sacramento is disturbing

Yesterday, I was arraigned in Sacramento Superior Court regarding an alleged trespassing misdemeanor.1

In Department 3 that morning there were perhaps sixty other people in a circumstance similar to mine: arraignments for misdemeanor tickets.

A few [guessing: five] had attorneys they'd secured.  Others [guessing: thirty] had Public Defenders they had secured prior to the arraignment date.  Yet others, like me, came without having sought an attorney.  Those of us who had incomes of less than $2500/mo. did have a chance to get a Public Defender.

For the arraignment, we were told we could act on our own without an attorney — but this did not mean that anyone was acting as their own attorney, just that people were meant to make some important decisions, quickly, on the fly.

Those of us without attorneys were put in a circumstance such that you didn't really know what you were being charged with, yet you were told the maximum punishment and the possible costs of an unsuccessful litigation.  Then came Monty Hall.

You were given an "opportunity" to accept a beautiful deal, all wrapped up with a bow on it, coming from the DA's office.  In my case, "the deal" was that I could accept one-thirtieth the maximum jail time [six days, instead of six months]; no incarceration relating to a probation violation; and a 'stay away' from Loaves & Fishes.

With that, there's no negotiation:  Take it, or leave it.  To take the deal, you plead either No Contest or Guilty — which for someone without a subsequent civil-suit risk is a distinction without a difference (is my understanding).

What you don't know are any valuable statistics — like what penalty an average person charged with your 'crime' might receive.  Or, basically, "What might be just?"  [I recognize that that question is a doozy: It remains, perhaps forever, a large mystery as to what in the way of 'punishment' might be appropriate relating to any misdeed.  And yet.]

In our nation of incarcerating people by the multiple many millions, the highest per-capita rate in the world, and seven times the per-capita rate of any other civilized country2, having SOME REAL CONTEXT to make an important decision, like that, is, ya know, important.  Yet, people, like me, were being lured into accepting the DA's deal on what I think was greatly inadequate and likely misleading information.

Looking at my situation, the DEAL means I (seem to) get a 97%-off super-saver.  Very hard to pass up, particularly when you consider that I entered Loaves & Fishes on the day when I would be getting 86ed as a complete rube.  I didn't 'bring witnesses with me,' I wasn't prepared for anything, whereas the Loaves & Fishes people were prepared.  The DEAL, isn't just for the guilty, it's one you're supposed to take when you're innocent of the crime; you avert the chance that the Truth might not win out.  You take the deal to avoid the stain from injustice.

Basically, being homeless and subjected to the hard reality that poor people go through has been an awakening I'm grateful for.  I'm spectacularly disappointed that justice [and the world 'out here,' generally]  isn't what I was taught it was in elementary school, or [in the case of justice] from watching "Perry Mason" or "Dragnet" on TV.  It doesn't even have the "do the right thing in an imperfect world" feel of "Law & Order."

I know that the court system and DA's office are racing through things at breakneck speed to keep expenses down in these hard times of ours.  But what I witnessed and am now going through is a vast vast craziness.

Of course, what really starts to happen is that crime isn't penalized all that much, the REAL penalty is for contesting the charges.  That's loony tunes.  People are supposed to have a right to justice in this country.

BTW, I certainly, completely feel I'm innocent of the crime I'm charged with.  I stated that I was Not Guilty, and chose to represent myself in the upcoming proceedings.3 I had two lines of defense yesterday; but now I have three, the new one relating to a procedural problem that looks like a whopper.

1 You can find my criminal file online.  Go to Hit "Search our Case Index"; then, "Proceed to Search System"; then, in 'Case type' choose "Criminal"; then enter my last [Armstrong] and first [Thomas] names.  Hit "search." Then 'select' Armstrong-Thomas-Edward.  And, finally, click 'details' for case 10M06539.

2 Per wikipedia, "The United States' incarceration rate is, according to official reports, the highest in the world, at 737 persons imprisoned per 100,000 (as of 2005). A report released in 2008 indicates that in the United States more than 1 in 100 adults is now confined in an American jail or prison. The United States has 4% of the world's population and 25% of the world's incarcerated population."  We put people in jails and prisons AN AWFUL LOT in the United States.  You'd think we were a nation of particularly terrible people.

3 I'm fairly sure I was the only person in the courtroom who wasn't taking a route of getting some kind of (supposedly!-) reduced sentence, and I'm very sure I was the only person in the courtroom going the "pro per" route, of choosing to defend himself.

[Note:  Bleak House is a Charles Dickens novel that involves a legal problem that was continued near-forever in the High Court, that ended up with lawyers' fees eating up the wealth of a great Estate.  While my proceedings won't be slow -- they'll be fast -- it is all a plenty-bleak business.]

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Blogger Jennifer said...

Good for you for actually standing up for your rights. Best of Luck!

October 8, 2010 at 11:05 AM  
Blogger Tom Armstrong said...


Thank you enormously for your well wishes. Kindness right now means more to me than you could know.

I am happy that you found me through Our Mutual Friend4.

-- Tom

4 Our Mutual Friend, title of another Dickens novel.

October 8, 2010 at 1:38 PM  

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