MANSFIELD: Sometimes the Law Is an Ass

In thousands of courtrooms across the United States lies are being told in open court and everyone on hand witnessing the mendacity knows what’s transpiring. Indeed, all of the court personnel — from judges, to prosecutors, to defense attorneys (as well as the defendants) — participate in the ruse. The thinking is, if these lies were not engaged in, the rigged system of justice as we know it would grind to a halt … as perhaps it should.

The “lie” is known as the “plea bargain.” And while most citizens think “This is of no concern to me so why should I care?” the fact is, when a supposed “nation of laws” twists and turns the truth for expediency’s sake we all should be gravely concerned.

Here’s how the ruse works: A backroom deal is struck between the prosecutor and defense attorney for the accused person to plead guilty to the charge(s) in exchange of a reduced sentence. The defense attorney then goes to their client and says, “If you cop out to the charge the judge will sentence you to “X” number of years … or maybe even probation. But if you exercise your constitutional right to a trial, and are found guilty, the judge is going to sentence you to at least twice as much time.”

These kinds of deals are proffered to keep the wheels of justice moving smoothly right along. If too many defendants exercised their right to a trial the system would grind to a halt since it’s not set up to hold a trial for but one-tenth of the cases that come before the court.

So, instead of recognizing the fact that the public is not willing to fund the criminal justice system adequately and do something about it, day after day defendants are asked by judges, “Did anyone make you any promises for you to plead guilty?”

At this point the defense lawyer leans over to his client and says (in a stage whisper loud enough for everyone in the courtroom to hear) “Just answer no.” The defendant, who is usually poor or a person of color, or both, answers as he or she has been told to do, and at some point after that the lesser sentence is handed down.

But recently, Malik Rahab challenged this rigged game. He filed a lawsuit that alleged that he was offered a three-year sentence to plead guilty to a burglary charge, but was sentenced to six years after he elected to take the case to a jury trial and lost. He characterized the longer sentence as being vindictive, which it obviously was.

Nonetheless, the Ohio Supreme Court, in a 5-2 ruling, said there is no presumption that judges are being vindictive when they hand down longer sentences after a trial. Of course the majority’s noses were growing longer and longer as they handed down their ruling, thus, once again proving that sometimes the law indeed is an ass, and rulings of this type causes many thinking citizens to lose yet another degree of respect for it.

From Cool Cleveland correspondent Mansfield B. Frazier Frazier’s From Behind The Wall: Commentary on Crime, Punishment, Race and the Underclass by a Prison Inmate is available in hardback. Snag your copy and have it signed by the author at

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