Sometimes I find myself feeling overwhelmingly angry at officialdom and those we elect or appoint to public office. They seem to be so out of touch with what the public thinks or wants so much of the time, especially when it comes to issues of justice and fairness.
In Toronto a shopkeeper in Toronto’s downtown Chinatown shopping district chased down a thief who had stolen $60 worth of merchandise from him earlier in the day, captured him, tied him up and called police to take him away. That they did, but before leaving the scene they arrested the shopkeeper and charged him with kidnapping, assault, carrying a concealed weapon (a box cutter) and forcible confinement.
The thief admitted his crime in court and also admitted to another theft that day; he had a long record of petty theft and was well-known for his shoplifting career. The judge reduced the recommended sentence of 90 days incarceration to 30 days in return for the agreement of the thief to testify against the shopkeeper in his trial.
In the past two days, the Chief of Police in Toronto, Bill Blair, has held a conference with the media to deny that the police had any involvement in the reduction of the sentence and to plead for understanding that their hands are tied when it comes to laying such charges. The confidence in the police amongst the Chinese community in Toronto, which is a large community, has dropped like stone. The Chief, of course, lays the blame on the media misinforming the public.
The idea that instead of charging this shopkeeper, the cops should have given him a medal at a public awards ceremony for helping to keep Toronto safe from crime never entered Mr. Blair’s consciousness.
But that is exactly what public thinks should have happened.
The Crown prosecutor however knows this to be true. The two most serious charges against the merchant have now been dropped, the kidnapping and concealed weapon charges, and he will go to trial on the lesser offenses. Earlier the merchant declined a plea bargain that would have seen him plead guilty to forcible confinement and concealment of a weapon in return for a suspended sentence and no jail time.
So what is the prosecutor up to? Going to trial on the lesser charges means the matter will be dealt with by a judge and not a jury. There is not a shadow of doubt that a jury would acquit this guy instantly and the Crown knows that. By offering that plea bargain the Crown has already conceded that this individual does not deserve to go to jail.
So rather than do the right thing, which is to drop all charges against Mr. Shopkeeper, we are still going through the farce of a public trial pretending that this man has actually done something wrong.
These people running this circus are all boneheads.
Unfortunately, unreasonable execution of office is not confined to Canada’s justice officials.
In the United States, as part of a plea bargain in the federal courts, a defendant must waive his or her rights to raise DNA evidence in any subsequent proceeding. DNA evidence has now become the gold standard in determining guilt or innocence, and all sorts of people who were convicted at trial are subsequently exonerated by comparing DNA evidence from a crime scene to that of the defendants.
People enter into plea bargains for all sorts of reasons that may have little to do with whether they actually committed the crime as charged, as was the case with the Toronto merchant had he decided to go with the plea bargain. It is standard practice in the U.S. to “throw the book” at an accused with the consequence of very long prison sentences and an accused must weigh carefully the risk that if he or she goes to trial the consequences could be very serious. Often a plea bargain is nothing more than a trade off on risks.
Prosecutors and judges are elected in the United States and they like to run on “hard on crime” platforms because it plays well with the voters. Prosecutors in particular like to boast about their high percentage of convictions, especially if they intend to parlay their courtroom curriculum vitae into a run for higher political office. It would be embarrassing and politically damaging to have their conviction records overturned on the basis of subsequent DNA analysis.
So fairness goes out the window in favour of career opportunities.
That really sucks.