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There are now 53 comments... what are your thoughts?
  1. Jeff B says

    Oh god, Stickie… :(

    • Well, since that’s probably the last example (Bartholomew), that probably means it’s the last trial Stickie has to go through… and we don’t know that it’s Stickie yelling in disbelief, there. Maybe there’s some overly-zealous misandrist in the gallery who’s been viewing Stickie’s travails as a cause célèbre.

      • I suspect that the person yelling “No!” was the prosecuting attorney, because they were counting on getting a conviction to impress their superior and get a promotion.

        • She looks like the third woman who refused to participate in the rape examples. I think she really doesn’t like the author about now. Can’t blame her.

          The case against Bartholomew was doomed from the start, though. The prosecutor had to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Stickie didn’t consent and that Bartholomew knew that she didn’t consent. It’s an almost impossible task.

          • You mean the woman in the bottom left frame? the “no!” isn’t coming from her. It is coming from off frame.

  2. HJ says

    Now I want some tacos. Anyone want to join me? We just need to get the cheese, and the salsa, and the beef, and the spices, and the shells, and the tomatoes, and the lettuce, and the sour cream…

  3. Jacob Land says

    I COUNT 28 TACOS THERE! That’s like, 14 tacos apiece! SHEESH!

  4. PD says

    I’m lost here :-( There’s a parallel court trial going on here? Could anyone summarize/link so that I can make sense of it?

  5. Gabriel Russell says

    Funny, I pictured Marv as more of a quesadilla man.

  6. B.J. says

    He needed to tell her, “I am nacho friend.”

    Then she should respond with “Can’t we taco bout this?”

  7. DOC says

    In your prosecutors office you have a poster of Satsuki with “OBEY” written under it, is there any way I could get a (preferably signed) full size copy of that?

  8. Gregory T. Bogosian says

    I wonder how often defense attorneys have to ask their clients if they are “still innocent?” Do most people take the plea bargain as soon as its offered or initially refuse and take it later?

    • I think he was being a little bit sarcastic. My guess is that, deep down, DC thinks his client is guilty. Most of them are, despite what they say.

      I couldn’t find anything on how often pleas are offered at different stages, but I did find that more than 90% of cases end in a plea bargain, and that you’re far less likely to see one the further along in the process you go – the point is to avoid the time and expense in a trial, and the closer you get to the trial (or at the trial itself), the prosecution has lost that incentive to deal.

      • “Still innocent” means he thinks his client should plead out. Of course, Pi is only offering her last-minute deal because she knows that her case is really pretty weak and might not pass the jury.

        Also, most criminal defense attorneys are conditioned to plead out wherever possible, even when they think they can win. I’m sure Nathan will explain more about courtroom workgroups in advanced crim pro, but the gist of it is that defense attorneys and prosecutors are co-workers more than they are adversaries, and a defense attorney who fights a lot of cases will get a bad reputation for clogging up the system.

    • DC established at the beginning of the scene that his client “isn’t going to plead guilty to something he didn’t do.” So he’s probably asking the question here more to communicate that fact to Pi than out of a genuine curiosity.

      As for your second question, plea bargaining is a kind of negotiation. Both sides are exchanging trading off severity of punishment in exchange for finality. When and how these decisions are made varies as much as there are different kinds of cases, defendants, and prosecutors. As a rule, you’ll get a plea earlier the more certain a conviction is, and the greater the difference between the sentence after trial and the sentence being offered. That can mean a plea on day 1, or a plea in the middle of trial.

      Let’s say you’re convicted of a crime that, after trial, is likely to get you 10 years in prison. If the case against you is strong, and the prosecutor is offering 5 years, you’re going to prefer the certainty of those 5 years to the strong possibility of 10 years. If the case against you is weak, on the other hand, you may prefer taking your chances with a jury (yeah, they usually convict, but your case is different) because you think the odds of going home free are better than the certainty of 5 years.

      A lot of things affect this decision. You may think you can get a better deal from the prosecutor, and so you’ll delay taking the plea to make sure. The prosecutor may have a reputation of raising the plea at each stage of the case, making you want to take the plea earlier rather than later even if you think the case isn’t rock-solid. The offered plea might not be that much better than the trial sentence, so you feel what’s the point, roll the dice and try for an acquittal. You may have an irrational hope, a sullen acceptance, or the frantic indecision of panic. Your family may be hounding you to stand firm. They may be hounding you to admit guilt. There are more reasons to plead early or late than even I can imagine, and I’ve seen a lot.

      Taking a plea means admitting guilt, and being convicted, of a lesser offense. You’re admitting you did it, and will suffer the consequences. If you really didn’t do it, should you? Some lawyers do advise taking a plea to cut one’s losses in the face of overwhelming odds. Others (myself included) will not advise someone to lie and convict themselves to avoid a harsher punishment. Ultimately, it’s the client’s own decision and nobody can make it for him. When and why he makes that decision is likewise up to him.

      PS — It’s a little disingenuous to say the prosecutor is “giving something up” in this deal. She’s making you suffer less of a punishment than otherwise. That’s not giving up anything. It’s no skin off her nose one way or the other whether you get two years or twenty — she still gets paid the same, and actually her caseload is now one lighter. Looking more broadly, the State isn’t giving anything up, either. Sure, you’re getting less penalty than the legislature in its infinite wisdom wanted you to get (if they even thought it through this far). But the plea you’re given is very likely within a statutory framework — it’s already contemplated that you’ll get a plea, and the law restricts what the prosecutor can offer. Moreover, each prosecutor’s office has a sense of what a given crime is “worth,” given your criminal history and whatnot, and there will be a practice or even official guidelines of what pleas will be available. (The job of a defense attorney is very often to persuade the prosecutor that the case is “worth” less than the official going rate.) The point is that the State’s plea offer isn’t giving anything up even from the broader perspective — you’re still getting what the State already thinks is the appropriate punishment.

      PPS — When I was a prosecutor, my practice was to give a written schedule of what the offer would be at each stage of the case. It always went up, the further along the case went. And the moment the first witness was sworn in, the offer was off the table. Once word got around that I meant it, you’d be amazed how many early pleas I got. (Later, though, I got a bureau chief with a reputation of undercutting his prosecutors’ offers on the eve of trial, and smart defense attorneys learned to ignore my plea schedule and pester my boss for a better deal later. Whaddaya gonna do.)

  9. Alec says

    I’m surprised you drew someone having a cell phone in the court room, I just served on a jury and nobody in the courtroom could have their phones on. Probably differs from judge to judge, but still…

    • Nathan has said in the past that a lot of things in these comics (especially when it comes to how people talk and the relative lack of procedure) don’t reflect real courtroom etiquette, since that isn’t really part of what he’s covering (at this stage, at least). I would certainly assume this is one of those cases, but I’d be curious to know for sure…

    • It depends on the courthouse, mostly. Some don’t let cell phones in the building at all. Some only let attorneys have them, but not use them in the courtroom. Some turn a blind eye to attorneys using them, recognizing that they need to be in touch with superiors and colleagues. Some don’t care who’s using a phone, so long as it’s on silent and you’re not taking pictures or video.

      You might be amazed at the differences in courtroom decorum depending on the judge and the type of court. Some courtrooms are hushed and reverent. Some courtrooms are noisy as hell and resemble a junior high cafeteria — and it’s the lawyers in the audience making all the noise. (Contrary to what you see on TV, most courtrooms don’t have an audience of interested citizens. Any given audience is going to consist almost entirely of people waiting their turn to get in front of the judge.)

        • I dunno, the early seasons (before they went for “Oh so wacky!”) weren’t too far off, considering. Account for staging, artistic license, and the need for a plot rather than the rapid-fire “He-did-X-we’re-offering Y-and-ask-for-$2000-bail. It-should-be-$500-because-Z. Bail’s-$1000-be-back-in-two-weeks-NEXT!” of an actual Manhattan arraignment, and it wasn’t bad.

    • Aside from “Don’t write essays on Twitter” and “Never completely trust a story when you get one side, especially if that one side is a highly paid professional persuader”? There is wayyyyyyy more to that story than what Mr. Doucette wrote there. But anyways…

      It’s a bad situation, and yes, the system pretty much pushed him into a plea even though (we assume) he was innocent. But the client in this case looked at all the options available (trial with possible guilty verdict, trial with possible not guilty verdict, plea deal), and took the one that worked out best for him. I don’t necessarily see that as a flaw – he was able to deal with his legal issue right away, no uncertainty, and get back to his life.

      • The fact that your employment laws are so lax that you’re able to be fired for doing something you’re legally required to do, even if you turn out to be innocent, is one thing that could probably do with fixing.

        • *Gasp* More protection for workforce? How unAmerican!

          (Now seriously: We Europeans are looking at the US system with utter disbelief.)

          • Meanwhile, Americans are often dumbfounded at the European sense that an employer owes you duties beyond simply paying you for the work you do. The difficulty of terminating an employment agreement in European countries (and its corresponding inflexibility of the job market) strike many Americans as weird. In America, an employer doesn’t owe you a living or security, only fair compensation for services provided. If the employer no longer wants those services, then it doesn’t need to keep paying you for them.

            There’s almost a sense of master-servant in the European context, foreign to the American experience and thus difficult for Americans to understand. A kind of noblesse oblige where the employer has responsibilities to the employee arising out of superior position. A sense that power over others gives rise to duties to protect them — similarly, the desire to be looked after and protected is to some extent a desire to be owned, or to be subordinate to one’s protector. In Europe, then, employment is less an arms-length transaction between equals, and more of an adoption. Employment is indefinite, you can only be fired for good cause and after clearing some picky legal hurdles. You can’t terminate someone just because you no longer want them working for you, just as you can’t simply fire your children because you no longer want to take care of them.

            In America, on the other hand, the sense is more that “I’m the one responsible for taking care of me,” with a corresponding preference for freedom to do so without interference. Nobody owes you a living, and employment is at your will just as much as at your employer’s. This stems from a very different cultural history.

            (As we’ll see in Constitutional Law, there’s a similar divide in how we see our relationship to government — the government doesn’t rule us, so neither does it have the concomitant duty to take care of us. The major differences in American political parties can be explained by varying attitudes to how much authority and deference government is entitled to, and the equivalent duties it owes us in return.)

            • Its also relevant that the harder the legal environment makes it to fire someone, the riskier it will be for employers to hire new people. So the harder it is to fire someone, the harder it is to get hired. So there is a trade-off between job security for the people who already have jobs and ease of acquiring employment for those who don’t.

            • From what I understand, even here in the U.S., employment generally is not an “arm’s length transaction between equals”, as usually an employer can much better afford to lose an employee than an employee can afford to lose an employer, and both employer and employee know this. (Please correct me if I am mistaken.)

              • Not equals in social status, no. But in America, the idea is less “I’m making myself subservient to you, you will take care of me” and more “I work for you, you pay me, that’s our only relationship”. In America, you’re not taking on a responsibility, you’re making a deal with another guy for mutual benefit. The philosophy shift is pretty significant. Yes, that does mean it’s easier to fire people, but it’s also a lot harder to keep good employees, and job changes are much more common than with a philosophy like one in Europe.

                • I believe the relevant term is “polite fiction”.
                  The European point of view “tells it like it is”. The American point of view is “in denial” about how things work in the real world.

                  • “My view is right, your view is wrong.” Great argument. :/

                    It’s just a matter of perspective, that’s all. Americans tend to be far more conservative than Europeans on a lot of things – in general, we value our freedom more than we value our security. It’s not necessarily right or wrong. That’s just the way it is.

                    • If we can point to concrete evidence that disputes one view, or show clear and specific detrimental effect thereof, it’s not merely a ‘shrug and say there’s no right answer’ situation. People who work for coal companies also value the continued burning of coal, it does not make it an equally acceptable view of the world.

            • Which is rather bizarre, since, much more so in America than in Europe, unemployment is a state of destitution. The idyllic image of an employee who doesn’t particularly need their employer any more than the employer needs them only makes sense amongst the highly specialized or in environments with robust social support.

      • Yeah, expanding off of what muzer0 said, I can’t help but wonder if some prosecutors take advantage of unforgiving employers to apply more pressure to settle. If you know the defendant doesn’t have a lot of resources, purposefully draining them dry could be a very effective way to get what you want. And it dovetails with a discussion from an earlier page about how even for people who are innocent, contact with our justice system can be very damaging. I dunno, the whole thing doesn’t sit well with me.

        • I doubt if most prosecutors even consider such a thing. Someone taking a guilty plea to avoid missing any more days of work is exceedingly rare. Unless the prosecutor was specifically told that this was the situation, it’s probably not likely to be considered as a plea-extraction tactic.

          I’ve got a couple of problems with what happened in that link. That’s a case where the lawyer might want to go to bat for his client, get in touch with the employer, make sure something beyond client’s control isn’t going to hurt him. If you think he’s entitled to his day in court, and that he’s about to do something wrong, then do something about it. Also, he can totally blame the DA if the DA wasn’t convinced of guilt. A prosecutor isn’t supposed to charge someone with a crime, much less take him to trial, if he doesn’t believe he did it AND that he can prove it beyond a reasonable doubt. It’s totally unethical. And having dismissals scrutinized by politicians isn’t a factor. If you’re doing the right thing, dismissing a case that shouldn’t be prosecuted, nobody has a problem with that. And as my first bureau chief said, if your bosses insist on you prosecuting a case that shouldn’t be prosecuted, “you resign!”

          The more I think of it, the less I like how that case was handled. By everyone involved. The cop fucked up, the client fucked up, the defense lawyer fucked up, and the prosecutor probably fucked up too. Yet each one probably believes he did the right thing. Now I’m angry and I need to stop typing.

          • That’s one of the reasons why I think some important details are being left out in this story. If this did play out exactly the way he said it did, it probably would have never gotten that far. My guess is that some angry words were said over dropping some expensive equipment on the floor, and things got out of hand, thanks to our good friend Alcohol.

          • Have you seen John Oliver’s take on BAIL? It does not seem like “exceedingly rare”, from how he depicts it. Opinions?

            • Nathan mentions taking a plea bargain to avoid missing work as ‘exceedingly rare’, not taking bail. They are different practices, and it is the incentive ‘to avoid missing any more days of work’ that is rare, not the practice itself.

          • Whenever the DA is elected, then his job is to win re-election. Maybe we should make DAs into appointed civil servants – that ought to help somewhat.

            • The usual response/concern I’ve heard for that one is that now the DA is “not accountable to the people”. I don’t know that there’s actually a way to win, aside from relentlessly chasing public opinion. As we’ve established (cf., that always ends well!

              • Yeah. IMO, the judicial branch isn’t supposed to be “accountable to the people.” It’s supposed to be accountable to the law and only to the law.

                Of course, the law has to be interpreted by people, but if someone’s in a position where it’s their job to tell the people to suck it up because being Mexican in Maricopa County isn’t a crime, they ought to be someone who doesn’t have to answer to the people of Maricopa County for saying that. But taking democracy away is always a difficult proposition.

            • The District Attorney in most counties is elected, but the actual prosecutors handling the cases are civil servant government lawyers. (Federally, the U.S. Attorney for a given district is appointed by the President, but again the actual prosecutors are civil servants.)

              The elected officials will set the tone and office policy behind what gets prosecuted and how, but unless it’s a very small office they’re not going to handle actual cases.

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