California is Broken and Here is Why
Once upon a time, my life wasn’t so together. Most of my writings to-dateare a testament to that. Drugs are bad, mmmkay?
I settled my debt with “The People of the State of California,” and haven’t looked back since. But for kicks, let’s look back.
It’s intimidating to hear when you’re before a judge, “The People of the State of California vs. (Your Name Here).” It’s easy to envision a mob of Californians, pitchforks in-hand, board shorts and flip-flops, standing outside of the courthouse, awaiting the judge’s instructions.
Truth is, that scenario may be much closer to true justice than is our current system.
I was the first one in court and my case was the last called, so I got to see and hear an entire, typical morning calendar of the Sacramento County Superior Court, Dept. 3. What I saw was a Judicial cluster-fuck doubling as a plea-mill, bogged down in administrative self-importance and passed off as justice.
It was tragic.
When I walked through the metal-detectors that morning, the cops — if that was what you even call these guys — manning the machine were discussing a judge who recently purchased a brand-new Tesla Model S. According one of the six officers it apparently took to operate this machine, the car was “bad ass.”
Walking into Dept. 3, I could see that to the right sat the Public Defenders, and to the left the District Attorneys. All together there were about 15 attorneys all buzzing around, in and out of the room sporadically. The bailiff sat off to the right, a court clerk at the far end of the table, and finally, the almighty judge’s throne, off in the distance, elevated high above us all.
The District Attorneys were a small group of women who looked like they were fresh out of law school, late 20s-ish, probably trying to pry their way into the system. One of the girls who I’ll just call Walk of Shame looked like she’d just had a hell of a night.
“Did you go home with that guy last night?” asked one of the public defenders, excited to see her and not surprised at her appearance.
“Yes! Oh my God, we can’t go back there again,” laughed Walk of Shame.
Jesus, where am I?
“All rise. The honorable judge Maryanne Gilliard now presiding,” barked the bailiff.
We all stood.
“You may be seated,” said the judge, looking down at us.
And then it began. Nine out of ten were in for drug and/or alcohol charges, with the occasional woman who got popped stealing from a WalMart.
They’d call someone up there and read his or her charges. Then the DA would offer them a deal. The deal was horrible, as far as negotiations go, but most of these people were operating without much leverage. They just wanted to get out and go back to work.
“The state’s offer is: 18 months of DUI classes, parenting classes, a drug diversion class, $2500 fine, and a 3 year suspended drivers license.”
The accused would just stand there, looking at the DA, dumbfounded.
“The state is also prepared to withdraw this deal should the accused take this to trial.”
The accused would look at the judge for help. “Your honor, I’ll lose my job if you suspend my…”
The judge quickly interrupts. “I advise you not to speak to the court. If you want, there are public defenders who will speak for you. They are more trained than you are in addressing me.”
At some point this judge became someone to whom we common-folk couldn’t even speak.
“Mr. ________, would you like to take the DA’s deal or go to trial? Please know that a trial will incurr much tougher penalties should you lose.”
In the legal world, the girl who just got drunk-fucked by a stranger eight hours prior had the moral high ground.
“But your honor,” he’d plead, “how can I get to the classes if I lose my lic…”
“Would you like the deal or not?” The judge was getting impatient while Walk of Shame smirked.
“But why are you suspending my license, this wasn’t a DU…”
“Your only response should be either ‘yes’ or ‘no.’”
“Umm… yes, I guess I’ll take it.”
And that was it. No consulting an attorney. No reading of the fine print. A plea deal, quick and easy.
And that’s what the whole morning consisted of. Plea after plea after plea, by people who took a deal because that’s what the court pushes. Afterall, if every one of these people went to trial, it would clog up the system. If every one of these people took it to trial, the whole thing would collapse. So in the name of maintaining the legal status quo, pleas are the way of life.
Expediency is far more important than justice.
Americans have a sixth amendment right to a trial, but the court threatened such severe penalties for having the nerve to exercise that right that people just took shitty plea deals. It’s risk vs. reward, and Walk of Shame made the risk much too high to leave to chance.
It was fucked up.
The result of the morning’s plea mill was the cluster fuck that passed as the afternoon calendar that day. I stuck around out of curiosity. It was all people who’d taken the same deals the morning’s accused had taken, but failed to meet its demands. People who missed court payments, failed to show they’d enrolled in a class they can’t get to because the court took their driver’s license, people who failed to contact probation because their phone was shut off after they lost their job due to not having a car.
We have a court system that sets people up to fail. The penalties for their crimes were unable to be met, adding more penalties on top of the old ones, guaranteeing recidivism and re-offending, guaranteeing girls like Walk of Shame steady employment.
Ever wonder why America a higher percentage of its citizens behind bars than any other nation on earth, including China? This is why.
It’s in everyone’s interest: the judge, the District Attorneys, the Public Defenders, the Bailiffs, the clerks, the judges, the correctional officers — it’s in their interest to keep people in the system and coming back.
The system is broken.
If any other business operated this way, they’d be shut down — ironically, by the courts. Imagine Toyota installing brakes it knew were bad, knowing they’d fail, keeping you coming back and keeping everyone who worked there busy.
Think of the outrage.
This is why we have “victim’s rights” groups that are not made up of victims, and don’t give a shit about your rights. They’re just fronts for correctional officer’s unions, pushing for mandatory minimum sentences and never-ending parole and probation. They don’t want people to get well, to get better, to get out of the court-jail-court-jail cycle.
Their livelihoods depend on people staying IN this cycle. Rehabilitation is bad for business.
California has a 65%-75% recidivism rate, the highest in the nation. If that’s not a broken system, I’m not sure what is. Perhaps it’s time that we, as a state, just admit that WE NEED recidivism to employ the lawyers and the judges and the bailiffs and the clerks and the correctional officers. The people charged with fixing the system are the ones benefiting most from its malfunction.
While the people suffering from the malfunction simply become a cog in the machine.
And in case you’re wondering, I had a very good defense, was very confident in my case, and a competent lawyer… and still said “fuck it.” I took the deal.
The risk was too high. Chalk another one up for Walk of Shame.