As many as 95% of cases are settled by plea bargaining and never make it to trial. Does this mean all those defendants are guilty? Not necessarily. Many people take the plea bargain because it’s the lesser evil—if they go to trial and are found guilty the sentence will be much harsher. A considerable number of defendants who accept plea bargains are actually innocent. In one episode of Law & Order, Jack McCoy makes a unique deal with a defendant who is definitely not innocent. In return for the locations of his murder victims, the defendant was offered his freedom. Sweet deal, but it was too sweet for the judge, who refused to recognize it even after the locations of the bodies were revealed. The defendant, of course, goes crazy, screaming, “We had a deal! We had a deal!” He did have a deal with McCoy, but he didn’t have one with the judge. It makes all the difference. When both sides appear before the judge after a plea has been agreed upon, the judge has the discretion to either accept it or not. If he doesn’t, the defendant has the opportunity to withdraw his plea. An accepted plea is always subject to change until sentencing day. For the DA, this public display of the judge wielding his or her power over him or her can not only be personally humiliating, it can seriously affect his or her credibility the next time it comes to a plea. When it comes [...]
Jack McCoy has a habit of playing fast and loose with the rules. He also isn’t very fond of disclosure. Back when old Jack was Executive ADA his assistants often had to convince him to disclose favorable evidence to the defense. The lovely ladies weren’t soft-hearted; they were being pragmatic—and practicing safe law. According to the model rules of professional conduct (and a little old ruling by the Supreme Court), “a prosecutor in a criminal case is duty-bound to make timely disclosure to the defense of all evidence known to the prosecutor that supports innocence or mitigates the offense.” In other words, if Jack has evidence that supports Jill’s contention of innocence, he is required by law to hand it over to her defense attorney.
BY ROB CARBONE For many, July 4th is a day of celebration of our nations independence. But in 1956, one Long Island family was torn apart by an event that would eventually help the nation. On the morning of July 4th, Betty Weinberger did what young mothers all around the world had always done. Peter, her one-month old son, had fallen asleep and Mrs. Weinberger wrapped him in a blanket and placed him in a carriage on the front patio of her family’s Westbury home. Safe in the knowledge that her child would sleep and get fresh air, she went back inside for a few moments and returned to every mother’s nightmare. Peter was gone and in his place was a ransom note. While kidnappings had happened before, a case of child abduction touched nerves everywhere since the March 1, 1932 kidnapping of Charles Lindbergh Jr. Knowing how that ended could not have been reassuring for Mrs. Weinberger. After contacting the Nassau PD and asking the local newspapers not to cover the story (The Daily News failed to comply and ran the story on the front page), reporters swarmed the ransom drop-off point and the chance to catch the kidnapper was lost. Six days after the kidnapping, the Weinbergers received two phone calls from the kidnapper with new instructions for the ransom drop-off. Both times the kidnapper did not show up but the police did find a blue, cloth bag with a handwritten note inside saying where the baby would [...]
The terms psychopath and sociopath are often confused and used interchangeably because the two definitions are similar. However, there are differences between the two. A sociopath is a habitual offender. Today, criminologists use the term sociopath to describe repetitive offenders who do not respond to treatment or rehabilitation. Some experts believe that a sociopath is made, not born. In their view, a sociopath has not been properly socialized. A psychopath on the other hand, may very well have been born already “broken.” Psychopathy involves a number of emotional, biological, and cognitive factors. While a great number of criminals have psychopathic tendencies, not all psychopaths are criminals.
The term “squeeze” gets tossed around a lot in cop shows. But what exactly does it mean? Say Detective Briscoe approaches a drug dealer who he just knows has information valuable to his case. The scene will usually play out like this: Briscoe asks a question, and the dealer plays dumb, so Briscoe comes up with an excuse to frisk the dealer. He finds a bag of cocaine and says something to his partner like, “What do you know? Our friend here was just about to powder his nose.” The cuffs come out. The dealer gets the message and spills his guts. It’s called the squeeze, and it’s illegal. According to procedure, the detectives are supposed to arrest the person on the spot and bring him to a DA, who will work out a plea-for-information deal. Only the DA’s office has the authority to put the squeeze on. © True Stories of Law & Order
The “Barefoot Bandit” is No Folk Hero Go put some shoes on. America has a long history of making heroes out of lunatics. Our country’s most famous outlaw folk hero, Jesse James, was simply an angry, homicidal ex-Confederate who murdered and robbed because he was most likely a psychopath. But at least people have the perception that he “robbed from the rich and gave to the poor,” ill-informed as they may be. What has Colton Harris-Moore done besides rob, period? His fans say he wouldn’t hurt anyone. So that’s all it takes to become a modern American folk hero? To follow your criminal instincts, turn your victims’ lives upside down, and have the police talk you out of blowing your head off? The kid’s got serious problems and committed a bunch of crimes. That’s it. Folk heroes are supposed to stand for something. It’s a sad day when we make a hero out of a pouty-faced child who just can’t control himself. —Dywer
The Conclusion of a 26-Year-Old Murder Story . . . in 140 Characters or Less It was the first time in 14 years that a person in Utah was executed by firing squad, but it might have been the first time ever that a state attorney general “tweeted” the world about giving the order. “I just gave the go ahead to Corrections Director to proceed with Gardner’s execution,” read a Twitter feed fired off by Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff. “May God grant him the mercy he denied his victims.” Kind of a weird thing to do, in our opinion. Perhaps even gross; there’s something about every tweet that’s self-promotional and, well, silly. Wouldn’t a communiqué to the living victims—family, friends, loved ones of Gardner’s victims—suffice? An occasion like this calls for at least a little restraint. But in case his fans might forget, Shurtleff later advertised the fact that he was going to be one TV and everything. “We will be streaming live my press conference as soon as I’m told Gardner is dead. Watch it at [attorney general office’s website],” he tweeted. Don’t get us wrong. If a state is going to execute people, Ronnie Lee Gardner was a prime candidate. Whether you support or oppose the death penalty, the fact that Gardner won’t ever commit a crime again is good for all of us. But some decorum on the part of Shurtleff would have been nice. We expect people representing the law-enforcement system to try to be [...]
Turns out True Stories of Law & Order: SVU is the book our favorite radio hosts will be reading this summer. We’re fans of the Jim & Kim Morning Show on Fresh 102.7 FM and are honored to have made Kim’s Book on the Beach list. You can listen to the segment here.
True Stories of Law & Order series authors Kevin Dwyer and Juré Fiorillo weigh in on crime, justice, and their favorite television show.