Feb
14

Oink, Oink, The Prosecutor Squealed

Remember “Miller’s Boys,” the gang of corrupt racist cops whom the feds prosecuted, calling them bullies with badges for their treatment of illegal immigrants in East Haven? Well, Sergeant David Miller, the presumed leader of the pack, was in federal court today (Wednesday) for sentencing, and there was the same government that called him a racist begging the sentencing judge for leniency.

The government is a one-eyed pig, fouling its own pen whensoever it oinks.

This prosecution was supposed to demonstrate to the world the government’s commitment to equal justice for all. What it illustrates is the dark side of criminal law.

United States District Court Judge Alvin Thompson didn’t give the government all that it sought. He sentenced Miller to four months in prison for violating the civil rights of another Italian-American. The government went so far in the well of the court to suggest it was sorry for calling Miller a racist.

Really? The head of the racist cabal who preyed upon Latin Americans?

Miller got the kid-glove treatment from Uncle Sam because he was the first defendant to fall to his knees. He entered a cooperation agreement with the government, agreeing to testify against his fellow officers. He waived his right to remain silent and sat with the government to tell it all he knew about police misconduct in East Haven.

The government told Judge Thompson that Miller had been a big help. When the feds were taking aim at the East Haven Police Department and were threatening to go to the courts to try to wrest control of the department from the city, they used Miller as an example to persuade city elders that there was no point in waging war for local autonomy; Miller was a bad, racist, cop. The city folded when Miller pleaded guilty. The city entered a consent decree, agreeing to costly oversight and conditions for the management of its police department.

Let me see if I get this right? Miller, a Caucasian, pleaded guilty to using unreasonable force against an Italian-American. Just how does that fit the profile of a racist bully with a badge preying upon Latinos? And why did East Haven’s elders rollover on such a cheap bluff. 

At his sentencing, prosecutors filed a secret letter, asking for consideration for Miller as a cooperator. This letter is not part of the public record in this case, and it never will be. Just how is public confidence in the courts served by backroom justice, hypocritical posturing, and prosecutors with forked tongues?

I admit to having a dog in the fight. I represented one of Miller’s Boys, Jason Zullo. Like Miller, Zullo pleaded guilty to one count involving an Italian-American, in this case not filing a candid police report about his collision with a motorcyclist during a police chase. Like Miller, Zullo did not go to trial.

But unlike Miller, Zullo did not cooperate with the government. There were no secret meetings, no choreography of Zullo’s plea to serve the government’s efforts in shaking down a local police department, no secret handshakes with ambitious prosecutors.

At Zullo’s sentencing, the same prosecutors who all but apologized to Miller, the alleged leader of the pack when the case was first filed, called Zullo a racist. It demanded that Judge Thompson sentence Zullo for race-based crimes even though Zullo never pleaded guilty to race charges, and the government dropped the race-based charges as a condition of his plea.

When Zullo stood in the well of the court on sentencing day and told Judge Thompson he was not a racist, the judge wasn’t impressed. Although the arcane sentencing guidelines used to calculate sentences called for a sentence of 11 to 16 months, the judge sentenced Zullo to two years in prison, effectively punishing him for crimes to which he never plead and for which he was never found guilty. Justice? 

The message is loud and clear: Play kiss and tell with your accusers, and get a reward. Fight for your rights, and suffer the consequences. 

Lest you think I exaggerate, consider the cases of Dennis Spaulding and David Cari. Not only did these two men decide not to cooperate with the government, they refused to plead guitly to any crime. When a jury found them guilty, the judge sentenced both men to prison terms longer than Zullo’s: Cari received a sentence of 30 months; Spaulding was sentenced to five years.  

The message is loud and clear: Insist on your right to a trial, and pay a tax in terms of liberty lost.

You won’t find the trial tax mentioned in any federal statute, but it is a deadly reality in the criminal courts. Prosecutors offer discounts on justice for those who are willing to waive their rights to a trial, to call witnesses, to cross-examine the government’s witness, to remain silent. Almost all criminal cases at both the state and federal level are now resolved by plea bargaining, in part because the government is free to scare the wits out of any defendant foolish enough to consider trial by piling enough charges to guarantee a long prison sentence in the event of a conviction. The public never learns about how steep this tax can be.

Neither does the public learn much about plea bargaining. The negotiations take place in secret, in the federal system the result of conversations between prosecutors and defense lawyers, in state court the process superintended in private meetings with judges. And in some cases, as in Miller’s, the government files secret papers neither the press nor the public ever reads.

Is it any wonder there is so little public confidence in the criminal justice system? The secret ministrations of the participants make the proceedings in open court look like cheap theater.

Why not meaningful reform of the criminal justice system. Let’s have real transparency in the process, and eschew secret letters. And why punish defendants who insist on holding the government to its burden of proof at trial?

The East Haven case is but one example of justice being willfully blind to a sense of fairness and proportion. The leader of Miller’s Boys gets a slap on the wrist. One of his subordinates pleads guilty to a similar charge, but doesn’t cooperate in secret — he gets a harsher sentence. Two other men go to trial, lose, and are punished for exercising rights we call fundamental.

How do you defend people? I am asked. It’s easy. Look at the nonsense the men charged in the East Haven case faced. The government is a fickle and untrustworthy friend.

Related topics: Journal Register Columns
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About Norm Pattis

Norm Pattis is a Connecticut based trial lawyer focused on high stakes criminal cases and civil right violations. He is a veteran of more than 100 jury trials, many resulting in acquittals for people charged with serious crimes, multi-million dollar civil rights and discrimination verdicts, and scores of cases favorably settled.

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I believe that the state is a necessary fiction and that failing to combat it is the first step toward tyranny.
– Norm Pattis

Disclaimer:

Nothing in this blog should be considered legal advice about your case. You need a lawyer who understands the context of your life and situation. What are offered here are merely suggested lines of inquiry you may explore with your lawyer.

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