The Forgotten Case Of S.C. 18178
We ask a lot of clients when we ask them to trust that justice will be done in the courts. While we seek to improve public confidence in the courts, there is still plenty of reason to be suspect.
Consider a case of mine. His case is docked under number S.C. 18178.I write about it now with the client’s consent, but I do not use his name. I write about it because I cannot get the courts to act, and my client has grown weary of waiting for justice. I write out of a sense of despair.
The man pleaded under the Alford doctrine on the eve of trial to offenses arising from the complaint of a young child for whom he had baby sat. Such a plea reflects a compromise: the client does not acknowledge doing what he is charged with; he merely agreed to accept a plea because the terms are better than what he would get if a jury believed the state’s case.
My client received no jail sentence. He was told by his trial lawyer and the trial judge at sentencing that he would not have to register as a sex offender. The state said nothing as the lawyer and judge assured the client he would not have to register.
Here is what was said at the time the plea was entered. "[I]t is our understanding and belief, I think as well as the State’s attorney, that none of these charges carry any sexual offender registration," his lawyer said. "That is my understanding," the judge echoed.
By used-car lot standards the client had struck a deal and knew what he was buying. An implied condition of this unholy contract was no registration.But we all know that the exalted and rarefied standards of a used car lot far exceed what measure of justice we offer those accused of crimes. In the criminal court, the implied condition can be condensed to the following rule: Screw the defendant to the wall anyway you can. Errors at trial are harmless. Lawyers provide effective assistance of counsel even when asleep. Trials need only be fair, not perfect. The presumption of innocence is a three-dollar whore, and many courts continue to argue her cost is too high.
After sentencing, the client sought to go about the difficult task of rebuilding his life. Imagine his surprise when well after the plea he was informed that he would have to register as a sex offender.
I got involved in his case after a handful of other lawyers had tried and failed to extricate the client from this lawless nightmare. Just barely I was able to keep him out of jail. He registered as an offender, and now lives with the unbearable strain of a crackpot neighbor’s monitoring his every move. She thinks she’s protecting the world. When my client asks for protection from her, the police ignore him.
The life of a sex offender is nasty and brutish, you see.
So I appealed the requirement that he be placed on the registry. I filed my brief in the Appellate Court of the State of Connecticut. For reasons unknown to me, the state Supreme Court moved the case to its docket. And I argued on behalf of my client. The argument took place in mid-October 2008, eighteen months ago.
I did not think the argument before the justices went well. "Why didn’t your client petition for habeas corpus relief?" one justice asked. "The remedy he seeks is the benefit of the bargain he struck. He does not want a new trial," I answered.
From time to time my client asks me when the court will act. I tell him I do not know. There is nothing I can do. We have petitioned Oz. We must now wait.
But how long must this man wait for a decision? Forever?I called the Supreme Court clerk’s officer the other day to make sure I hadn’t missed publication of the decision. The case is still undecided, I was told. I passed word along to my client. His response is privileged.
How long, Madame Chief Justice, must we wait for a decision in this simple case? Will it be another month, or another year? Justice delayed is justice denied, I’ve heard it said. Clarence Darrow once observed, there is no justice in or our of court. Had Darrow lived and practiced in our fair state, he might also have added: "There are no final decisions, either."
Reprinted courtesy of the Connecticut Law Tribune.