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Sentence Served Before Verdict?
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By Nate Wente
Defense Lawyer

I am going to deviate from the typical topics this time around and get a little more personal.

I recently read a blog post (here). For those of you too busy, or lazy (you know who you are), to read the link I will summarize. The article generally deals with the concept that criminal defendants often suffer severe, and numerous, consequences prior to be convicted. This twisted and unjust reality is compared to the ridiculous dialogue that takes place in the movie Alice in Wonderland where the Queen professes her desire that Alice’s sentence must be served before her verdict. The article, for those of us who still care about Constitutional rights and justice, really hits home. For those who believe the article above exaggerates or is the exception rather than the rule I offer the following true (except for names) account of an actual case.

In September 2011, Bob was issued a criminal citation for Assault in the fourth degree. The citation was issued based upon an incident between Bob and George that occurred at a local bar. Bob was a patron at the bar and George was a bouncer. When the police arrived on scene George told the police that Bob and Bob’s wife had been “cut off” from the bar. George said Bob and his wife left voluntarily. George stated that Bob then reentered the bar and began yelling at an employee and was angry about the bill and the fact they had been “cut off.” George said that as he attempted to escort Bob out of the bar Bob turned towards George, took an aggressive posture, and punched George in the mouth. George sustained a laceration to his lip that required stitches.

Bob told the police much of the same story. Bob said he was upset regarding how they were treated at the bar. Bob acknowledged that he had been engaged in a verbal altercation with George. However, Bob indicated it was George that laid his hands on Bob first and that Bob responded with a single punch.

The police, more or less, concluded their investigation presumably because they had an “admission” by Bob that he had assaulted George. So, based upon this investigation Bob was thrust into the criminal justice system for the first time in his life.

After 7 long months of being subject to all of the stressors that come with being entangled in the criminal “justice” web including, many court appearances, negative impacts to his work schedule, and sleepless nights, the State dismissed their case against Bob in April 2012, the day before his case was to be heard in front of a jury.

Why did the State change their position? Some of the contributing factors were probably the following:

1) Bob, through exhaustive and grueling processes, was able to secure video footage from the bar showing that George was, without any question, the first aggressor and that Bob never had been yelling at the alleged employee;

2) Bob was able to secure a witness statement from a person on scene who saw some of the incident and who also knew George to be a violent and aggressive person who she had seen on other occasions following patrons out and across the parking lot even though those patrons were already leaving;

3) Bob politely directed the State to the fact that George weighs about 245lbs where as he, Bob, weighs 185lbs.

Though there may have been other factors leading to the dismissal, you will notice a trend in the list above; namely that Bob procured these critical pieces of evidence. Evidence that, if the State had done a proper and thorough investigation to begin with, would have discovered.

So the next question is, why? Why did it take so long for the State to dismiss the case? The State was given the video evidence in February and at that time an in-depth discussion and review of the case occurred between the State and Bob. However, the State was unwilling to dismiss the case. Bob flatly rejected three separate plea bargains offered by the State. It was not until the day before trial was set to begin that the State finally accepted that Bob was unwilling to be a statistic, so they dismissed the case. Cases such as this are not unique.

So, what is the point? Why are you telling us this? Ultimately the system worked as Bob invoked his right to a jury trial and the State dismissed, right? Bob won, didn’t he?

Through the ordeal Bob had to show up to Court and, in order to keep from being immediately taken into custody, agreed to be processed by the jail (i.e. be fingerprinted, photographed, etc). He lost time away from work, his family, and free time. He had to appear in Court several times. He lost sleep and experienced some health problems. The increased stress took a heavy toll on him personally and his relationships. He had to spend a few thousand dollars to secure legal defense. The arrest will remain on his record unless and until Bob is proactive in trying to get it expunged.

Did Bob “win”? Perhaps only he can answer that question. Perhaps Bob, like so many others, succumbed to the belief that his rights are provided at the leisure of the State and his life and liberty are given and taken away at their whim. Perhaps, he is just so exceedingly grateful it is over and he was never subject to incarceration that everything else pales in comparison.

So, you tell me…
Did Bob win?
Do any of us win?

Know your rights.
Stand for freedom.

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