The purpose of this article is to point out certain factors in plea-bargaining, which rescuers are not using; they are probably unaware of them.
The first thing that must be understood is that 97 per cent of the criminal cases in the United States are disposed of by one kind of agreement or another. Very few cases go to trial and for a very good reason. If a defendant is offered a plea bargain and he refuses it, the sentence is usually three times as severe if he later loses his trial. Unfortunately, many times rescuers go through trials even though they have no particular wish to do so and avoidance of the trial does not violate their principles.
Many judges hold it against criminal defendants if they insist on a trial. The judges feel that they have had to invest a great deal of their time when it was unnecessary.
They also think that the defendants are trying to escape the consequences of their criminal acts, and perhaps most important of all, going to trial makes it difficult for the judges to get rid of a lot of cases in a short period of time and thereby look good with their peers. A plea takes only ten minutes; a trial can take days.
We all know that most of the time rescuers go to trial because they cannot plead guilty. What they don’t understand is that there are other alternatives to trial besides pleading guilty. There are nollo contendere pleas, stipulated facts trials and other procedures that can be used.
I strongly recommend that if they are available, these other avenues of approach be utilized. The chance of winning rescue trial is approximately 1 in 300. If a bargain can be negotiated, the rescuers can receive much more lenient sentences, which will enable them to be back at the clinic in a much shorter period of time.
If a nollo contendere plea or stipulated facts trial is not available, a rescuer should consider putting in no defense to the prosecution case. The rescuer should advise the judge before the trial starts that he or she has no wish to go to trial but is being forced into it for spiritual reasons; he or she cannot plead guilty.
Then, to shorten up the trial, the rescuer might consider waiving cross-examination, opening statements and summations. This will reduce trial time down to an absolute minimum – perhaps a matter of a couple of hours. If a judge is apprised of this beforehand, he or she will know that the rescuer is not trying to avoid the consequences of his or her act or to sneak around behind the court’s back. The judge will also be grateful that the trial took so little time, and all of this should be reflected in the sentence.
This can also be a fine witness: remaining silent even as Christ was silent before Pilate and the babies are silent while they are killed. Finally, this course of action probably will have the very practical result of a much more lenient sentence in addition to its spiritual validity.
A word about stipulated facts trials: they are basically very simple. The rescuer stipulates as to what the police testimony would be the prosecutor in return stipulates that if the rescuer were to testify, the rescuer would re-affirm his or her not-guilty plea, maintain his or her innocence, and state that his or her actions were done to save the children. The trial takes only about two minutes.
The rescuer does not agree to being found guilty, but there is only a chance in a billion that that won’t happen. However, the rescuer is entering into this stipulated facts procedure for a reason: the situation is negotiated. In other words, it is talked out beforehand with the judge and the prosecutor and an understanding is reached to the effect that if the rescuer is found guilty, the sentence will be a very lenient one. Without that commitment or understanding, only a fool would enter into the stipulation. He or she will be simply making it easier to be convicted.
However, many judges and prosecutors are interested in these stipulated facts procedures because it makes life a great deal easier for them. The situation is also eased for the rescuer, who can then pursue his or her more important goal: returning to the clinic to save more of the little ones.
(John Broderick of New York makes a specialty of defending pro-life activists in court. He recently took on Canadian pro-life political prisoner Linda Gibbons as a special client.)