There’s an unwritten rule in the Grand Traverse County courts: If you go to jury trial and you lose, you can expect more jail time than if you had pleaded guilty.
If that sounds fishy, that’s because it is.
The 6th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution says that you have the right to a trial by jury. Michigan law says the same thing. If it’s your right, it doesn’t make sense that you should have to gamble your liberty to exercise it. You don’t lose your liberty by exercising any other constitutional right like the right to an education or the right to vote.
The Michigan Court of Appeals recently condemned the practice of judges penalizing defendants for exercising their constitutional right to a jury trial. In the Michigan Court of Appeals case People v Pennington on March 22, 2018, the court said that jury = jail is an unconstitutional practice.
The lower court judge that did the sentencing said that they weren’t trying to penalize a defendant for going to trial. They said that they were trying to reward people who plead guilty. The Michigan Court of Appeals said that’s a distinction without a difference.
When you plead guilty, the judges make you say that no one has promised you anything to get you to plead guilty. (Look at rule 6.302) You have to agree that no one has made any threats to get you to plead guilty.
What if the threat is from the court itself? Go to trial, and if you lose, I’ll make it worse for you. Cause you know, what’s the constitution when there’s docket control?
The Pennington case made it clear where the state courts stand on the issue. The U.S. Supreme Court isn’t fan girling over the jury = jail practice, either.
Am I the only person who thinks judges should work for their $138,272 a year plus pension? Sometime remind me to do an article on how you’re paying into the court’s retirement fund every time you pay a ticket, but I digress.
Apparently, this happens in Chicago, too. They even have a name for it – jury tariff. But the fact that judges are violating constitutional rights everywhere to make their lives easier doesn’t make it right.
If you go all the way through a jury trial for OWI – first offense, for example, and you’re convicted, you should get the exact same probation that someone gets when they plead guilty.
Of course, the prosecutor can still sentence bargain as part of the plea negotiation process. That’s completely legal. But the judge can’t do it. So let’s be clear on that – when the prosecutor says, if you plead guilty to a lesser offense, I’ll recommend no jail, and the judge goes along with it, that’s all on the up and up. But when the judge, one jury trial at a time, creates an unwritten rule that you go to jail if you try a case, that’s different, and it’s wrong.
If the 86th District Court judges don’t engage in unconstitutional sentencing practices, let’s see it. As the Pennington court said:
“An improper sentencing policy can only be cured by a change in practice, not a change of words.”