Dr. SJ was watching the news on CBS, then came in to tell me what just happened on the tube. A former prosecutor just said that it was Lori Loughlin’s fault. The first plea offer is always the best offer, so if you don’t take it, they’re going to add more charges. That’s the price you pay for turning down the deal. She gave me a smirk, as if to say, “See? Even Gayle knows that the truth is you better take the deal or you’re going down.”
And, indeed, that was the message. But it was an acceptable message this time, because everybody knows Aunt Becky was guilty. Loughlin was a pretty good choice of villain, as she was a privileged white celebrity whose crime was to seize opportunity from the deserving by using her wealth and privilege.
But the message? Capitulate to the government when charged with a crime, don’t fight and take the plea they offer, or else. For those who are inclined to believe that anyone charged with a crime is guilty, this message will be uncontroversial.
For those people who think otherwise, does the fact that this was Aunt Becky make the superseding indictment, adding charges of money laundering on top of the original charges as a way to crush her, punish her, pay her back for her failure to genuflect to the might of the government, acceptable? When our willingness to give any thought to the message is constrained by our emotions, how much we love or hate the defendant, then why bother to waste time worrying about the process. This was privileged Lori Loughlin, so who cares what they do to her?
It may be that you’re of the sort who complains about the lack of criminal trials these days. You may blame it on the trial tax. If you’re somewhat more real about how the system works, you may see that the chance of prevailing at trial is slim at best even for the completely innocent, and Aunt Becky is no innocent because the media told you so.
What about the person indicted who is innocent? What about the person who isn’t quite innocent, but not as guilty as they say? What if the papers and the government are wrong about Aunt Becky? Not possible, you mumble, but you know nothing about the case except what the government told you.
And while you’re ready to take to the streets if the defendant is black and accused of drugs, you’re just as ready to slam the cell door on Lori Loughlin. Hey, she gets what she deserves.
The former prosecutor who “explained” for the benefit of the ignorant masses that if you don’t bend a knee when the government, in its infinite kindness, gives you a chance to forfeit your constitutional right to challenge their accusations and accept the possibility of probation, then you deserve 121 months in prison for your arrogance, was right.
That is, indeed, the game the government plays, because it can. There are charges upon charges they can throw at you, and with some deft choices, they can make your choice gravely painful. The former prosecutor wasn’t lying. She wasn’t misleading the viewer. But what she was saying was presented not as one of the many fundamental flaws in the system, designed to coerce guilty pleas from the guilty and innocent alike, but a masterstroke of the government in taking the privileged down and making them pay for their arrogance.
Except it takes everyone down the same way as Aunt Becky. Nobody on the television raised the point that if it works this way for Lori Loughlin, it works this way for defendants you don’t despise as well. It works this way for you. Our capacity for accepting the improprieties of the system when its victim is someone for whom we shed no tears, without grasping that the same system does its voodoo when the accused isn’t some awful Aunt Becky, or maybe isn’t even guilty, is at once astounding and unsurprising.
Sure, we learn from a former prosecutor on CBS. Take the first plea offer or get crushed by the superseding indictment. Your choices are plead guilty and take the punishment, or be convicted and take even more punishment. That’s the lesson. Learn it good.