When Truth Isn’t Truthy* Enough

It made the rounds of criminal law reform sympathizers, for lack of a better word. They “ooh” and “aww” at every outrage. They see everything as an outrage. Every cop is evil. Every law is oppression. Every interaction involving a black person is racist. They may not need to read the story behind the moment’s latest scream; they know already who is wrong.

For the most part, the cases, the conduct, the sentences are deeply wrong, and what happened should be the subject of public outrage. But the problem is that the information put out to whip up the outrage is false, half-truths crafted to mislead and delude. The people putting it out there know better, which means they know they’re lying and just don’t care.

Yesterday, a man was released after serving 35 years for robbing a bakery of $50.

Today, 2 NYPD officers accused of raping an 18 y/o woman in their van & bribery will receive probation.

This twit got almost 15,000 “likes” and 9000 “RTs.” and it was but one of many on the two matters. In the first case, the defendant was sentenced as a “habitual offender” in his third robbery, the amount he stole being irrelevant.

His conduct was criminal; someone who robs by means of a weapon isn’t the sort of person you want to invite to dinner. But his crimes were small potatoes, and a sentence of life imprisonment under the simplistic “three strikes” approach to sentences was grossly excessive.

In other words, he didn’t get life for stealing $50, but for his being a “habitual criminal.” The sentence was excessive, the “three strikes” approach a facile and grossly simplistic “solution” to recidivism, but none of that warranted mention. It was all about $50. And that was calculated to deceive and outrage.

The second story was about the two cops who arrested a teen who calls herself Anna Chambers for drugs, and once cuffed and in their van, had her perform oral sex on both and vaginal sex with one. But for the absence of police officers in the law precluding consent, this would have conclusively constituted rape. The law has since been amended to close a “loophole” that should never have needed closing.

While the two cops were initially charged with rape, the charges were later dismissed. This was a messy case, with a consent defense (not yet precluded as a matter of law) based on the argument that Chambers sought to bribe the officers to free her by offering sex in exchange. While the officers were being prosecuted, Chambers was suing for damages, exposing her grand jury testimony to civil discovery. It seems she had significant problems keeping her story straight.

Chambers filed a $50 million civil rights lawsuit against the city and former officers in November and testified to a grand jury.

As the civil case proceeded and pieces of Chambers’ testimony were released, the defendants’ attorneys, Mark Bederow, Daniel Bibb and Peter Guadagnino, filed several motions with Justice Danny Chun of the Kings County Supreme Court requesting to dismiss the criminal indictment.

“We sat down with the DA’s office, pre-indictment, and told them not to do this and to thoroughly vet the case,” Bederow told ABC News on Thursday. “They knew about these issues, but still went ahead and indicted.”

The Brooklyn DA refiled an indictment against the two cops, who had resigned from the NYPD, charging two counts of third-degree bribery and 11 counts of official misconduct. The case was advanced** and the defendants pleaded guilty to the indictment, what’s called an “open plea,” meaning that there was no negotiated plea bargain and sentence was left entirely to the discretion of the judge.

The prosecution argued that the sentence should be 1 to 3, but Justice Danny Chun expressed his view that five-years probation was sufficient.

Eddie Martins and Richard Hall, the cops who resigned after the incident involving the then-18-year-old Chambers, were sentenced to five years of probation after they pleaded guilty to 11 charges, including bribery and misconduct. Both men admitted to having sex with the teenage girl while she was held in their custody in 2017, an act that, thanks to Chambers’s case, now constitutes rape under the law (and always constituted rape under any moral reading of the word).

The argument for leniency by the former cops is fairly obvious; they lost their careers, their pensions, their reputations, all the good work they did as cops earning them a gold shield gone due to one “indiscretion.” It’s the ordinary cop argument, one that not only falls flat for some of us, but cuts the other way. Cops should be held to a higher standard, not forgiven their “indiscretions” because of any good they might have done. And they deserve no greater sympathy for the collateral harm than anyone else.

The position isn’t merely banal, but grossly misguided. It’s an argument that should compel a more severe sanction than probation. In noting on twitter the sentence Justice Chun intends to impose in October, there was a curious backlash from the outraged.

Remember the 2 NYPD detectives who had sex w/ cuffed young female perp in van, claiming consent?


People were, of course, outraged at the sentence of probation, but there were many who felt compelled to school me in the incorrect phrasing of “had sex.”

They didn’t have sex with her, Scott. They raped her.

My normative view is that this is correct, but the descriptive view, the factually accurate statement, doesn’t allow for my characterization of what happened here as rape. They didn’t plead guilty to rape. It wasn’t rape as a matter of law. I completely agree that it was rape, regardless of what Chambers said or did, and regardless of any inconsistencies in her testimony. But that’s just my view. That’s not the facts, and so I caught grief for not feeding the outrage machine of the unduly passionate who kept a little outrage for me for my failure to express the problem using their extreme words of outrage.

Yet, there are lawyers who do so, deliberately, calculatedly, telling the lies to the outraged that they want so desperately to hear, feeding their feelings and shamelessly deceiving people to serve their cause. They’re giving the people what they want.

*Stephen Colbert was way ahead of his time when he coined the word “truthiness.

**The Intercept called this a “secretive court hearing,” although advancing a case for a plea is commonplace.

4 thoughts on “When Truth Isn’t Truthy* Enough

  1. B. McLeod

    After Persky, the DA couldn’t afford to not charge for something. The judge stuck his neck out with this sentence, as it was obvious how this would play on the Internet

      1. B. McLeod

        That very explanation will be seized upon by the outrage machine to show how clearly wrong-thinking and dangerous he is.

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