by Brandon Summers | August 1, 2018
(Originally posted on mathdropout.com)
The police can be mean, the jails can be cruel, and the court system can be extremely unjust and unfair. If you have money and representation, you’ll be alright. If you don’t, there’s a good chance you are screwed. In my case, my dad is a seasoned lawyer who was willing to represent me free of charge. I was a bit apprehensive when we arrived to the courthouse on Monday, July 16, 2013. This particular hearing wasn’t a big deal. I was simply there to acknowledge the charges and make a plea. “Not guilty” were the magic words and a court date was set for a bench trial in October. My dad and I were in and out of the Regional Justice Center (RJC) in 20 minutes.
As my bench trial date approached in October, my dad got in contact with the state prosecutor. He made his case and sent the prosecutor the video that I recorded. Unfortunately, he didn’t hear back from the prosecutor until the last minute. In the twelfth hour, we cut a deal— charges dismissed in lieu of 30 hours of community service or $300 fine and a “stay out of trouble” diversion. We still showed up to court on October 2, 2013 and sat through the other proceedings until my name was called. I guess the judge was not informed of the deal made by the prosecutor, so the judge was prepared for a bench trial. Once she was made aware, she and my dad had a good laugh and I was dismissed. That was it. I went to the court cashier, paid $300 and this whole stupid ordeal was over just like that. Case No: 13M15505X “The State of Nevada vs. Brandon Summers” was settled.
From an efficiency standpoint, I think that having prosecutors and defense attorneys cut deals outside of the courtroom is an incredible practice. This saves the courts, judges, defendants, and potential jurors lots of time. However, it also introduces an inherent inequity in terms of justice for poor, unrepresented clients. I didn’t have to go to court with a lawyer, but I did because my dad is one. I’m not sure if I would have paid a lawyer or contacted a public defender in an alternate reality because I may not have known any better– or maybe I would have been too broke to even consider it.
When I was a junior in college, I got caught with empty beer cans in my dorm room during a room inspection. It was a victim-less crime, I was 21 years old, but my school was a dry campus— so there were consequences. I showed up to court and took whatever the judge gave me. I was sentenced to 70 hours of community service. I never told my parents about it until after the fact because I didn’t want them to be upset or disappointed. In hindsight, the punishment was unfair and immoral, but I just wanted the situation to go away. I probably should have gotten an attorney.
Occasionally, I would look up the charges of other street performers I knew online. I was trying to look out for people because I realized it was easy to get caught up in the system. I saw a few performers who actually plead guilty to petty misdemeanor charges without even going to trial. It makes the situation go away, but now they have a criminal history. One of my mom’s biggest concerns for me was avoiding having a record, no matter how insignificant. She’s worked in government for twenty plus years and she understands the obstacles faced by people who have a criminal record, even if the crime was committed decades ago. She also knows that it’s another strike in addition to being a black male; and I believe she’s absolutely right. When I applied to become a Clark County School District (CCSD) Substitute teacher in 2015, my “criminal history” (even though I was never convicted) was an obstacle in the hiring process (well, CCSD is actually an obstacle in the hiring process… for another day).
When I hear stories about people pleading guilty to crimes they didn’t commit (or a crime they could beat in court), I absolutely believe it.
Any decision made while incarcerated is a decision made under duress.
Any decision made while you’re broke is a decision made under duress.
If pleading guilty to a crime gets you out of jail, allows you to go home to your family and back to your job, I see why people do it. It’s a cheap and expedient fix in the moment, but a terrible decision down the line. Meanwhile, judges, prosecutors, and attorneys are insulated from how defendants feel; or how defendants are treated by the police and jails– the humiliation of being placed in handcuffs or the lump in the back of one’s throat as a judge decides their fate. All they see is a case number and stack of paperwork. I’m not suggesting that our society burn the courts to the ground, but they are inherently flawed and inequitable.