Because I Said So, That’s Why

Did you ever notice, as Andy Rooney would say, how, on the criminal side, things are completely reversed between Federal and State Courts. What I'm thinking about in particular are guilty pleas and voir dire.

In our State courts the entry of a guilty plea is a routine, everyday affair. It occurs many times each day in various courts throughout Connecticut. It happens smoothly. It happens efficiently. And it is accomplished in a way that preserves an adequate record to assure that the plea is entered knowingly, voluntarily, with the assistance of counsel and with a complete statement of the parameters of any plea bargain spelled out. The record is complete and sufficient to withstand any challenge to what has occurred on the record. Every pleading defendant has been adequately apprised of his rights and has voluntarily waived those rights. The entire proceeding is short, to the point and honest.

Compare, if you will, the cumbersome mechanics of entering a guilty plea in Federal Court. Here in the land where nothing can be done simply there is, first, the plea letter. This, to the uninitiated, is a multipage document, the template of which has been through more iterations than the Kellog-Briand Pact, sufficient to assure complete incomprehensibility by even those who have survived the wars of deconstructionism that ravaged the Harvard and Yale English Department several years ago. The thought that the average defendant actually understands the contents of this document is a fiction that infects the entire proceeding.

I am willing to bet that Nomar Garciaparra has a contract simpler and more comprehensible that the plea letters used in our Federal Courts.

Next, is the entrance of the plea itself. There are three-act operas produced with less ceremony and that take less time than entering a guilty plea before a federal judge. The defendant often signs a "Petition"- again a multi-page document- to enter a guilty plea. Much interrogatory that precede depositions in civil cases, many routine questions are asked-name, alias, date of birth, etc, etc-and answered on paper only to be repeated in court by the judge and, inevitably answered in the same way by the defendant, under oath.