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An American Nightmare - The Criminal Justice System
“This is Envision Telecom , we have a collect call from the Local County Jail from Your 18yr+ Child. You will be billed $2.50 if you accept the call . If you wish to accept the call press 5, if not hang up now.”
You are sound asleep and you hear this or a similar recording with your child’s voice on the other side. Is this a nightmare ? How do you react ? Panic sets in. You instinctively sit up in bed and realize your child has now entered the ranks of the criminal justice system. You know your child , you know he/she incapable of intentionally doing anything wrong much less commit a crime. You take the call and immediately go through the motions of asking “What happened? Where are You ?”
For purposes of this hub here, I’m not talking about juveniles . They should probably be in bed when lights are out at your house. Nor am I talking of career criminals where parents might roll their eyes at the mention of their flesh and blood being in jail again. I’m talking about the average everyday young person. They might be still be in school or college, or maybe holding a job. The ones that have no criminal past or criminal mind and being caught up in something like this would be very uncharacteristic of them.
The Upbringing Has Nothing To Do With It
You try to reassure them and let them know everything will be alright. That’s part of your job as a parent regardless of how you feel or what fears you face. Naturally a surge of emotions will be plaguing you by now. Some of us will worry , others will be angry , others in disbelief, others may be cool as a clam - maybe all of these emotions will run the gamut.
You can be the best parent in the world and your child might end up throwing caution to the wind and might end up with the wrong group, maybe happens to be at the wrong place at the wrong time, not use his/her best judgment, or fall into peer pressure. An arrest can happen to anyone and once you enter the criminal justice system it could turn into a real nightmare. This could be the beginning of your nightmare - Welcome to the American criminal justice system.
The procedures are the same for everyone. Unfortunately your child doesn’t get any special treatment for being young, a good student, a good son/daughter, a star athlete, or in need of medication.
You take down whatever information they can provide, go online and start your search for a local bondsman . A good bail agent will calmly explain the process and determine whether or not you can get your child out now or not asap. If not , your child will be spending the night in the correctional facility and go before the next available magistrate in the morning. Insuring your child’s release and freedom from the detention facility is the easy part, unless of course a fatal injury or death has resulted.
Your child has bonded out of jail and given a court notice to appear at a later date. You have grilled your child and know the circumstances surrounding the arrest. You think you will just show up in court and explain to the judge what happened and your nightmare will end, your child will be done. You know, in your heart its only a misunderstanding. The bad news is , it is not as easy as that.
The criminal justice system is comprised of judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys. In the United States we subscribe to what is known as an adversarial system which allows for the parties involved to each recount their version of events and to present their case before the court. The case is decided by a judge or jury based on the best argument and based on the law as is it pertains to the case. You are presumed innocent until found guilty. It is in the court room, if it gets to that, where your child’s innocence or guilt will be determined following the arguments by prosecutors and defense attorneys.
The problem is the criminal justice system is plagued with uncertainties. Any bias or prejudice on the part of any of the players in the justice system could tip the scale for or against you. If you opt for a jury trial you might find discrimination there .
Many cases are settled prior to trial . By most estimates, nearly ninety percent of criminal cases are resolved via plea-bargaining, which means - you enter a guilty plea or a plea of no contest and you have yourself a criminal record. The following show some of the incentives that can be offered by accepting a plea.
- Reducing number of charges faced
- Reducing the severity of the charges faced
- Reducing overall sentence
- Giving you time already served
- Reducing stigmatizing charges from one’s record, such as sex charges
- Avoiding the drawn out process of criminal trial, including publicity, hassles, and involving others
A plea might be looked upon as a reward for not putting the prosecutors and courts through the work and expense of a trial. What if this is not acceptable to you ? Not all countries allow plea bargains for this same reason. They believe that if forces people into entering pleas to potentially avoid the harsher sentence. If you are guilty then its a good thing but if you are not guilty it places you in an ugly predicament.
Regardless, working out a plea between lawyers might take a few week or months. Both parties have to be in agreement. In the meantime you and your child sweat it out.
There is really noone person to blame. It is how the criminal system works, slow and deliberate. You hope that everyone is doing their job so your nightmare can end as quickly as possible. I've seen many a parent break down at the thought of having their child incarcerated.
It is a never ending cycle of thought and confusion when dealing with a loved ones problems with the criminal law. Of course the best way to avoid all the sleepless nights and nightmare of it all, is to not get caught up in it. Unfortunately, that is not within your control.
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