Hicks pleads guilty

“Voluntarily,” of course. Feh.

One of the most disgusting rituals in the criminal law is the judge’s questioning of a defendant who offers to plead guilty. If he says he’s been pressured into pleading, the deal is off. So if he has been pressured, the law in effect requires him to lie, and requires the judge to pretend to believe the lie, for the plea to be accepted. (Similarly, confessions extracted under torture always include a statement that they were made entirely voluntarily.)

I suppose if you’re facing a military tribunal and the judge disqualifies two of your three lawyers on the eve of trial, leaving you only with the one who has already been threatened with prosecution himself for representing you too zealously and daring to criticize the judge, the Secretary of Defense, and the President, you’re well-advised to plead guilty if you can get any sort of a deal at all. And of course if you don’t say that your plea was voluntary and that the dismissal of two-thirds of your legal team had nothing to do with it, the bargain is no good. (No doubt it was only coincidence that the plea came on the same day as the exclusion of the lawyers.)

Try not to puke when the administration claims Hicks’s plea as a vindication of the military commissions process. He’s quite probably guilty of something, though apparently not of anything that was a crime at the time he did it. But the fact that the prosecution was willing to make a bargain when the deck was obviously stacked against the defense suggests that the case against him was actually pretty weak.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com