This crazy story is true, and it teaches us all that Plea Agreements are fragile. Plea Agreements can be rejected by a judge. More than that, it warns us that Decorum in the courtroom is important and there is a limit to acceptable behavior in court. Tatoos may be OK, but dont grab anyone’s ass in court.
Some criminal defendants jack themselves up by blowing probation. Maybe they accidentally did fall onto a plate of cocaine, again. Whatever, at least those defendants were smart enough to get probation in the first place.On the flip side, we have the former NFL Football player formerly known as “Ochocinco”, Mr. Chad Johnson. On June 10, 2013 Florida’s Broward County Sheriff’s Department took him into custody from a misdemeanor courtroom for a sentence of 30 days, main jail.
Seconds earlier, Chad was expecting to be sentenced to probation for a criminal battery in which he admitted he
buttheaded headbutted his wife and caused injury. Chad’s Criminal Defense Attorney had negotiated an agreement with the prosecutor whereby they would recommend a sentence of probation if Chad gave up his right to trial and plead guilty. All parties were gathered at the hearing to enter the plea and have the judge approve the agreement between defense council and prosecutor.
As most judge’s do in this situation, she explained the possible sentences to Chad, and made no promises about what she would impose. Chad said he understood, and offered a guilty plea. The judge accepted the change in plea.From there, Ochocinco demonstrated exactly how not to act in court, and jacked up his own plea agreement.
How? Craziness caught on video. He slapped his own attorney on the ass loudly, and smiled.
The sight and sound caused the entire gallery in the courtroom pews to start openly laugh. The Attorney, looking a little like a 13 yr old who was just grabbed on the ass by his PE Coach, grimaced.
The female judge noticed, of course, and seized upon an opportunity to impose a jail sentence on a may who admitted beating his wife. And who can blame her for an unfair act?
“I’m not accepting these plea negotiations”, quoth the judge on live TV with a look that seemed to blow two laser beam holes in the side of Chad’s head on my home HDTV screen.
By grabbing another man’s ass in open court, on live Television, Chad killed his plea agreement and broke the #1 rule of being a criminal defendant:
|“No matter how dumb you are, act smart in court.” |
Why was the ass slapping behavior a problem? It was the reaction of those in court that was the true problem and threat to the court’s authority.
Mr. Johnson was not the only defendant in that courtroom. There were lots of spectators. There were lots of other criminals.
The judge must maintain order in that courtroom throughout the day, weeks, year. To maintain security, safety of the employees of the court, and ensure that there are no distractions in court that may interfere with the fair administration of justice, the judge must make sure that everyone in that courtroom understands that the court has real power that must be respected.
Had it been left unattended, that joke would have eroded the authority of the courtroom that day, and perhaps that judge for her entire career forward. By switching gears quickly to overrule not only a Defendant and a Defense Attorney, but also a prosecutor, the judge whacked the hammer without even having a real hammer.
Then within seconds, the entire YouTube-iverse learned that the court does have real power in the US, even when the Defendant used to be rich and famous. For that reason, we applaud her actions.
What is the only way this story could be more ridiculous? A jail sentence of 85 days.
How could Chad Johnson’s Attorney Avoided The Problem?
The jail sentence may in part be the fault of his attorney. Why? For not jumping out of the way of that giant receiver hand? No.
The Defense Attorney failed to offer what is commonly known at a “Conditional Plea”. Such a plea is contingent upon the court accepting the offered plea agreement. When lawyers dont use it, it is because they have gotten sloppy or lazy and forgotten why it is important.
How does it go? Like so:
|“Your honor defendant wishes to change their plea to “guilty” based upon the understand that the court will accept the plea agreement as offered by the parties”.|
A really good attorney may have first asked the court for an “indicated sentence” on the record. If that “indicated sentence matched the plea agreement, the attorney should have offered the plea as follows:
“Your Honor, Defendant wishes to a conditional plea of “guilty” based upon the understanding that he will be sentenced in accordance with the court’s indicated sentence and that of the plea agreement offered by the parties.”
Had the plea been offered in that way, the Defense Attorney may have avoided the possibility of the judge making a surprise move, or at least preserved multiple issues to challenge the jail sentence and guilty plea if it did come on the grounds that there was no “knowing and intelligent waiver” of the right to a jury trial by the Defendant.
As of June 13, 2013, the Broward County Sheriff was showing an anticipated release date for Chad of June 26, 2013. It is expected that his attorney will challenge the sentence, and it is unclear whether or not there are any legitimate grounds for challenge. We will try to keep you updated.
In the mean time, take your plea agreements and behavior in open court seriously.