WHAT HAPPENED?!

By Kevin White

These words are just a few of the many statements and phrases that are said to an attorney, a prosecutor or judge after a criminal defendant is found guilty of a crime in Pennsylvania or any other state in the United States. This is especially true for defendants who happen to be found guilty of 1st Degree Murder or 2nd Degree Murder. In the state of Pennsylvania, being found guilty of one of these counts of murder means receiving a life sentence. A life sentence in this state means natural life or life without the possibility of parole. But there is an interesting conundrum that lies here, that is rarely spoken about nor examined by committees, nor used as a political platform. That is the issue of disproportionation! The crimes that are sometimes committed are severely disproportionate to the sentence.

Lets take for example (2) individuals both charged with First Degree Murder. Individual #1 gets into an argument with someone from the neighborhood, the argument escalates and a gun is pulled, and a person is shot, hypothetically, six times and is killed.

Individual 2# gets involved in an altercation with an individual which leads to a fight between him and another individual, while this fight ensues a truck pulls up and gun men hop out and start shooting, killing another individual, but not the original person involved in the altercation, nor the fighter. This #2 individual is charged with First Degree and Conspiracy to Commit Murder. Both of these crimes are terrible just based on the sheer fact that someone lost their life, and a family lost their loved one. But what happens next, some would argue is more wretched and more insidious than the two above mentioned crimes, due to the source which this wretchedness comes from. That's the prosecutors, the judges and the criminal justice system as a whole.

Individual #1 is charged with 1st Degree Murder and due to overwhelming evidence or lack of proper representation decides to plead out. The prosecutor makes a decision to offer him a 7½ to 15 year sentence, which he accepts. He goes upstate and commits many infractions, like assaults, dealing in drugs, gambling and the likes, while in prison. Frequently he's in and out of the prison RHU's and SMU's due his actions, and therefore gets denied parole every time he goes before the Parole Board and ultimately does the entire 15 years. Now individual #2 is charged with 1st Degree Murder and conspiracy, and due to a lack of evidence or minimal participation in the crime is offered by the prosecutor a deal for 7½ to 15 years in prison. Due to the same reasons why the deal was offered, this individual decides not to take the deal. He decides to exercise his constitutional rights and goes to trial. At the trial he loses and is sentenced to life. This individual goes upstate and works on his case, educates and develops himself in multiple areas of his life, which gives him the tools needed to succeed in the prison environment, and society in general. He does not get into any trouble while in prison. Also he talks to and mentors those around him about life and the importance of accountability, awareness, and communal consciousness. Yet he remains in prison. So what happened?! What happened?! What happened?! Why is individual #2 condemned to die in prison? Was the crime he committed worth him receiving a life sentence? He was not the shooter in the case, he did not pull the trigger that killed someone. This is not to suggest that #2 is less deserving of a life sentence than #1because I believe that we all deserve a second chance. A chance to make our wrongs right, and be a productive member of society. However, this is to point out a more deep rooted issue at play here. It is that at one point in the case the prosecutor and/or judge decided that the crime which was committed by both individuals was punishable with a 7½ to 15 year sentence. So what happened in between the time the deal was offered and the trial that increased the sentence from 7½ to 15 years--which was deemed appropriate by the prosecutor's office and/or judge--to a sentence of death by incarceration. It couldn't have been him exercising his constitutional rights, could it? So what happened?

Someone might say "well he went to trial, so he wasted the tax payers money." Well if that is the argument, one couldn't possibly be implying that freedom/liberty is being bought or sold; or reserved for those deemed worthy verses those deemed unworthy. Or a waste of resources. Or that exercising one's rights is something looked at as unfit for taxpayers allocation of funds. If that is the argument, wouldn't it be more suitable to have the defendant pay the restitution owed for the trial, and in turn have him back in society as soon as possible to continue to pay taxes and support his or her family?

Someone else may say "well going through the trial puts the victims family through such a devastating ordeal." If this is the argument, and if the victims family is the driving force behind the prosecution (and they should be) then why are they not consulted when deals are offered? Did the family want that deal in order to avoid the trial or was their stance that they wanted the defendant prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law or were they completely compassionate people whom are more understanding to mistakes and regrets, and wouldn't want another family to lose a loved one on their behalf. Why are they not consulted in these decisions or about which direction they would like the case to proceed! So what happened?! What made this defendant who has stayed out of further trouble, wasn’t accused of the actual shooting, educated himself, and helps educate others, so unworthy of a reasonable chance to be back in society?

I believe that any unbiased, reasonably minded person would conclude that this is unfair. But unfortunately this is the reality of the current condition of the criminal justice system in the United States. The reader should not look at this and determine that this is rare, but rather the opposite is true, and that this is very common. Disproportionation in charges and sentences! This principle has no foundation in true criminal justice, nor should it ever be allowed. If a crime is determined to have a certain consequence which the prosecutor and/or judge have deemed to be appropriate, and a deal is offered to the defendant, and he decides to deny the deal and proceed to trial, he should not be punished further should he lose the trial. These trumped-up charges are being used as a tool to intimidate knowing and unknowing defendants into accepting pleas, whether they're guilty or innocent. What part of justice is that? How can it be anything other than corruption? This is all in order to pad the D.A.'s office statistics while using the least amount of resources, and whatever prosecutors can master this technique are promoted to the upper echelons of the D.A.'s office, politics and beyond. Meanwhile these defendants are locked away in prison, sentenced to death by incarceration or lengthy sentences which are equivalent to life/death sentences - in essence. While these same prosecutors and/or judges pretend that they are the worst of the worst,  when they were perfectly okay with allowing them to go home if only they didn't exercise their constitutional rights to stand trial, and surrender to the intimidation and compulsion of the prosecutor and/or judge. This is ridiculous! All I want to know is what happened?!!!

Kevin White #GC2187
1 Kelly Drive
Coal Township,PA 17866-1021