I have a weakness. I will admit it. Every time I see a legal story linked on my Facebook feed I know the tittle, story, or comments will make me mad, but I click on it anyway. Sometimes, I get so weak that I even start responding to comments, which is generally a bad idea.
A little back story, I saw this headline on my Facebook feed “Magistrate Judge Recommends Not Dropping Charges Against Eric C. Conn”. Now, maybe I am a fool, but when I read this headline, it sounds like Mr. Conn’s lawyers are asking that his entire criminal case be dropped. I am immediately doubtful that this is the case, so I figured I should look around a bit. I first go to the comment section, to see if someone will quickly confirm that my initial reading is wrong, but I find no relief. The comments are filled with people either upset that this was even a possibility or people complaining the system is crooked and Mr. Conn would somehow win out. To be clear, I understand why these people are mad if they believe Mr. Conn may potentially walk away free and have all the charges dropped.
My next step was to click the story and read it for clarification and I became pretty confident I knew what was going on, but to be sure, I went and read the motions and eventual order that were submitted in the case. To make a very long story short, Mr. Conn was indicted on 18 charges originally. Mr. Conn then worked out a deal with the government where they would dismiss those 18 charges, if he plead guilty to two other charges, which were not part of the originally indictment. So, we have 18 original charges and 2 new charges. He also agreed to numerous other things that do not really matter for this story. Mr. Conn then plead guilty to the two new charges, but ran away before his sentencing on them. While he was gone, he was sentenced based on those charges, but the government announced they were voiding his plead deal, which is what required them to dismiss the original 18 charges. Allowing the government to still prosecute him for the original 18 charges, in addition to the two he had just been sentenced on. The problem is that I had to read 4 multi page documents filled with legal arguments to figure all of this out. Most lawyers would not have taken the time to do this, much less the general public.
So, what the issue really was about was Mr. Conn’s Lawyers were asking the Judge to rule that the government had to stand by their plea deal and dismiss the original 18 counts. Now, that request may seem absurd considering that Mr. Conn violated the plea agreement by fleeing the country before sentencing, but I am not going to bore you with the contractual arguments. The point is that Mr. Conn is not about to get a “get out of jail free card”. Now, is that headline misleading? I would argue it is not, but I do believe it could be clearer. How about “Magistrate Judge Recommends Not Dropping allowing Eric C. Conn to enforce the plea agreement he violated.” That would seem to be a more accurate, but less catchy, title.
So, be careful about getting angry and deciding our legal system is nothing but crooks, just because a news headline makes you mad. Read the full story first at least.