Plea bargains are often misunderstood

Jefferson City criminal defense lawyerSometimes we read opinions in the media or online–and knowing just what we have been told–we may tend to accept the viewpoints expressed. The great exception, however, is when we happen to have inside information on the story. Suddenly we understand how limited the public perception can be. We see how the criticism does not conform to the reality. Now, if WE see the defects when we DO know the score, shouldn’t that engender some skepticism (and humility) in those cases when we do not?

The news this week was that Eric Feltner (former chief of staff for Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder) pled guilty to the misdemeanor of “displaying sexually explicit materials.” He had originally been charged with two misdemeanor counts of attempting to provide pornography to a minor.

The court–following the plea agreement between the defendant and the prosecutor–sentenced Feltner to 60 days Jail, suspended the sentence and put him on 2 years probation on the condition that Feltner complete 100 hours community service, and that Feltner not use the internet except for business purposes. Feltner must now register as a sex offender in the county where he lives (for at least the next ten years).

Internet blogs and comments are steaming with uninformed rants, such as in this article from the political blog FiredupMissouri: Cole Co. Prosecutor Mark Richardson Continues to Coddle Republican Sex Offenders

FiredUp’s partisan attack on the prosecution declared the result “sickening,” demonstrating FiredUp’s superficial understanding of the criminal justice system. The blogger, who uses the moniker “Howard Beale,” complained that Richardson delayed a year before the filing of charges. Beale had earlier complained that felony charges–not misdemeanor–should have been filed. And he complained that the sentence was too lenient.  Such criticism, coming from an outsider, seems unfair.

A few points:

  • Taking a year to file the charge: If such a delay suggests anything, it’s that this case was not strong to begin with. It sounds like the prosecutor worked it for a year–and with the statute of limitations about to run out–he filed the best case he had. This is totally standard operating procedure.
  • Not filing felony charges: How anyone could level this charge without reading all the reports is, to me, a mystery. A complete total mystery.
  • The sentence was too lenient: Everybody’s an expert on this? Right? That depends on the evidence. This misdemeanor charge is not minor-related. The initial accusations were, but the law that Feltner admitted violating makes no reference to any victim (of any age). If the evidence was weak, the prosecutor may have believed this plea bargain was the best result he could get, considering the possibility of a not guilty verdict.

If he thought the accused was a future danger, he may have believed it more important to get this fellow into the record books. Two considerations may have been in play:

  1. Feltner must now register as a sex offender. His neighbors will be able to track him.
  2. Although this was a misdemeanor, any second offense will be a felonyClick here to read the statute.

The prosecutor (like his critics) may not have been satisfied with this result, but decided that half a loaf was better than none. I don’t know myself, but without more, I’d give him the benefit of the doubt.

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