It's a typical plea agreement, guilty plea. Defendant is first time felony offender and is going to get probation. I'm standing at my table and defense counsel is standing at his next to his client. Before the formal entry of the plea agreement the defense attorney walks up to the judge's bench to hand him some papers.
Defendant walks quickly over to me. I turn toward him. Defense attorney turns back around toward him. Bailiff perks up.
And, the defendant starts effusing thanks to me. He just keeps saying it over and over. Then he starts telling me how he's changed and none of this stuff is ever going to happen again. Then back to thanking me. All I can think to say is "I try to be fair" and "You're welcome." Finally, after a few minutes of this the defense attorney comes back and escorts his client back to the defense table.
I get paranoid. That guy is waaaaaaay too thankful for the deal he got. All I gave him is the probation the sentencing guidelines recommend. What have I missed? Have I given the Pitcairn County Axe Murderer probation by accident? I grab the file and start rereading everything. Defendant only has two misdemeanors on the NCIC. No prior felonies. No violence associated with the offense. He wasn't even rude to the officers involved. Nothing. There's nothing which should have triggered such a reaction. I announce ready when the judge asks.
Things continued per SOP after that. I still don't know what caused such glee over a felony conviction. Defense attorney said he didn't understand it either. I guess there are some mysteries in the universe we aren't supposed to figure out.
It's possible (possible - not probable) that the guy actually has had so few run ins that he actually believes that felons (even 1st timers) go to the big house for years, and he's actually greatful that he isn't (I have a perfectly clean record - not even a traffic ticket) and if I didn't know 1-2 police officers, I know that's what I'd believe (Heck, I'd believe that 1st time misdeminors go away)
As someone with one violation and nothing else ever (and the violation was trivial and dumb, involving a little too much to drink and a subway diversion making a 20 minute trip home into two hours), I would be insanely scared of being charged with a felony. Maybe I just have too much fear of jail and the consequences later, but I suspect you are a little desensitized to folks' reactions to the idea.
Of course, you probably don't run in to people like in in a professional capacity much, perhaps partly for the same reason (mainly, though, I find it time consuming enough to hold a professional job and comply with the rules we have to consider a life of glamorous crime). I do know a couple of people who have had run-ins for what could have easily been made into felonies, neither of which did any time, and they were equally thankful. (I don't think they expressed such gratitude to the prosecutor, though.)
A fellow who was recently exonerated of a rape charge by DNA after nearly two decades in Texas said publicly he was grateful to God and a "better person" for the experience, if you can imagine. But when you heard him explain why, it was more about his own personal and spiritual growth than anything the system did for him.
In that vein, how's this for an outside the box possibility: Maybe this fellow learned a valuable life lesson from the incident. Perhaps "the system worked" and produced an actual change of heart for the D, but the rarity of the occasion is such that it comes as a sincere surprise to all around him when it happens, prosecution and defense alike. ;)
Well, maybe not everyone is an axe murderer, and he has turned a page in his life. I know your prosecutor's training hasn't prepared you to accept that people can change, but maybe your eyes are being opened as well.
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