Tuesday, November 13, 2007

People v. Hebert (Cal. Ct. App. - Nov. 13, 2007)

Justice Raye ultimately reverses the sentence in this case. So, at least for now, Joseph Hebert doesn't have to serve several years in the pokey.

There's nonetheless a definite lesson to be learned from the case for all would-be criminal defendants. One that, yet again, I've said before, but that bears repeating:

Don't represent yourself. Do. Not. Represent. Yourself. You weren't very good at your (alleged) crime. Why would you possibly think you'll do better navigating the procedural minutia of criminal procedure?

Sometimes, your mistakes will even be totally moronic. Like here. Hebert wants to get out of jail now because he either (1) is facing an eviction -- which is what he tells the trial court, and what Justice Raye accepts is the actual case, or -- something that's not mentioned at all in the opinion, but I nonetheless think is eminently plausible -- (2) wants to get high now, probably because he's jonesing (he's got a bigtime meth and coke problem). So he represents himself at the plea stage and wants to make a Cruz-like deal that will let him plea out now and be sentenced later in return for a big spanking at the sentencing stage if he doesn't show up.

Which the prosecutor and the court both seem okay with. So the Court says, summarizing the deal: "If I release you, following your entry of plea, I would require what is referred to as a Cruz waiver, and then goes on to say "In other words, I would let you out, if you agree that at sentencing, if you failed to show up, then you go to prison for sixteen months." Sixteen months being a pretty long time for this particular offense, but that's the whole point of the deal. And, again, everyone's happy with that.

So a smart, and represented, defendant would simply say: "Yes. I agree. Sixteen months if I don't show up." Because, remember, everyone's on board for that. So just take the deal.

But how does the pro per Hebert respond instead? He says: "Absolutely, Your Honor. I would -- I was going to say the high term. I would be willing to take the high term." Which then prompts the court to say: "All right. We’ll call it three years if you’re willing to accept the high term." At which Hebert says: "Okay. Absolutely, Your Honor."

In other words, Hebert was offered a sentence of sixteen months, and promptly proposed instead to take a sentence of more than double that. Wise? I think not.

Because -- shockingly -- the meth- and coke-addled Hebert ultimately does not, in fact, show up for his sentencing. So your glorious "negotiating" -- and be sure to note the quotation marks -- ends up buying you double-plus time in the slammer. Which ain't fun. Because, sure, there's meth and coke there as well. But not nearly as much. Plus, it costs more. And its "cost" ain't exclusively limited to money.

Ultimately, Hebert avoids the three years 'cause Justice Raye finds (and rightly so) that this isn't actually a proper Cruz waiver situation. Still. Learn the lesson. Don't risk the same -- or much worse -- fate.

Don't represent yourself.