Friday, July 12, 2013

An Open Letter to Ohio Prosecutors

I would like to introduce you to a concept with which you are obviously unfamiliar. It is called "the point of diminishing returns." It is the idea that in pretty much any human endeavor, there comes a point where more stops being better.

Let me give you an example. Say you like cheesecake and so you buy yourself a very nice cheesecake. Not just a piece, but the whole thing. You start to eat it and it is, in fact, as divine as you could have hoped. You enjoy bite after glorious bite. But then, you start to feel full. You enjoy the next bite a little bit less. And a little bit less. And a little bit less. Until you stop. If you don't stop, the bites will just taste worse and worse because there will be no more room in your body. Eventually, you'll throw up and then maybe you'll never be able to enjoy the taste of cheesecake again.

The point at which putting another piece of cheesecake into your mouth would be unpleasant is more or less the point of diminishing returns when you should just stop. Heck, there's a good argument to be made for stopping long before you get to that point.

How is this concept relevant to you, you might be asking? You have now filed 977 specific charges against Ariel Castro, the (alleged) Cleveland kidnapper/rapist guy. That is absurd. 977 charges is way, way past the point of diminishing returns.

I'm not entirely sure what your sentencing grids or ranges look like in Ohio. But I feel fairly confident that something like 4 counts of kidnapping and 10 or so counts of rape would net you more than enough convictions to absolutely, 100% insure that Mr. Castro's sentence would be far, far longer than his life expectancy. Add in those two murder counts you've charged and there really is no practical possibility that he would run out of prison term before he runs out of life.

Once you get past about 10 or 20 serious felony counts, you stop gaining anything by piling on additional convictions. It just isn't physically possible that a defendant, even a really despicable one who held 3 women and a young girl hostage for a decade, could serve 500 years in prison.

All you do by charging 977 specific counts is overwhelm everyone involved in the case and needlessly waste precious court resources. A legal assistant had to type in that entire 977 count charging document. Make copies for everyone. If about 5 counts fit per page (a rough guess from my experience), you're looking at a document around 195 pages long. Think of all the paper you're wasting. The cost of mailing that document to the relevant parties, or just the pain of carrying it if you opt for personal filing and service.

Then there's the amount of time it will take all of the lawyers and the court to read that entire document. The defendant is entitled to have the court read all of the charges against him in open court. Should a simple arraignment take 2 days? The potential jury instructions on that many counts would be even longer than the complaint. Oy, I don't even want to think about how long it would take the court to read jury instructions on 977 counts. The jury instructions would be the length of a Russian novel, and not the "short" one, "Crime and Punishment."

Signing the verdict forms would take days and would probably leave the jury foreperson with carpal tunnel.

We haven't even talked yet about how ridiculously long a trial would take if the parties had to pay attention to the facts necessary to support the elements of every single one of the 977 counts. It makes my head spin to think about.

More is not better. Justice does not demand you file 512 different kidnapping counts. Truly, 4 will do. As for the 446 rape counts, I respect the idea of not wanting to say there are just 3 counts, one for each of the 3 women. But how on earth are you going to introduce testimony of 446 specific sexual events? Do these women really remember that many specific dates and instances? Is making them rehash the details of that many specific instances really the best thing for their own healing? When perhaps 3 or 4 counts per victim would more than max out this man's sentence?

Save yourself, the defense, the court, the jurors, and all the support staff who has to handle this case a whole lot of trouble. Wade through the victims' stories and find the 5 most compelling claims for each of them. Pursue those, and only those, charges. The practical sentence for Mr. Castro won't be any less this way than it will be if you pursue all of those 977 charges. But a very large, ugly trial will be prevented from turning into a decade-long circus that overwhelms all involved. Oh, and the taxpayers will probably appreciate it if you don't needlessly waste the millions of dollars these additional, unnecessary 950 counts will add to the final bill.

Filing this many charges doesn't make you look tough; it just makes you look reckless, greedy, and undisciplined. Just like eating too much cheesecake, it's probably going to make you very, very sick.

UPDATE: The indictment was far longer than my understatement (what can I say? I put the brief in legal briefs). It was actually 576 pages. My arms hurt just thinking about picking up that office file.


Matt Brown said...

I personally think that anything less than a thousand counts would not adequately reflect the seriousness of the offense.

Whew. Now that I got this comment out of the way I can get back to eating cheesecake until I hate myself...

Kori said...

Oh my gosh, yes. All I could think about when I heard this was how horrifyingly wretchedly awful jury instructions were going to be.

S said...

Surely they can find a way to make up those extra 23 counts.

But in all seriousness, it seems to me if they want to reflect the seriousness of these (alleged) offenses, the thing to do is to show restraint in the charging so as not to turn every single court hearing into a 3-ring circus. Filing this many counts is downright disrespectful. It smacks of grandstanding. Don't be a publicity hound, Prosecutor, just be an attorney seeking a dignified resolution to this case.

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