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#375 Third Department Caselaw Round-Up for May 24, 2012, Part 1 of 1

375 Post 05-24-12 Third Department May.pngSometimes, things are not always as they appear. And, sometimes, decisions are not as clear as they really need to be. And, sometimes, it makes one wonder what the hell is really going on.

375 Post-2 Franklin County.pngCase #261 #104373
People v. Lamica
Franklin County-Main Issues: Criminal Charges Cited statutes: None Affirmed

The defendant pled guilty to three counts of the crime of sexual abuse 1st. The defendant had had “sexual contact with two young girls – one of whom was his then 7-year old relative”. Pursuant to the plea bargain, the defendant was sentenced to three consecutive 6 year terms in prison. That’s right: consecutive, not concurrent. So, he had agreed to 18 years in prison! But that’s not all: the defendant was fined $5,000.00 on each of the three counts, for a total fine of $15,000.00.

And I’m sure you’re wondering precisely what I’m wondering here: what sort of defense attorney would agree to a plea bargain like that!? Well, since the decision is not clear, one can only speculate. However, presuming that the plea bargain is logical and that the defendant’s attorney is competent, my best guess is that the defendant had been indicted on many more counts, all as serious as the ones to which he ultimately pled guilty. This plea bargain – however onerous it may appear – might have been far better (one would certainly hope!) than what the defendant was looking at had he opted to take the matters to trial.

Therefore, my guess is that the defendant may have been looking at something as serious as 30+ years in prison had he not taken this deal. Only in the context of a likely much worse result after a trial does this plea bargain even begin to make any sense.

In any event, the defendant appealed. And why not, given the amount of time he was looking at. Appealing this was a no-brainer from the defendant’s perspective.

The arguments on appeal were as follows:
1. Two of the three consecutive sentences are illegal; and 2. The fines imposed are harsh and excessive.

Again, without knowing more (since the decision gives us almost no further facts of the case), it is impossible to critique this decision without pure speculation. The Third Department disagreed with both arguments, obviously, but it poses an interesting question, one which I’ve had for over a quarter century, since I first considered it in law school: are there crimes worse than murder and, if so, what are they and how much worse should their punishments be?

Over the years, I think I’ve answered that question and I find that I’m rather disgusted and disturbed at what I think the answer happens to be. How ironic that in our hyper-sexualized society, we seem to view the sexual abuse of children as being tantamount to – if not worse than – the murder of a human being. And how often have we seen punishments handed down to sex offending pedophiles that are more severe than those handed down to convicted murderers? What a stinging indictment of our enlightened society.