Ben’s Problem: Going Back to Court For New Criminal Charges

By · Tuesday, June 8th, 2010

Before I went to sleep yesterday, Ben (another prisoner at Taft Camp) came to speak with me. Ben is a young man in his early 30s who is serving a nine-month sentence. He had been expecting release to come in only four more months, but earlier in the day he was ordered to pack all of his personal belongings—he was being transferred on a writ.

A writ is the equivalent of a subpoena, meaning it’s a command by a court to make an appearance. Since prisoners can’t leave the institution to make an appearance voluntarily, courts issue writs for any number of reasons that instruct authorities to deliver the prisoner.

In many cases, courts issue writs at the request of prosecutors who want the prisoner to testify before a grand jury or perhaps to offer testimony in a criminal trial. In Ben’s case, the writ was for more troubling reasons. He expected to face new criminal charges for a case that was unrelated to his current nine-month sentence.

Ben has a problem that other defendants should be aware of as they proceed through the judicial system. When Ben pleaded guilty to his initial offense, he made a statement of remorse to the probation officer. As part of that statement Ben said that he regretted the crime he had committed, assuring the government that the crime was an aberrant act—one that he had not committed before and one that he would not commit again. The court imposed a lenient sentence because of Ben’s compliance in that case. As events turned out, however, Ben wasn’t completely candid when he expressed his remorse.  Had he been honest about all of his criminal involvement, the government might not be uprooting his life now to compel his appearance for a new set of criminal charges. When Ben faces prosecutors for the second time, they may not be so inclined to treat him leniently after his lack of forthrightness about all of his criminal conduct.

When defendants meet with defense attorneys to resolve criminal charges, it is wise to reveal everything to the attorney and to seek guidance on how best to resolve all criminal problems at once. The stress that comes with criminal charges is bad enough to face the first time, but going through that stress a second time is devastating—especially when the prisoner thinks all of his problems are in the past.

Because of the new criminal charges, Ben will be taken out of Taft Camp, locked in shackles and chains. Authorities will transfer him to a federal holding center. He may waste months in limbo as the legal process works itself out with plea hearings, findings of fact, presentence investigations, sentencing, and a return to prison. Weeks will pass, filled with uncertainty. I’ve gone through it before and my advice would be that defendants try to resolve all criminal problems at once so they can begin the healing process that I describe throughout my published writing.

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