Judge Michael P. Donnelly had seen enough by the time his spreadsheet of plea deals in sexual-assault cases reached nearly 200. In each case, the defendant pleaded guilty to a lesser crime that bore no factual resemblance to what occurred, allowing many to avoid sex-offender registration requirements.
Many rape cases involved pleas to aggravated assault, a crime involving serious bodily harm in which the defendant was provoked by the victim -- a scenario common in a drunken bar fight but wildly inconsistent with rape. "It's sidestepping the truth. It's legal fiction, nothing more than a lie," said Donnelly, a Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court judge. "No one can defend this process. There is no ethical defense."
I regret to report that fictionalized and sanitized accounts of the defendant's behavior are hardly limited to sex cases. They are epidemic. Indeed they have a name: "swallowing the gun." At the urging of defense counsel, prosecutors routinely agree to a dumbed-down -- and, let's face it -- largely whited-out account of the defendant's behavior in order to move the case and get to the next in a very long line.
Something needs to get done to change this.