Once again, between extensive discussions in the comments and work, I’ve gone several days without a new post. And once I have something to post, it’s one of those topics that is important to me, but doesn’t tend to generate a lot of viewship. Oh well. . .
Even though crime in the UK has continued to rise, the number of convictions in trials is at a seven-year low. If this were because the quality of criminal defense work is getting better and better, then I suppose that would be okay. But I don’t think that’s the reason.
This is really due to three main causes. Police forces are under a lot of pressure to meet targets. They need to charge defendants. They put together sloppy cases that the Crown Prosecution Service can’t win.
The other two causes create a danger to the public. They endanger public safety by using cautions instead of trying to get convictions. A signed caution counts just a good for the statistics as a conviction, because it is an admission of guilt. As reported in The Daily Telegraph, from 2002 to 2006, “there was a 142 per cent rise in the use of cautions for violence against the person from 23,607 to 57,273. There was a 75 per cent increase in cautions for robbery and a 60 per cent rise for sexual offences.”
That’s right, chances are that if you rob someone, the cops will say, “Okay, you’ve admitted you’ve done wrong. Now don’t do it again. We might take you to court if you do.”
The police are also endangering the public with fixed penalty notices. A fixed penalty notice is like a traffic ticket. A cop says you are guilty and issues a fine. The number of fixed penalty notices has risen dramatically, in no small part because the number of crimes for which a notice can be issued has also expanded significantly. This is bad for civil liberties, because there are an increasing number of transgressions for which the burden of proof is shifted to the defendent. But it is also bad for public safety and welfare, because for those who are committing some of these offenses, there is no criminal record.
The following information is from the Home Office:
Offences where a notice might be issued
Examples of offences where a penalty notice for disorder may be issued include:
- intentionally harassing or scaring people
- being drunk and disorderly in public
- destroying or damaging property
- petty shoplifting
- selling alcohol to underage customers
- selling alcohol to somebody who is obviously drunk
- using fireworks after curfew
Maybe it’s just me, but some of these seem fairly serious for there to be no record attached. You can harrass someone, destroy their property, or steal from their shop, then pay a small fine and go back to what you were doing. Or you could use your shop to sell alcohol to children. No big deal.
Something that shocked me as a former criminal defense attorney in the States was to learn that only 67.5% of cases in Crown Court (where the more serious cases are heard) result in a guilty plea. And this is an increase. In the States over 90% of cases are pleaded out. This means that that in over 30% of cases sent to trial in Britain, the defense thinks they have a shot at winning. I suppose with a 61% acquittal rate this is not surprising.
This either means that defense lawyers are really good or the police are fitting a lot of people up and having their cases collapse. I think I’m going with the latter.