Getting sentenced is a drag. One time, when I got sentenced, a conjuncture of highly unlikely events occurred that made the whole thing rather more scary, and more of a circus, than usual.
My sentence was unfair, of course, as I was innocent. I was convicted on the strength of planted evidence. The fact that my arrest involved a high speed chase and that I was arrested along with a convicted felon didn’t help either. But that’s another story, for another time.
But nonetheless, I ended up standing in front of the judge in the courtroom listening to a sentence of probation. Routine, no jail time, in fact no criminal record (for various legal reasons), but a sentence nonetheless. Then the judge waved me off and pounded his gavel. I was supposed to turn around and walk out of the court room. But I could not.
When I turned around, the gallery of the court was full. A glass wall separated the gallery from the where the judge sits and the prisoners (like me) stand and so on. And when I turned around the gallery, almost empty moments earlier, was jammed full of spectators and press. Cameras were rolling. I recognized several of the local news reporters. Lights flipped on and flooded the courtroom, nearly blinding me.
“It was only a joint!” I thought. “And it wasn’t even mine!”
But the cameras continued rolling, and I could see the reporters speaking excitedly and quickly into their microphones, and spectators of all sorts were pressed against the glass and some were even standing on the benches, craning their necks to see … me?
So, with the obvious way out not an option, I considered an alternative exit. For various reasons I knew my way in and around the court and chambers a little better than the average prisoner. I knew the tank (where prisoners were held) and a hallway leading to a fire exit was to my right, and the court officer’s foyer and the judge’s private office were to my left. Better go right.
So I turned right and ran smack into a gentleman I happened to vaguely know named J.K. He was the proverbial large black man, shackled at the moment, arm and arm with a state trooper on each side. Following were a few well known city detectives. J.K. was the ex boyfriend of my ex girlfriend’s older sister. Two days earlier, he had taken up residence in a bank with a shotgun and a pistol, as well as one or two hostages.
I guess they got J.K. sometime while I wasn’t paying attention, being in court and getting sentenced and all. I felt great relief that the reporters and the crowd were there to see J.K.’s arraignment and not my sentencing. I also felt a bit of pain in my left arm as one of the detectives grabbed me and escorted me around the prisoner and out of the zone of interest.
So, what does this have to do with OJ Simpson’s sentencing to a minimum of six or so years in prison?
Well, consider this. The felon I was arrested with got probation had broken into a drug store (or so I heard) and stolen all the good stuff. The cops were on to her when her trail and mine crossed, and they busted her. She was eventually given probation but was never seen again by the authorities. She wasn’t from this town anyway, so she probably just went back to where she had come from. I was convicted on planted evidence and despite my protestations this was never investigated or even considered an issue by the police, my lawyer, the prosecutors, or the judge. J.K. … bank robber and kidnapper … spent about five years in prison. Why only five years? First, this was many years ago when sentencing was less tough than it is today, but mainly because he, like almost every other convictee in that court room that day, that year, that decade, or ever since, copped a plea.
Everybody cops a plea. OJ Simpson’s shenanigans … as obnoxious as they certainly were … in that motel room in Vegas were the kinds of shenanigans that happen in cheap motel rooms a hundred times a day across this country. And when someone is arrested, which hardly happens, they always cop a plea. This is how the criminal justice system works.
The difference between a person who is does a crime than does the time and a person who does the crime and does not do the time is that someone was watching the former and the latter was ignored like everyone else.
I don’t know, really, if OJ’s sentence was racist. But it was not the usual. And that means, like it or not, it was not fair. The dozens and dozens of people who, in the same month Simpson and his low life friends were nabbed in Vegas were also busted on similar sorts of charges are all walking around free right now, or serving light time.
By making the real difference between one person and another’s sentence all about what happens before a trial (and thus before a sentencing) … and by this I mean who is being looked at by the cops, who is being busted by the cops, what a person is actually charged with, what evidence is added to the mix, what charges are continued (vs. not) by the prosecutes, what charges are dropped by the judge, and what plea is made … the severity of sentencing, or even if someone is tried or convicted or sentenced at all, is all in the hands of individuals who work for the state but are not judges. And certainly not juries.
Based on what people say about crime and punishment, and based on what the press says when they are reporting these things, I’m pretty sure that very few people are aware of any of this.