Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Guilty pleas should involve actual admission

I thought “guilty” meant guilty. But in two Macomb County cases this week, guilty meant, “I don’t remember,” and, “I still didn’t do anything wrong.”
What happened to pleading “no contest”?
Margaret Fronczak, 59, on Monday pleaded to a hit-and-run accident causing serious injury for driving her car into 17-year-old Kara Duquet on her bike in Harrison Township last June.
But Fronczak told Judge James Biernat that she not only doesn’t recall striking Kara but doesn’t remember much about that night, when she apparently drove waaaaaay out of her way in going from Mason, Mich., to her home in Milford, Mich. She says she drank some wine, and her attorney said she may have suffered a medical condition such as a mini-stroke.
On Tuesday, Helen Gvozdich, 77, was sentenced by Judge Mary Chrzanowski to five years probation and $50,000 restitution after pleading guilty to embezzlement between $50,000 and $100,000 for stealing from her Serbian church in Warren, where she was treasurer and which she helped form more than four decades ago.
Still, Gvozdich maintains the incident was more of a misunderstanding and could have been handled without criminal charges. Her attorney said she is simply too old to fight the allegations.
So two women pleaded to significant felonies they’re not sure they committed.
Both cases cry out for no contest pleas. No contest means the defendant isn’t contesting the charges but either has no memory or doesn’t want to place an admission on the record, for legal protection in civil court.
I understand that the victims in both cases wanted the guilty pleas.
But judges don’t have to accept them. “Guilty” should mean guilty.


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