The case of Robert H. Richards IV, who was convicted of molesting and raping his then three year old daughter but was sentenced to probation, has caused considerable controversy. While many are outraged that a self-confessed child sexual predator is not being sent to jail, Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden defended the sentence, suggesting that the case against Richards was "weak."
Richards was initially charged with two counts of second degree rape of a child each of which would have resulted in a mandatory ten year sentence. However, just days before the trial, prosecutor arranged for a plea deal with Richards for a fourth degree rape conviction that does not carry a mandatory jail sentence. The judge who was presiding over the case, subsequently sentence Richards to probation, suggesting that he would not "fare well in prison."
The sentence of probation for molestation and rape of a child would tend to go against a societal consensus that no punishment is too harsh for such criminals. Biden defended the deal, noting that in the absence of physical evidence the case would have involved the word of the child against the word of the father. It would be a daunting thing for an adult, not to mention a young child, to testify to such intimate atrocities in a court room full of people. Biden points out that Richards is now a registered sex offender, has to undergo counseling, and is prohibited from contact with children under the age of 16, none of which would have happened if the matter had gone to trial and the state had lost.
Do Innocent People Plea Guilty?
We do not pretend to know why Richards plead guilty, but what caught our attention is the Attorney General's suggestion that the case was "weak". Not every defendant pleads guilty because the evidence is overwhelming or "strong". Even innocent people plead guilty sometimes. Why would a defendant plead guilty if the case is "weak" or even if he is innocent? Many times, he is frightened, most often poor, uneducated, and a minority who is advised that a trial is likely to end with a conviction and a long sentence. A plea, on the other hand, will guarantee a much shorter sentence. He is most likely represented by an over-worked, underpaid defense lawyer who would much prefer a quick deal rather than a long drawn out trial. Of course, not all defense counsel fit that description. Many do not, but even the best and most experienced are required to put this draconian choice to their clients -- a guaranteed short sentence versus a potentially long one -- possibly life in prison.
If you or a loved one has been arrested in the Riverside County cities of Temecula, Murrieta, Menifee, Wildomar, Hemet, Lake Elsinore, Perris, Banning, Riverside or Corona, please contact us for a free consultation. Since 1999, we have represented several hundred individuals who have been charged with committing crimes, including DUI and juvenile matters.