IV. How a Young Man’s Life was ‘Ruined’ by Unfair DV System

By David Feige

New York City resident Ron (not his real name) was arrested on charges of groping a girl he had never met. This is the story of his prosecution:

At the trial, the prosecution’s case against Ron unraveled completely and quickly. The complaining witness and the police contradicted each other. The description of the perpetrator was meager and inconsistent, and the flimsy evidence was rendered transparent nonsense in the crucible of [defense attorney] Ululy’s cross-examination. The only thing anyone seemed to agree on was that whoever had grabbed the girl had fled in the opposite direction from where Ron was arrested. Through it all [judge Diane] Kiesel tapped and twitched and scowled impatiently.

And after both sides rested and summations were delivered, she didn’t even hesitate. There was no real deliberation at all, just an instant, awful pronouncement: “Guilty.”

And then, with a sadistic scowl, she ordered Ron to jail and watching unflinchingly as the court officers fitted the cuffs around the terrified kid’s wrists and led him away. Ron had never been to jail before. Because a class B misdemeanor is the least-serious kind of criminal offense in the penal law, it is virtually unheard of for a first-time offender convicted of a B to be sentenced to jail. Kiesel, though, gave Ron as much jail time as she could manage. Then she imposed a term of probation to be served after his release.

And she still wasn’t done.

Despite the fact that the statute didn’t cover Ron’s offense, she bent the rules in order to have him branded as a sex offender.

Had a jury heard his case, Ron would have been acquitted in an hour. But by gaming the system, [prosecutor] Sarah Schall and the Bronx DA’s office had ensured he’d never have that benefit. Instead, his promising young life was ruined because [defense attorney] Ululy got stuck in front of the wrong judge.

Source: David Feige. Indefensible: One Lawyer’s Journey into the Inferno of American Justice. New York: Little, Brown, and Company. 2006. Excerpted from Chapter 10. Reprinted with permission.