H. Michael Steinberg has over 32 years experience practicing Colorado criminal law. Mr. Steinberg strives to stay current with the ever changing aspects of criminal law issues and updates resulting in his extensive knowledge of successful criminal defense as well as appellate work. He is also an active member of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the Colorado Criminal Defense Bar Association, the Colorado Trial Lawyer's Association, and the Colorado and Arapahoe Bar Associations.
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The High Cost Of Mandatory Sentencing – The Innocent Plead Guilty In Sexual Assault Cases

A recent case involving the freeing of an innocent man – Brian Banks College Football Player – jailed for 5 years – once again supports the removal of the prosecutor’s “weapons” of mandatory sentencing laws – here in Colorado and around the county.

Banks was accused of rape by a teenaged girl – but rather than take his chances with a jury – even though he was innocent of the charge – he pleaded no contest to the childhood friend’s false accusation of rape in 2002.

The alleged “victim” later recanted the accusations.

In a recent post on my sex offense web site – I discuss the impact mandatory sentencing laws have had on the Colorado criminal justice system. What happens – every day in the courtrooms of Colorado and across the nation is this – innocent individuals – facing indeterminate life sentences under the Colorado Lifetime Supervision Act – take “deals” rather than taking their cases to trial.

For Mr. Banks – the Morton’s Fork decison was the same.

Banks, who was 17 at the time of his trial, pleaded no contest to the charges in order to avoid the possibility of facing 40 years to life in prison in a conviction. He spent six years in prison and was under very restrictive parole until his accuser was recorded saying she wasn’t raped and that she is afraid of coming forward because she might have to return the $1.5 million her family won from the Long Beach Unified School District in a civil suit.

“I received a Facebook friend request last year from the woman who accused me of raping her, where she wanted to reconnect and, in her words, ‘let bygones be bygones,'” said Banks.

After receiving this message, Banks hired a private investigator to set up and record their meeting, in which his accuser admitted to falsely accusing him. “From there I took that information to the California Innocence Project, who accepted my case. The rest is history, and here I am today, a free man,” said Banks.

H. Michael’s Take

More than ever – it has become apparent to me that the innocent – when faced with possible unconscionable outcomes such as life sentences based upon accusations of sexual assault or other violent crimes – plead guilty to avoid the risk of a run away jury. Their faith in the criminal justice system is so weak that they opt to take plea bargains ending any possibility of a normai life- in essence taking the lesser of two evils -the so called “Morton’s Fork” decision.

The criminal justice system must reverse the use of the mandatory sentence “weapon” by the State – to permit these cases to go to trial and have juries hear the facts and decide the truth. In the absence of a fair and just system – the Brian Banks of the world will only multiply as forensic analysis such as DNA and other methods of investigation uncover those who make false allegations of sexual assault, domestic violence and other similar crimes that bring mandatory sentences into play.