Doug Sunseri: To Plea or Not to Plea - That Was the Question
Two years ago, former mayor Ray Nagin had the opportunity to plea to a lesser charge for his corruption charges arising while serving as Mayor of New Orleans. As a general principle, the United States criminal justice system will show mercy on a criminal defendant who acknowledges his wrongdoing by allowing such criminal defendant to plead to a lesser charge. The reduced charge and the corresponding sentence for a plea would be less than the charge to be asserted at a trial.
The criminal justice system has pragmatic considerations in attempting to process criminal defendants with a plea as opposed to a trial. In the Nagin case, the government understood that a trial would cost millions of dollars in taxpayer money. A plea to a lesser crime would preclude another circus atmosphere at 500 Camp Street, home of the federal court where so many Louisiana politicians have been paraded for corruption and racketeering. Also, it would foreclose the humiliation of a U.S. Attorney in losing a high-profile case against the highest government official in the City of New Orleans. Therefore, mercy and altruism isn’t the only consideration for offering a plea to a criminal defendant.
In deciding whether to plea 2 years ago, Ray Nagin was inflicted with Edwin Edwards Entitlement Syndrome (“EEES”). This is a false belief that a politician’s power of persuasion can fool a jury into exonerating a politician caught red-handed in illegally profiting in political office. In knowing Nagin’s attorney, Robert Jenkins, I am sure he implored Nagin to strongly consider the plea deal of a 3-5 year sentence. However, EEES had overtaken former Mayor Nagin. This syndrome is a lawyer’s worst nightmare whereby his client believes in his imaginary powers of persuasion in beating the rap.
Well, Ray Nagin received a sentence of 10 years from a very merciful Judge Ginger Berrigan. If former Mayor Nagin’s judge was 2 doors down, he would be looking at a sentence of 20 years. He will spend an extra 5-7 years confined to the penitentiary because of his unfortunate contraction of EEES. Denial (“Da Nile” as stated in NOLA) is not simply a river in Egypt. It can cost you 7 years if you’re Ray Nagin.
J. DOUGLAS SUNSERI
Nicaud & Sunseri, LLC
Attorneys At Law