Four of five Democratic activists charged with election-day sabotage took an eleventh-hour plea deal that convicted them of misdemeanors for slashing tires on GOP-rented vans on Election Day 2004. Despite doing over $5,000 worth of damage and perhaps keeping hundreds of voters from getting to the polls, the quartet will not have to serve any prison time in exchange for their guilty pleas (via The American Mind, who has a good roundup of reaction):
In an unexpected twist in the Election Day tire-slashing trial, four former Kerry-Edwards campaign staffers, including the sons of U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Milwaukee) and former Acting Mayor Marvin Pratt, have agreed to plead no contest to misdemeanors.
The plea agreements came in the middle of jury deliberations after an eight-day trial on felony property damage charges that carried potential 3 1/2 year prison terms upon conviction. The fifth defendant in the case was acquitted by the jury later in the afternoon.
Michael Pratt, 33, Sowande Omokunde, 26, Lewis G. Caldwell, 29, and Lavelle Mohammad, 36, have all pleaded no contest to misdemeanor counts of criminal damage to property. Omokunde is Moore’s son.
Prosecutors will recommend probation sentences as part of the deal, and that the four together pay $5,317 in restitution for the damaged tires.
In light of the acquittal of the fifth defendant, some might think that the prosecutor made the right decision in offering the plea. It puts the Democrats on record as admitting to electoral fraud; it guarantees that these four men will have a police record and will make it difficult for them to continue playing any significant role in politics, at least in the near term; and it closes a case with some kind of conviction, as opposed to the mistrial or outright acquittal towards which it appeared to be heading.
I agree that shifting down to a misdemeanor may well serve the overall interest of justice, but not a lack of jail time. Wisconsin, like Minnesota and a number of other states, have lax registration requirements and even less rigorous enforcement of the law and investigation into fraud. When something this blatant arises, it calls for strict prosecution and an example for others tempted to try it again. This was no mere act of youthful vandalism — it was a crime against people who could not get themselves to the polls to vote, by the party that claims to care for the helpless and disadvantaged. It also appears to have been a conspiracy of sorts, as it involved quite a few of the lower-level Democratic activists, two of whom have parents as elected representatives. That kind of betrayal should have resulted in more than just restitution and community service.
The judge does have the discretion to reject the terms of the deal, or to accept the pleas but still include some jail time. Let us hope that the judge in this case values the credibility of the electoral system more highly than the prosecutor, and certainly more highly than the well-connected defendants who will appear for final sentencing later.