We may be slow, we often say, but then again, too, we didn’t just fall off the turnip truck. So in respect of Judge Emmet Sullivan’s outrage over General Michael Flynn’s desire to withdraw his guilty plea, let us just say our eyes are dry. The judge has gone so far as to appoint an ex-judge to recommend whether to charge the general for lying when he pled guilty. As if such pleading guilty to a crime one didn’t commit is all that unusual.
The fact is that it’s by no means rare for persons to plead guilty to crimes they didn’t commit. Some are scared. Others confused. Some lack the intestinal fortitude or financial wherewithal to stand up against the warnings or threats from the prosecutors. What’s so unusual in the Flynn case is that the Democrats and liberals are siding against the poor schlepper caught in the prosecutorial vice.
It turns out that one serious liberal institution, the Innocence Project, maintains a whole Website devoted to persons who plead guilty to crimes they didn’t commit. It’s called GuiltyPleaProblem.com. The first click on it brings up a headline asking the question, “Why do innocent people plead guilty to crimes they didn’t commit?” The Website offers illuminating background to the problem.
Some 95% of felony convictions in America, the Website notes, are obtained through guilty pleas. Among persons known to be exonerated, it reports, a staggering 18% pleaded guilty to crimes they didn’t commit. It is a humbling statistic for those of us who cover the courts. The filing of a guilty plea by an innocent party occurs at a pace that leaves GuiltyPleaProblem.com saying: “there’s no telling how many are behind bars as a result.”
So where are the liberals now? Where’s the logic of Judge Sullivan getting up on his high horse over the idea that someone in his court might move to withdraw a guilty plea? The idea that General Flynn was uncomfortable with his own plea deal can’t be a surprise to the judge. It was already in the air when the judge erupted at the general at a now-infamous hearing in open court back in December 2018.
That’s the hearing at which the judge declared, “I’m not hiding my disgust, my disdain, for this criminal offense.” With the judge listing the general’s misdeeds, the Washington Post reported at the time, “was not how Flynn’s supporters or Trump thought Tuesday’s sentencing hearing would unfold.” They’d hoped Judge Sullivan would be the one “who would reveal overreach by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III and the FBI.”
At the time the Post noted, “Some Flynn allies even speculated the judge might toss out Flynn’s guilty plea and clear his name.” Instead, the judge balked. So imagine how humiliated Judge Sullivan must feel now. He failed, after all, to see, or unearth, the abuses by the FBI brass and the Special Counsel’s prosecutors. The Justice Department itself beat the judge to the story of the abuses by the Justice Department’s own officers.
That’s the context in which to view Judge Sullivan’s fury over the idea that an Army lieutenant general, who served in combat zones, might crumple in the face of a prosecutorial onslaught and plead to a felony he didn’t commit. Is it true, as General Flynn and various news stories suggested, that prosecutors threatened to pursue the general’s son? Why isn’t Judge Sullivan himself pressing that question? Off what turnip truck did the liberal editors fall?