Ross Mirkarimi Plea Crisis Is 'Political Posturing,' Expert Says

Categories: Crime, Politics
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Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi
San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón roiled the calming waters in the domestic-violence case against Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi yesterday, telling the editorial board of the San Francisco Chronicle he has doubts about proceeding with a plea bargain struck earlier this week because Mirkarimi has made public comments seeming to proclaim his innocence.

"If the defendant in this case believes he is not guilty, then we should go to trial and let a jury decide," Gascón said, adding, "Either he was lying to the court when he said that he was guilty or he's lying now. There's really no two ways to look at it."

Mirkarimi suggested to Chronicle columnists that he only pleaded guilty to stanch the costs of his legal defense and end public scrutiny of his family life. The San Francisco Bay Guardian, a local leftist newsweekly that has defended Mirkarimi as the case has progressed, stated in an editorial this week after the deal was struck that Mirkarimi "maintains his innocence."

The DA's office declined to comment this morning on what remedy it will seek from a judge at Mirkarimi's sentencing, scheduled for Monday, March 19. This past Monday, March 12, Mirkarimi entered a guilty plea to a single misdemeanor charge of false imprisonment. In exchange, prosecutors dropped three misdemeanor counts of domestic violence, child endangerment, and dissuading a witness, which stemmed from an incident in which the sheriff allegedly bruised his wife during a fight.

Prosecutors and judges are not supposed to knowingly accept a guilty plea from a defendant convinced of his innocence. Yet Rory Little, a professor of criminal law at UC Hastings College of the Law, said it's unlikely that Mirkarimi's deal will unravel at this point based solely on comments he has made outside of court.

"This just sounds like political posturing on all sides," Little said. "This is common, for defendants to plead guilty, resolve their case, and then run around and try to spin it." However, "just spin doesn't usually constitute just cause" for annulling a plea agreement that has been accepted by the court.

Little said that while there's no legal or ethical problem for the prosecution in proceeding with the plea bargain, some might view the cynical perspective on the criminal justice system Mirkarimi is advertising as unbecoming in a top law-enforcement official. In saying he is innocent while pleading guilty, for instance, Mirkarimi can be seen as tacitly acknowledging that he will preside over the incarceration of many other innocent convicts in the county jail.

If Mirkarimi "wants to run around saying, 'I didn't mean it,'" Little said, "that to me raises an ethical issue for the defendant."

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