Justice deferred is justice denied to crime victims

Prosecutors and politicians talk a good game when it comes to promoting public safety and advocating for crime victims, but when they make laws allowing deferred adjudication of crimes and capriciously invoke them for only certain individuals, their talk amounts to hot breath with the stench of hypocrisy.

This form of jurisprudence garbage came to the surface this week in Ontonagon District Court, when a Village Council trustee was sentenced to a day in jail, fines and court costs and probation for… well, we don’t know exactly, except it was a charge of domestic violence with a deferral twist.

After committing some kind of act of domestic violence at some point in recent months, getting arrested and charged some time after that, and making some kind of plea in court on some day recently, with the consent of County Prosecutor Michael Findlay, Judge Janis M. Burgess deferred the case of the State of Michigan v. Elmer Marks Jr.

If Marks makes it through a probationary period without committing another act of domestic violence, the case is forever expunged from his record.

In the end the charge goes away, as if he was aquitted at trial. A deferred judgment in Michigan allows offenders, who actually plead either “guilty” or “no contest” in a court of law, to avoid a felony, domestic violence or drug conviction. A deferred judgment is a way for a criminal to preserve an unblemished criminal record. It is also an extra-constitutional right for accused individuals.

It was also interesting, maybe even in a suspicous way, how the staff at the Ontonagon District Court seemed so informed and responsive to the verdict and knew immediately how this archaic law makes public records secret. When a Daily Mining Gazette reporter asked to see the court case documents minutes after the hearing, the reporter was told: “Those public records do not exist.”

When the reporter asked why, the response was: “Those public records do not exist.”

You know what? The public records do not exist. That’s the cherry on top of this travesty of justice: All records of the proceedings on the crime which never happened are magically made “nonpublic,” meaning the actions in the taxpayer-funded court, staffed by taxpayer-funded judges, attorneys and court staff, are all classified — forever.

It’s like it never happened.

Deferred judgments for domestic violence offenders amount to one free shot at the spouse, and from what has been learned about the downward spiral of domestic violence since 1978, when this law was enacted, not only is it denying justice for victims, it promotes opportunity for the next more severe attack.

How many victims have experienced an extra beating and more injury, possibly even death, as the result of a deferred judgment?

Justice deferred is justice denied to crime victims.

A Daily Mining Gazette editorial