I was reading an article on NPR this past week, and I began to sense a large similarity to the story being covered and the world I am immersed in every day - the criminal justice system.
The article covered a recent story about the SEC asking a federal judge to hold Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, in contempt of violating a court settlement. The settlement was the result of Musk publicly floating the idea of taking Tesla private and then later retracting the statement. The SEC sued Musk claiming that he had misled investors on Twitter.
Musk ended up settling with the SEC. The settlement included the stripping of Musk's title of board chairman and his payment of a $20 million fine. The settlement also included Musk agreeing to asking for approval before tweeting messages about Tesla.
This is where the SEC claims that Musk violated the settlement. He tweeted on February 19, 2019, that, “Tesla made 0 cars in 2011, but will make around 500k in 2019." Musk later tweeted, “"Meant to say annualized production rate at end of 2019 probably around 500k, ie 10k cars/week. Deliveries for year still estimated to be about 400k."
In its court filing, the SEC argued that Musk failed to have the first tweet checked. Here, Musk settled with the SEC because he felt it was the right thing to do.
As a Georgia Criminal Defense Lawyer, I will explain why this story sparked some interest for me. This is analogous to the criminal justice system. This is similar as to when a person agrees to plead guilty to a charge. An individual ends up taking a plea bargain because it seems like the right thing to do. A plea bargain is an arrangement between prosecutor and defendant whereby the defendant pleads guilty to a lesser charge in exchange for a more lenient sentence or an agreement to drop other charges.
Prosecutors can make it seem like a plea bargain will make the situation just “go away.” People will end up taking a plea bargain even if they are not truly guilty. Less than 10% of criminal cases go to trial - meaning that 90% of defendants plead guilty rather than go to trial.
Most people take a plea bargain because they feel threatened with the possible consequences of a conviction. Plea bargains typically result in a sentence to probation. Now, a probation officer can just decide based on their subjective observations and experiences whether or not a person on probation is in compliance.
This results with another trip back to court to have an individual's probation revoked. This time, however, the violation of probation accusation will not be held to the same standard as any other criminal charge. To be found guilty of most criminal charges - the state must find you guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. However, the lowest civil standard of proof is used in probation violation cases. The standard of proof on a violation of probation in Georgia is a preponderance of the evidence standard. This standard is akin to 51/49. It more likely than not in a violation of probation case, that you will be found guilty of violating.
As a result, an individual is now under the thumb of an executive branch actor who can at any time say you are violating your probation, throw you in jail, and then ultimately revoke your probation. This is why a person should never plead guilty to something they did not do.
This is where a Georgia Criminal Defense Attorney steps in. If you or a loved one has been arrested, contact us today. You do not have to take a plea bargain in Georgia. The time to get representation is now - we have over 50 years of combined experience. I reiterate all the time that a charge is not the same as a conviction. An arrest does not mean that you are guilty.
Call us now.