Oover at Lowering The Bar today, Kevin Underhill has a story about a man who was recently acquitted of misdemeanor intent to defraud. The underlying facts of the case was that the man had ordered a meal, received a dish that bore little or no resemblance to what he had ordered, and refused to pay the $46 dollar tab after management refused to rectify the problem. Interestingly, he attempted to have the local BBB mediate the bill with the restaurant.
Ralph Paul, a retired USAF lieutenant colonel, was subsequently arrested by the local sheriff's department. Now, he could have plead out the case. He was facing up to 60 days in jail. If he had no prior record, he most likely would have been ordered to pay restitution, and been placed on probation.
However, if he had done that, he would have had a crime on his record. Not only that, it would be a crime of fraud. In California, and many other states, that would be something that would haunt him since it show moral turpitude. Not only would it be something he would have to reveal in a variety of situations, Mr. Paul said that he could just not look at himself in the mirror if he just plead guilty.
So instead, Mr. Paul went out and found the best criminal defense attorney he could. After spending a few thousand dollars (since the trial and deliberation lasted a full day, plus prep time, all at the cost of $500 per hour), the jury returned a verdict of not guilty.
Now, many people have reacted to this case stating that Paul was wrong, that it was a waste of time allowing this case to go through a full jury trial. Which leads me to ask: What are people thinking?
The courts, although they need money to operate, should not be judged by how much it costs. The simple fact was this: Mr. Paul's liberty was threatened. It should not matter that the basis of the charge was $46 or $46 million. His liberty, and how courts, future employers, lenders and others, would view him, were at stake.
Frankly, more people should take their cases to trial if they feel that they are in the right. Giving up, taking the easy way out and accepting a plea when they have an actual case inevitably lands them in more trouble.
Congratulations Mr. Paul, Rumpole would have been proud of you.