Moussaoui attempts to plead guilty but is not allowed. Judge wants media frenzy?

I recently read that Moussaoui (the only person who has been charged with conspiracy in the September 11th plans), while defending himself, at the proper place and time, attempted to plead guilty to charges that he was a conspiritor in the September 11th attacks but was discouraged from doing so by the judge. Moussaoui could have done this as an attempt to save his own life by setting up a bargen with the feds, as these charges carry the possibility of death.
The judge instead ignored Moussaoui’s wish to plead guilty and gave him a week to think about his position and possibilities after attempting to put a “not guilty” plea in against Moussaoui’s wishes.

Could the judge want a media frenzy over a highly powerful case to either raise her own pollitical position (much fame could be gained from such a highly publisized case, the O.J. Simpson case is one such example of a major case made the judge a recognized figure, even being impersonated on SNL and other comedy shows) by using the public’s wish to get revenge for the events of september 11th?

no, the judge has to make sure (ESPECIALLY with a pro se defendant) that the guilty plea was willing and voluntary, made of sound mind and that the defendant fully considered the ramifications of his decision to plead guilty. Otherwise the case could be reversed on appeal. The judge did the right thing.

Also, you make a pleabargain before you plead guilty, not afterwards :slight_smile:

Uh, I think it’s more likely the fact that Moussaoui, who is not a native English speaker and appears to have little understanding of American jurisprudence, is acting as his own attorney and is facing very serious charges. The judge probably wants to make sure that Moussaoui absolutely understands what he is doing by pleading guilty, because I suspect that the DoJ may very well attempt to get a sentence of death even with a guilty plea.

He was asked several times if he understood the charges and the possibility of the death penalty. He said he understood totally. He’s been in jail for quite some time now, try to tell me he doesn’t understand why he’s there or what his options are.

Kalt and pldennison are both right.

Also, I doubt that Moussaoui will be able to get through a guilty plea without the trial judge having to reject it. Speeches and disagreement by Moussaoui will mean that the judge will have to try the case.

OK. He doesn’t understand what his options are. Or, it’s at least possible he doesn’t. This is a guy who earlier tried to plead “no contest” because he thought it was the same thing as “not guilty.”

Today he said he wanted to plead guilty, that he had information the government could use, and he would see what happened in the penalty phase. That could fairly be interpreted to mean he wanted to plea bargain. But if Judge Brinkema accepted his guilty plea there would be no plea bargain. She’s just being careful to treat him fairly.

If he wants to plead guilty he’ll have the opportunity to do so in a week.

clayton_e could you provide a link? I think that you might be confusing this with, as Zoff noted, his attempt to enter a “no contest” plea. That also happened very recently, and it is unlikely that the judge revisited the issue in the short period of time since then.

“No contest” is effectively a guilty plea, but Moussaoui apparently didn’t understand that (the judge questioned him closely on the issue)

BTW, this

is incorrect. If you plead guilty without a plea bargain, you can get sentenced to death. The way you avoid the death penalty is to make a plea bargain with the prosecutors before you enter the plea of guilty.


Ignore my last post. I didn’t read Zoff’s post in full. Bad Sua.
Zoff is dead on. If Moussai pleads guilty before he makes a plea bargain, he is SooL.


In this instance, the Judge has an obligation to look out for the defendant’s rights, even if the defendant himself is determined to ignore them, and to act in the interests of justice, even if that’s contrary to the wishes of the defendant AND onlookers.

And, apparently, the Judge is doing her job.

I am not very happy to find that a judge could take my own decision on how I wanted to plead and attempt to reverse it. He mentioned that he was a member of OBL’s terrorists and that he wanted to plead guilty. It’s not like he could say those two things while really meaning “not guilty”. And it was through yahoo news.

ZM tried to plead guilty, but explained that he didn’t do anything in the charges. He has a very misguided idea of what the guilt and penalty phases of trial are, and clearly wasn’t making much sense. I heard the transcript read on NPR.

In one sentence he pleaded guilty to the crimes he’s charged with, in the next he denied doing anything in the charges and said he’d prove it in the penalty phase of the trial. This guy is a legal accident waiting to happen, and the judge knows that he’s changed his mind in the past about legal proceedings. I think the judge was showing great wisdom in giving him a week to think about this and hopefully be educated as to his options.

Uh, trust me, he doesn’t. Read this and this and decide for yourself whether he understands.

If he doesn’t understand, why are they letting him act in his own defense?


It sounds like he’s trying to switch pleas at the drop of a hat.

There was something in today’s paper about the judge rethinking his competency to stand trial (or act pro se, I was in a hurry when I read it) and requesting psychiatric evaluation. Apparently he alternates betwwen lucidity and bizzare paranoia.

I am not very happy to find that a judge could take my own decision on how I wanted to plead and attempt to reverse it.[/qutoe]

She’s not attempting to reverse it. She told him to think about it for a week – after he mocked her in open court, by the way, which is not really relevant except to point out she has shown extraordinary restraint in this case. If he is determined to plead guilty, the judge will not be able to stop him. Certainly it is highly unusual to refuse a plea and tell the suspect to take some time to think it over, but that certainly seems like a reasonable directive under the circumstances.

The key thing to understand here is that a guilty plea is a bargaining chip that a suspect can use to negotiate with. The government does not want the expense of trial, and will very often be amenable to taking the death penalty off the table if the suspect will agree to plead guilty (thereby avoiding trial) and take life in prison. By simply pleading guilty without even trying to engage in that bargaining, Mossaoui is clearly indicating he doesn’t understand how the system works – or how valuable a guilty plea can be in terms of saving his own life. Truthfully, the first thing I thought when I heard he attempted to plead guilty without bargaining was that he intended to martyr himself via the death penalty. But in reality it appears like he doesn’t understand things: He said he wanted to plead guilty to save his life, but “saving your life” is what you do in the bargaining you do before you plead.

Because if you’re competent you have the absolute right to defend yourself. Nobody can make you have a lawyer. In this case, the judge directed his court-appointed counsel – whom he has fired – to remain available to answer questions for him and step back in if he requests it, but he will not confer with them or allow them to assist him. Under those circumstances, if you insist on making a bone-headed no-bargain plea, the only thing the judge can do is send you away for a week to give it some more thought. And that’s what she did.

Moussaoui clearly expressed that he wants a full trial. Pleading ‘guilty’ or ‘no contest’ in effect means the criminal trial of is over and it is just a matter of sentencing. This is deninitely a question of not understanding the law and not acting in his interest, unless he craves martyrdom.

Moussaoui clearly expressed that he wants a full trial. Pleading ‘guilty’ or ‘no contest’ in effect means the criminal trial is over and it is just a matter of sentencing. This is deninitely a question of not understanding the law and not acting in his interest, unless he craves martyrdom.

SDMB lawyers: Are you familiar with any cases where the defendant is

a) as out to lunch as Moussaoui appears to be


b) is nonetheless determined to be sufficiently sane to stand trial?

If so, how are these situations suppose to be handled?

IANAL but you should take a look at Coin Ferguson’s trial and see what happened there.

flowbark, Charles Manson represented himself at his trial, and much like this situation, had attorneys on hand to assist him if necessary.
Long Island Railroad killer Colin Ferguson also represented himself, with lawyers in the courtroom for backup. That guy was as nutty as a fruitcake. Ted Bundy, too. It seems to be a popular strategy among serial killers and mass murderers, probably partly because of the same ego considerations that lead them to commit their crimes in the first place.

There’s a good article about the self-representation conundrum here.