Why allow plea if it won't be accepted?

Moussaoui wants to plead guilty, tried to plead guilty, the judge did not accept it, gave him a week to reconsider. Doesn’t want him to commit suicide in her courtroom.

The reason may be judicial (if he wants to plead guilty, he’s incompetent to represent himself, which may void the trial) or political (will make a mockery of U.S. system, rest of world will look down on us, etc.). If there’s a FACTUAL answer to the reason, I’d like to know it.

But my main question is, if the judge won’t accept any plea but not guilty, why bother having the defendant enter a plea? Is it just this judge or just this case? Asking for a plea and then rejecting it strikes me as incredibly stupid. How cum dey do dat?

The whole point of the proceeding is to give Moussaoui as fair a trial as he will let them give him. The guy is very obviously confused. I heard it summarized thusly:

He believes there is a specific sequence of events in a trial; the pre-trial where he presents his plea, the trial itself and the sentencing. Somehow he doesn’t realize that you don’t go through the trial part of the procedure if you plea guilty to begin with. He said something that to me sounds like, I want to plea guilty and move on to the trial so I can present my mitigating circumstances so I won’t be executed. What he needs is to set up a plea agreement with the prosecution. It’s too bad for him that he won’t accept a lawyer or he might got off not too badly considering what his associates have done (i.e. won’t be executed.)

Now, it’s on the judge at this point to make sure he’s aware of what he’s asking for. If he comes back in a week and wants to plead gulity again, she’ll accept it. If she’s a liberal she won’t give him a death sentence though because it’s not a “fair” trial by the spirit of the law. If she’s a conservative, “fair” means following all the rules in which case he’s a gonner unless he can prove on appeal that he is mentally incapable of defending himself. If he can do that, the whole thing will start over, but he’ll have a court appointed lawyer who can talk some sense.

A plea must be entered at the arraignment. If you plead guilty, then there will be no trial. If you plead not guilty, there will be a trial.

Moussaoui is saying that he did not do all the things he is acoused of in the indictment, but he wants to plead guilty and then try some of the issues.

You can’t have it both ways. If you plead guilty, then you are admitting to everything in the indictment, and there is no further reason for discussion. If you want to dispute some of the charges in the indictment, then you must plead not guilty. Moussaoui is clearly confused.

If he wants to plea bargain, he should do it before pleading. The prosecution will then change the charges he is pleading guilty to.

Thanks, folks. I wish the article I read had explained that.

A link to the current GD thread on this topic. It’s pretty good (although the responses here are too).

Although Moussaoui’s actions seem unusual, one possible explanation is that he truly doesn’t understand the legal process, having been brought up in the civil law system. acsenray has given us an admirably concise summary of the criminal procedure in common law jurisdications, such as the U.S. The key point, however, is that is not how a criminal trial occurs in civil law jurisdictions.

Moussaoui is described in the media as a “French national of Moroccan descent.” France is a civil law jurisdiction, and I would think that Morocco, a former French colony, would use a mixture of Islamic and civil law concepts. If that is the system that Moussaoui grew up in and is familiar with, his attempt to enter a guilty plea and then have a trial actually makes some sense.

I don’t have an on-line link, but the following extracts from The Civil Law Tradition by John H. Merryman help to explain the differences between the trial processes used in the common law and civil law systems:

Based on these extracts, I can think of at least three explanations for Moussaoui’s attempts to enter a guilty plea and then try to discuss the case with the judge.

  1. If he’s operating under civil law assumptions, he may think that he is in front an examining judge (juge d’instruction), in the second phase of the criminal process. After all, this is the first judge he has appeared in front of (other than the magistrate who handled bail), so he may not realise that the trial has started. He may think that this judge is the one who takes down information to prepare the record for the eventual trial.

  2. He may honestly be trying to plea bargain, with the official who in his understanding has the authority to do so: the judge. The excerpt from Merryman indicates that the prosecutors in a civil system have very little discretion - it is the court who decides all aspects of sentence. If so, trying to explain his actions to the judge, and refusing to talk to the prosecutor, may well make sense. Why talk to someone who, in his understanding, doesn’t have the authority to deal with sentence?

  3. A guilty plea does not terminate the trial in the civil systems. It is a factor that the court will take into account in assessing liability and sentence, but there will still be a trial. If that is Moussaoui’s understanding, then he may be completely unaware that by entering a guilty plea he is foreclosing a trial.

All of which illustrates that the judge in this case is quite correct to take every care that Moussaoui understands the significance of what he is doing. It also highlights the need for Moussaoui to have counsel, including counsel familiar with the civil law system, to ensure he truly understands the trial process. According to the news reports, he’s asking for muslim counsel. If I were the judge, I would try to get a French muslim lawyer in pronto to talk to him, and to act as liason with the court-appointed U.S. lawyers.

I admit I may not have all the facts, but his plea IS his plea. Presuming he’s had been explained he has the right to legal council, then the facts of the process have been explained to him. And, if he’s rejected council and is representing himself, then so be it. Surely, he’s had due process to bring him to this point. If he pleads guilty, then regardless of what else he wants, that IS the plea he has entered on the record.

Why is this judge so reluctant to accept his plea? Maybe, I WAG, Al-Quaita (sp?) not only knows the weaknesses of our national security, but the loop-holes of our fine US Court system, too, eh?
Crazy like a fox, maybe they know how to play the US like a fiddle!

  • Jinx

This was not mean to be a new thread, but a reply to an existing thread regarding the judge rejecting a plea (re: 9/11 events)
Moderator - please move to the correct thread, if at all possible?
Thanks, and sorry for the mistake!!! - Jinx

I merged the two threads. I hope that doesn’t mess things up too much.

Oh, no. That’s exactly the problem, this guy doesn’t know what he’s doing, and she’s trying to prevent him from cutting his head off. If the guy pleads guilty, no trial, just punishment, which could mean the death penalty. So she’s between a rock and a hard place; he’s obviously a nutjob, but she doesn’t quite want to come out and say he’s incompetent to stand trial. But if she doesn’t, she has to accept an erratic layman’s guilty plea, which he’s entering without a plea bargain of any kind, to numerous federal charges when he may only have the bare legal minimum understanding of the proceedings around him. Unless she decides he’s incompetent, all she can do to stop him from putting his own neck in the noose is give him a week.

In any serious felony case with a heavy sentence, the Judge is not going to accept a sudden plea of guilty without a cooling off period, particularly when it appears to be without the advice of counsel.

I suspect, however, that Moussaoui is gaming the system. He may know that only a jury can sentence him to death (due to recent US Supreme Court decision), and hopes that by pleading guilty that he can end run a jury trial. Fat chance. They will empanel one just for the penalty if they have to.

The requirement for the acceptance of a guilty plea is a knowing, voluntary, and intelligent waiver of the right to trial. What a judge must do in every case before accepting a guilty plea is engage in a colloquy with the accused, running down each right he is waiving to ensure he understands it.

When, for example, a judge asks, “Now, by pleading guilty, you understand you’d be giving up the right to a trial?” and the accused says that he does understand, but then says the subsequent trial will give him the opportunity to prove his claims… the judge is quite justified in concluding he didn’t actually understand.

If the judge accepted the plea under such circumstances, the accused could later seek to withdraw his plea, on the grounds that it was not knowingly, voluntarily, and intelligently waived.

BTW – Northern Piper - excellent commentary on civil law jurisdictions! My wife was a lawyer in the Dominican Republic, with a French civil law system; cases like this always give us a great deal to talk about as we analyze how it would be handled there as opposed to the U.S. system.

  • Rick

Bricker, why, thank you. I’ve always found the civil law/common law comparisons fascinating to deal with. (I’ve got an old civil law degree in my closet that I like to take out, dust off, and try to use now and again, even in my common law province. :eek: )

My praises too, Northeren Piper. I breezed past your post too quickly until Bricker caled attention to it; after a more careful reading, that was pretty damn insightful. I’m afraid I have to quote you now.