Plea deals are as common in the criminal justice system as Fabellinis are at a Milania Hair Care launch. “Ours for the most part is a system of pleas, not a system of trials,” Justice Anthony M. Kennedy said for the majority in Missouri v. Frye and Lafler v. Cooper. That observation by the U.S. Supreme Court was proven accurate on March 4, 2014 when RHONJ stars Teresa and Joe Giudice pled guilty to 9 charges despite the fact they faced a 41-count indictment alleging they engaged in mail and wire fraud, bank fraud, and bankruptcy fraud from 2001 to 2011. Court documents also claim that Joe failed to submit tax returns for 2004 through 2008.
With sentencing set for September 23, those in the legal community are left scratching their heads wondering how the Giudices worked their black magic to free themselves of 32 charges.
The criminal justice system uses sentence discounts to induce guilty pleas, but I bet Posche Boutique in Wayne, N.J. never offered markdowns of this caliber. I’ll borrow Jim Marchese’s pejorative words and submit that anyone with an IQ above 12 knows this arrangement isn’t kosher. If U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey Paul J. Fishman had evidence to support a 41-count indictment, why were Juicy Joe and the Fabulicious author permitted to plead guilty to a paltry 9 counts?
It is difficult—but not impossible—to speculate why prosecutors signed off on this merciful plea deal. Some argue the government overcharged the dynamic duo from Towaco, N.J., however criminal law is not Million Dollar Listing reincarnated. When sellers list their homes, it is customary for the asking price to be 10 to 15% above the desired sale price so that negotiations can take place. The same cannot be said of prosecutors, who ethically cannot overcharge a suspect in an effort to reach a prosecutor-negotiated plea bargain.
If a DA knowingly brings charges that are unsupported by the facts, he or she may be subject to discipline for failing to abide by ABA Model Rule 3.8 Special Responsibilities of a Prosecutor. Subsection (a) of that regulation states a prosecutor in a criminal case shall “refrain from prosecuting a charge that the prosecutor knows is not supported by probable cause.” As such, there has to be another reason why the government agreed to such a dud of a deal.
I will not name names because I have no interest in being on the receiving end of a libel suit, but I have a sneaking suspicion the Skinny Italian creator and her winemaking hubby served up bigger fish—the mouthwatering kind devoured at their lavish Christmas Eve parties—in exchange for a generous plea deal.
The Giudices refined their criminal acumen somewhere, so it is conceivable they threw others under the bus to avoid 50 years in the slammer. While it may be “gross” to live in somebody else’s house as Teresa so gracefully chimed in on season 1 of RHONJ, most criminals find nothing objectionable to saving their own neck by breaking someone else’s.
Attorney General (and later Supreme Court Justice) Robert H. Jackson once commented: “If the prosecutor is obliged to choose his cases, it follows he can choose his defendants.” Did prosecutors elect to reduce the charges against the Giudices in exchange for information that led to the arrest of other, more nefarious criminals? Remember, while the Fifth Amendment prohibits compelling a person to incriminate himself (or herself), bargaining for information is entirely constitutional.
Add 1 + 1 and you get two people who would do anything to avoid an extended prison sentence so they could be with their four young daughters. Further south on the New Jersey Turnpike, the government looked like they got clobbered with a 37” fireplace poker. That’s why there must have been additional motivations propelling prosecutors to accept this disproportionate deal.
What the Giudices pulled off here was nothing short of astonishing. The stars of Bravo flipped the roles of both prosecutor and defendant on their head. For decades, defense attorneys have barked that criminal prosecutors exploit plea deals and strong-arm defendants. Here, Teresa and Joe reversed the plea deal paradigm by walking away 32 counts lighter, which is a good thing considering they’ve got countless bottles of fine wine weighing down their opulent manse.
I am not too naive to believe that for every illegal action there is an equal and opposite “order” reaction. I have practiced law for nearly five-and-a-half years now, and I recognize justice is not necessarily a byproduct of the law as applied in every case. But when a cockeyed plea deal is negotiated, a rational person, regardless of their legal expertise, would question its terms. If the Giudices gave information that thwarted other criminal activity, this deal, as seen through a justice lens, becomes much more palatable.
Grab your gavel, use your commonsense, and join the conversation. You be the judge and tell me what you think about The Plea Deal That Wasn’t.
Please share your comments/questions with me in the comment section for a Q & A session. Thank you.