Monday, August 21, 2006

Don't wait up for the shrimp boat

Because Darren Berghela is coming home with the crabs. Actually, he isn't comming home with anything, namely because he isn't comming home.

The 40-year-old Rotterdam man found himself with a new lease on a jail cell this weekend after attempting to pilfer four bags of shrimp from the Glenville Price Chopper. Town cops say he devised a somewhat elaborate scheme to make off with the frozen bags of prawns, each valued at roughly $14 a piece.

Right now, there are two things that are certain. First, that Berghela was trying to feed something, most likely a festering drug habit. And second, that there was a gross miscarriage of justice when a town judge sent the man to Schenectady County Jail on $30,000 bail.

In the most likely scenario, the 40-year-old man would need to cough up $3,000 to a bail bondsman in order to get out of the clink. That’s money flushed down the toilet of the state justice system even if he ends up beating the rap, thanks to an elected town justice that likely knows well the bondsman who will eventually put up Berghela’s bail.

Some will argue this is justice; if you break the law, you must be prepared to face the consequences, one of which is being lodged in an inhospitable place like the Schenectady County Jail. These same people will also note that the suspect here scuffled with the store’s security guard and ran off in a somewhat disorderly way, proving that he’s a flight risk. And others might argue jail is a good place for Mr. Berghela because he won’t be able to get drugs there.

Frankly, these are all flimsy reasons to take away a man’s freedom for what could inevitably be close to a year, once the legalists are done tinkering with the case. Not to mention, given the charges Berghela is facing –petit larceny and felonious third-degree robbery –he’s unlikely to face much more than a few months in jail even in the worst case of legal scenarios. So the carrot waved in this man’s face will be to accept any plea deal offered out of Schenectady County’s district attorney’s office.

See, the legal system is big business these days. For loaning Berghela bail, a bondsman stands to gain a cool three grand; his defense attorney will probably make at least that amount –either from Berghela or the taxpayers –for representing him in court. And if the man happens to rot in prison for a year, it’s going to cost at least $20,000 to keep him clothed, fed and warm during the winter. Doing the math, that’s a lot of cash to be spending for $56 worth of stolen shrimp.

Truth is, Berghela was over charged by police and in the absence of a real court, was ordered held on bail that is extraordinarily high given the circumstances of his case. But justice is a business in this state and a lot of people have their grubby little hands in the cookie jar. Rather than addressing this man’s overlying needs as a so-called drug addict, the justice system will shuffle him off into a dark corner of some penitentiary to fester for a spell.

Maybe when he finally sees the light of day, he’ll consider a crime with more gusto to make it worth everyone's time rather than absconding with frozen crustaceans. Perhaps buying a sawed-off shotgun and mugging people at gunpoint would worth such ludicrous bail.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

This country is going to hell in a hand basket. I can't wait for Eric Schlosser's new book on the prison system in America.

3:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great post.

5:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You know nothing about this topic your writting on...Thats my family maybe you shouldn't run your mouth in such a rude way like you do...Very Pathetic...Very pathetic

10:07 PM  
Blogger Horatio Alger said...

Ordinarily, I don't feel compelled to answer letters, especially if their as vague as this one. However, given the odd nature –and timing –of the post, I’ll tender a response. First assumption I’ll make is that you speak of Mr. Berghela when you talk of being a family member. Second, I’ll take for granted that there is a hell of a lot more to the story than the press let out. And third, I’ll take a stab and say you’re probably rankled about the “drug habit” comment.

With this said, this post is more about how bail set in many towns across the state doesn’t add up to the crime a person is charged with. This is not about Darren Berghela, per se, as much as it is about the sordid state of affairs in the state court system. Unless this man had a substantial record of doing this type of thing or was pegged in some other case with more serious gravity, his bail was excessive in a serious way and in any book. Frankly, there is no greater punishment out there than to be held in prison without being convicted of a crime.

Yet in today’s go-go justice system, high bail is often used as a tool by authorities to illicit a confession from a person without hearing the particulars of his crime at trial so that a JURY OF HIS PEERS can decide if he’s guilty of a crime. In this case it’s of ROBBERY for stealing three bags of shrimp from the local five and dime, a crime that doesn’t warrant a day in jail.

So, in closing, if there’s something you’d like to discuss about the case, please feel free to chime in because frankly I’m baffled by your post. If there are things you don’t feel like having posted on this sight, simply say so in your reply and I won’t include them on the blog. Otherwise, there’s nothing I can do but placidly disagree with your vague comments.


6:15 AM  

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