Pleading Not Guilty Even in the Face of Overwhelming Evidence, Holding the State to Its Burden of Proof, and the Fifth Amendment
By Ken K. Gourdin
Meagan Grunwald, who was at the wheel when her boyfriend, Jose Angel Garcia-Jauregui, traded gunfire with pursuing police from several Utah jurisdictions, killing one officer and wounding another before being shot to death himself by police, pleaded not guilty to a slew of felonies (along with two misdemeanors). If convicted, she could face up to life in prison (and would have faced the death penalty if she were not a juvenile). If on line commentary regarding the case at SLTrib.com is any indication, the weight of public opinion, notwithstanding her youth, is against Ms. Grunwald.
The question was raised, isn’t pleading not guilty in the face of seemingly-overwhelming evidence tantamount to perjury?
Not necessarily. It’s trite and cliched, but of course, “Innocent until proven guilty” is a bedrock principle upon which our justice system is built. A not guilty plea can mean one of several things: (1) “I did not commit the crime(s) with which I have been charged”; or (2) “The State lacks sufficient evidence to PROVE I committed the crime(s) with which I have been charged”; or (3) “Whatever my criminal culpability might be otherwise, there are extenuating circumstances in this case that mitigate my alleged involvement and/or any punishment I might otherwise be due.” Whatever anyone might think of the first two options, it seems, based on what the defense has been saying publicly, that it plans to employ the third option.
Besides, you’re forgetting the Fifth Amendment. No one can be compelled to be a witness against himself, no matter whether he committed the crimes with which he is charged or not. Saying that a not guilty plea is tantamount to perjury would violate this principle. (And for the record, I’m one of the most “pro-police, pro-prosecution” people you will ever run across.)
Another poster, while not calling her guilty plea perjury (or saying it was tantamount thereto), asked how she could possibly stand in front of a judge and plead not guilty. I replied:
Even the worst of us (or those of us who do the worst things) are entitled to hold the State to its burden of proof. I’m reminded of the exchange between Sir Thomas More and William Roper in “A Man For All Seasons.” Roper asks More if he’d give the Devil the benefit of law, and More says that he would. Roper, by contrast, says that he’d cut down all the laws in England to get to the Devil, whereupon More asks him where, after he did so, he would hide if he [himself] needed the benefit of law.