Sometimes I am simply unable to explain the law to my clients. It’s not simply that the law is counterintuitive. It is that the law simply makes no logical sense whatsoever, and is even unfair.
Consider the case of Jason Zullo, a client of mine. He’s a former East Haven cop. He together with three other officers were indicted by federal prosecutors for violating the civil rights of Hispanic residents by engaging in unlawful stops, illegal seizures and the application of unreasonable force.
Zullo pleaded not guilty to those charges, and was determined to go to trial. Then the feds indicted him again, for engaging in the chase of a motorcycle operator, and colliding with the motorcycle. The operator and his passenger were injured. The operator told responding officers he lost control of his bike during the chase. By the time the feds got to him, he claims Zullo rammed him repeatedly, trying to kill him.
It was a ridiculous claim by a man with more criminal convictions than ribs. The man, a former client of mine, apparently once tried to sneak his way into see Steven Hayes, one of the Cheshire murder defendants, by claiming he was an investigator of mine. I was stunned when this was reported to me. He never worked for me.
In the end, Zullo, hoping to avoid lengthy litigation and spend only a brief period of time behind bars before his children got old enough to miss him, pled guilty to a single count of obstruction of justice by filing a false police report. He confessed that he did not include the collision of his car and the motorcycle so as to avoid any potential investigation of a civil rights violation.
The driver of the motorcycle is, as is Zullo, Italian-American.
That’s all he pleaded guilty to.
That didn’t stop the government at sentencing from introducing statements from Hispanics who claimed he violated their civil rights as an East Haven cop. We objected, of course. He never pleaded guilty to those acts. They weren’t victims of the crime to which he confessed. Relevance, anyone?
The sentencing judge adjourned the sentencing hearings for almost a year. Two of Zullo’s co-defendants went to trial during that time and were convicted of conspiring to violate the rights of illegal immigrants in East Haven. They face long prison terms.
Zullo’s sentencing hearings resumed after the trial ended. Just last week, the judge listened as the government condemned Zullo for the verdict to which he was not a party. The judge bought it, hook, line and sinker, and then slammed Zullo, treating him as a racist criminal although he never plead guilty to race-based charges, and entered a plea long before trial to avoid the risk of a conviction.
When Zullo read a statement to the court expressing sorrow, he told the court that, as an officer, he was taught to keep secrets. The judge and the government pretended to be shocked that lawmen lie to protect one another. It was a ridiculous spectacle. And when Zullo refused to confess to being a bigot, the government, and the court, acted as though it were offended.
His plea was forgotten. Politics took over. Zullo was going to be sacrificed on an altar of political correctness.
Although federal sentencing guidelines called for a sentence of 10 to 16 months, the judge decided that wasn’t enough time. He sentenced Zullo to two years in prison, telling him he needed to be punished for the harm he caused all his victims.
The judge told Zullo the sentence was intended to foster respect for the law. It had the opposite effect, yielding in his family a sense of betrayal. In what reptilian universe are men punished for crimes to which they did not confess, and of which they weren’t found guilty?
Dickens had it right. The law is an ass.