UPDATE: Please click HERE for the newest version of this story, including why others are wrong.
A practicing attorney for more years than Jon Jones has been a fighter, Mike Coughlin takes another look at the upcoming situation involving Jon Jones guilty plea.
First off, read our initial article on Jon Jones guilty plea which can be found HERE. It’s a good primer. While that article also focused on his immediate return to the UFC (you know it will happen) I wanted to give a run-down on the likely reasons for Jones’s pleading guilty, why it will have happened and so on. Keep in mind, this hasn’t happened yet but it will. I know it will because everyone is talking about it already. His lawyers, the DA, and so on would not be this public about a plea hearing unless everyone involved was confident a deal had been reached. The DA in particular would be embarrassed beyond belief and Jones’s lawyers wouldn’t announce a plea deal had been reached unless they were insane. This isn’t TV; people don’t announce deals that haven’t happened and hope it forces the other side’s hand.
A Jon Jones Guilty Plea doesn’t mean he IS guilty
We live in a world where people plead guilty all the time. While the numbers fluctuate based on state, county, and even by prosecuting attorney, most people plead guilty. This is done for one very simple, very understandable fact: fear. As people, we are programmed to avoid the unknown. (This is why your kid doesn’t like sleeping in the dark.) Lawyers, maybe more than any profession, really don’t like the unknown.
There’s a saying, which every lawyer has heard at one time or another (and most of you probably have too because of TV shows), that you never ask a question you don’t know the answer to. Because lawyers don’t like not knowing, a plea deal eliminates the not knowing.
Once your client has been charged, there are two outcomes: you plead guilty or you go to trial (where maybe you’re found not-guilty). And no matter what the crime, no matter how strong the evidence, a plea deal is always on the table. You can be Osama bin Laden and you still might receive a plea deal. It isn’t always are you innocent or guilty but how guilty will you be. Some men face the possibility of a death sentence and so they plead guilty to life in prison. Some face 20 years in jail so they plead guilty to something that only gives them 5 years in jail.
And again, people will do this even if they’re innocent. It sounds stupid, because if you know – truly know – you didn’t do it, then in theory you should also know that the other side can’t prove you did it. But perception is reality in a courtroom. And maybe the reality is that Jon Jones was driving in a perfectly legitimate manner, was somehow hit at an odd angle by the other drivers, and one of them threw money and drugs inside his car while screaming, “YOU’RE BEING SET UP NOW, IDIOT! HAHA!” But our own experiences in life tell us that’s unlikely and so Jones – who may be 100% innocent – has to face the reality that he might be convicted. Conviction sucks.
Yes, we like to think we live in a world where no innocent person goes to jail. And the system is set up to prevent that (in theory). The threshold for a conviction is quite high. “Beyond a reasonable doubt” is no joke. That’s tough to prove. But:
- It’s still a system run by and adjudicated by human beings and we all make mistakes.
- There’s an inherent bias and desire amongst people to believe that a guy charged must be guilty.
We can be told all day “innocent until proven guilty” but we want to believe cops don’t make mistakes. We want to believe prosecutors and judges wouldn’t let an innocent man ever go to trial. If you think that a cop might arrest you, and you might get charged with a crime you never committed, then you can’t trust the cops, which means you’ll never feel safe. (Or: you live in a poor area and learned this lesson a long time ago.)
People plead guilty because 99% of the time pleading guilty carries with it a lesser penalty than being found guilty after a trial and it allows the defendant some modicum of control over their own fate. Better the devil you know.
The state WANTS to see “Jon Jones Guilty” as a headline
On the flip side is the prosecutor. They may have all the evidence in the world and know they’ll get the big conviction. But, to beat a dead horse (a crime Jones has yet to commit)(yet): they’re risk averse. So long as the plea deal is somewhere in the range of acceptable, they want to offer it. Trials are expensive and risky. Yes, most result in convictions but OJ Simpson was found not guilty despite having actual blood from the victims everywhere. If OJ can be found not guilty, anyone can. And the odds of a conviction lower when the accused is 1. rich; 2. famous.
The rich part matters because it means the playing field is level for once. The State has all the money in the world to try for a conviction. I read once that they spent TWELVE MILLION DOLLARS trying to convict OJ Simpson. If you’re not OJ – if you’re John Jones guilty of DUI dude who works at 7/11 – you don’t have the financial resources to match that. You can’t hire great experts. Hell, most people can barely hire a half-way competent attorney to start with, let alone one with resources he can burn through.
Being famous just complicates things. If the famous person is nice, the prosecution is screwed. Finding guilty someone you’ve never seen before is a lot easier than convicting someone you feel like you know. Again, look at OJ Simpson. Before he murdered a bunch of people, he wasn’t just famous he was beloved. He was a great athlete, with a great smile, who was funny and self-effacing: he was in comedies and went flying down the stairs in a wheel chair! People don’t want to believe the nice guy from TV is guilty of something.
In the case of Jon Jones, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. He’s famous but a lot of his public reputation also is negative. “Cage fighter” isn’t terrible but he’s seen as arrogant and has had run ins with the law before. It can be flipped on him by portraying him as an arrogant athlete who never learns and “now you have the power to teach him a lesson.” Of course, his side can just as easily say, “They just want a public conviction for what was basically a minor car accident. The prosecution is making a mountain out of a mole hill for purely political reasons.” And there’s probably truth to that.
Ultimately, the prosecutor wants a conviction. They all do. They love them. And Jones’s side simply wants to minimize the actual repercussions – avoid jail time at all costs being the primary goal, and making sure that whatever he’s convicted of won’t interfere with his ability to get licensed to fight. (It shouldn’t: Mike Tyson was a public cannibal and still fought.)
A Jon Jones guilty plea is because he wants it over with
This is the biggest one and the last obvious piece of the puzzle. Not being able to fight sucks, especially when you’re literally losing millions in the case of Jones. He’s lost paychecks from the UFC, he’s lost sponsors from everyone (ok, just Reebok now, I guess). He’s seen his world title stripped and wrapped around the waste of a man he thrashed. And because a smart lawyer makes sure his client shuts up until it’s over (and Jones has smart lawyers) Jones can’t even begin the full rehabilitation of his image tour. He can’t go on UFC Tonight and do the deal where he looks into the camera and acts sad; he can’t volunteer at soup kitchens that serve poor kittens food; he probably can’t even go to church and linger around outside a little longer than normal to make sure the cameras see him.
So, Jon Jones guilty as sin will be blasted everywhere, soon, and then gets to start redeeming himself. He can begin work on his image, his reputation, and for fight fans everywhere: he can get back in the cage and reclaim what was his.