Daily English
Cultural English
Practical English

1189 Sentencing a Criminal

访问量:
Complete Transcript
Welcome to English as a Second Language Podcast number 1,189 – Sentencing a Criminal.

This is English as a Second Language Podcast episode 1,189. I’m your host, Dr. Jeff McQuillan, coming to you from the Center for Educational Development in beautiful Los Angeles, California.

Visit ESLPod.com and take a look at our ESL Podcast Store which has some additional courses in Business and Daily English I think you will like. You can also check out our ESL Podcast Blog. And why not like us on Facebook? Go to facebook.com/eslpod.

This episode is a dialogue between Nancy and Geraldo about sentencing a criminal – giving someone who has broken the law a punishment. Let’s get started.

[start of dialogue]

Nancy: Hey, where have you been?

Geraldo: I’ve been in the other courtroom watching the sentencing of that murderer.

Nancy: Which murderer?

Geraldo: The one who failed to get the charges reduced through a plea agreement. During the trial, her attorneys tried to show that there were mitigating circumstances, but the judge didn’t buy it.

Nancy: Didn’t she commit two murders?

Geraldo: That’s right. The judge sentenced her to 35 years to life in prison for each crime.

Nancy: Will she serve them consecutively or concurrently?

Geraldo: She’ll be serving them consecutively, so even with time off for good behavior, she’ll be spending the next 50 years or so in prison.

Nancy: So her only hope now is an appeal, right?

Geraldo: That’s right. I’ll be following this case for a long time to come.

Nancy: And getting lots of good copy.

Geraldo: Of course. What would we crime reporters do without juicy murders?

[end of dialogue]

Nancy asks Geraldo, “Hey, where have you been?” Geraldo says, “I’ve been in the other courtroom watching the sentencing of that murderer.” A “courtroom” (courtroom) is a large room where what are called “trials” (trials) and other legal procedures or processes take place. A “courtroom” is a place typically where you will go if you commit a crime and the police find you and arrest you – you will have to appear in front of a “judge” (judge). A judge is a person who works for the government, who is in charge of, or who runs, legal trials and processes that are involved in carrying out the law.

A “courtroom” is typically found in a place called a “courthouse” (courthouse). A courthouse isn’t an actual house that you live in, but is rather a building that is used for housing, if you will, courtrooms and judges and lawyers who work for the government. Geraldo was in a courtroom “watching the sentencing of that murderer,” he says. “To sentence” (sentence) as a verb means to give someone a punishment – usually for the government to assign or give a punishment to someone who has done something wrong.

A “murderer” (murderer) is a person who murders – that is, kills someone unlawfully – someone who has broken the law by killing another person. Interestingly, just because you kill another person, you end another person’s life, doesn’t mean that you will be arrested. If the other person, for example, was trying to kill you and you were defending yourself, we wouldn’t call you a “murderer” in that case, even though you did kill the person who tried to kill you. Anyway, Nancy asks Geraldo, “Which murderer?” meaning which murderer is he talking about.

Geraldo answers, “The one” – meaning the murderer – “who failed to get the charges reduced through a plea agreement.” There are several expressions there we need to explain. Let’s start with the verb “to fail to get” something.” “To fail (fail) to get” something means you don’t get something. You are not successful at obtaining something. The word “charges” (charges) refers to the things that the government accuses you of. For example, if you steal something, you will be “charged” with a crime of theft. The “charge” is what the government says you did wrong.

Now, sometimes you can commit a crime – you can break the law – and the government will not accuse you of doing exactly what you did. They may charge you with a lesser crime, perhaps because they don’t have evidence to prove that you committed the crime, the more serious crime that they could charge you with, or there may be some other reason why the government decides it isn’t going to charge you with a more serious crime and charges you with a lesser crime.

So, the word “charge” can be used as a verb referring to when the government accuses you of something, as well as a noun referring to what it is that the government accused you of. I hope that makes sense. In this case, Geraldo is talking about a murderer who “failed” – who wasn’t successful – “to get the charges reduced.” “To reduce” (reduce) can mean to make something smaller, to make something less than what it was. “To have your charges reduced” means to have the government accuse you of a less serious crime. Murder is a very serious crime.

The government may say, “Well, we’re not going to charge you with murder. We’re going to charge you with something less serious.” Now Geraldo is talking about a murderer who failed to get his charges reduced – that is, the government did not reduce his charges. They did not say that he committed a lesser crime. Many times the government will charge you with a lesser crime through a particular kind of agreement called a “plea (plea) agreement.”

The verb “to plea” is used to refer to what you say to the government when the government accuses you of a crime. You can either say, “Yes, I did it,” or you can say, “No, I’m innocent.” Most people, of course, say they’re innocent. When the government charges you with something, you have to say, “I am innocent” or “I am guilty.” That statement is your “plea.” It’s what you are saying in response to the government’s accusation or charge against you.

A “plea agreement,” then, is when usually you say to the government, “Okay, I will say that I am guilty of this crime” – usually a crime that is less serious than the one that you actually committed. The government does this often so that it doesn’t have to go through an entire trial. It doesn’t have to prove that you are guilty. That can take a long time and be very expensive. So instead, the government says, “Okay, we know you committed murder, but instead of saying that you committed murder, you say that you committed a lesser crime, a less serious crime.”

For example, there’s a crime called “manslaughter” (manslaughter). “Manslaughter” is when you say that you killed someone but you didn’t mean to kill them or you didn’t do it on purpose. That would be an example of a plea agreement. Let’s continue with our story. Geraldo says, “During the trial, her attorneys tried to show that there were mitigating circumstances, but the judge didn’t buy it.” So I guess we’re talking about a woman who murdered someone, not a man. I think I referred to this person as a man earlier.

In any case, Geraldo refers to the “trial” (trial). The trial is the series of meetings in a courtroom during which the government tries to prove that you committed a crime, usually, and you try to convince the judge that you didn’t commit a crime. Often in U.S. trials, it’s not the judge who makes the final decision but the “jury” (jury). The jury is a group of people, usually 12 in number, who decide if you are guilty or innocent of a crime.

However, many times the jury only decides if you are guilty or innocent. The “judge” – a man or a woman who works for the government – decides how you will be punished, how you will be sentenced. In this case, during the trial the attorneys, the lawyers who work for this woman accused of murder, tried to show that there were “mitigating circumstances.”

“Mitigating (mitigating) circumstances” refer to situations that may make your crime less serious, or at least your guilt less serious. For example, you may be hungry and have no food and no job and no place to live, and because of this, you steal some food. Well, stealing food is a crime, but the judge might decide there were “mitigating circumstances” – things that, even though you did commit the crime, mean that you shouldn’t be punished as severely or as heavily.

But in this case the judge didn’t agree, in the case of the murderer, that there were mitigating circumstances for her crime. “The judge didn’t,” according to Geraldo, “buy it.” “To buy (buy) it” means to believe what someone said, to accept the truth of what someone has told you. Nancy asks Geraldo, “Didn’t she commit two murders?” Geraldo says, “That’s right. The judge sentenced her to 35 years to life in prison for each crime.” “35 years to life” means the person has to go to jail, to prison, for at least 35 years, but maybe as long as the person lives – in other words, until the person dies.

Nancy says, “Will she serve them consecutively or concurrently?” Because the murderer committed two murders, the judge gave her two punishments. The punishment for each murder was 35 years to life. Now, the question Nancy asks is “Does the murderer have to serve these sentences,” that is undergo these punishments, “consecutively (consecutively) or concurrently (concurrently)?”

“Consecutively” means one after the other, meaning first you serve 35 years for this murder, then you serve 35 years for the next murder – in other words, 70 years in total. “Concurrently” means that you are doing two things at the same time. So the two sentences of 35 years are served at the same time, not one after the other. If you commit multiple crimes, you may be sentenced to serve the punishments consecutively or concurrently. Obviously, if you serve them consecutively, you will be in prison for a lot longer than if you serve them concurrently.

Geraldo says, “She’ll be serving them consecutively,” meaning one after the other, “so even with time off for good behavior, she’ll be spending the next 50 years or so in prison.” Okay, so what does all this mean? Well, sometimes you are given a punishment, but if you don’t cause any problems in prison, you can be released from prison – you can be let out of prison – a little earlier than you would have otherwise, if you had served, or stayed in prison for, the entire time of your punishment. This is called “getting time off for good behavior.”

“Time off” means that the number of years that you have to spend in prison is reduced because you didn’t cause any problems, any more problems, when you were actually in prison. So, in this case the murderer will have to spend at least 50 years in prison even if she behaves herself, even if she gets those 35-year sentences reduced due to good behavior.

Nancy says, “So her only hope now is an appeal, right?” In the U.S. court system, even when the judge says that you did something wrong and sentences you to prison, you can “appeal” the decision to a higher court. You can only do that if you think that the judge made a mistake or that there was some problem with your trial. An “appeal” (appeal), then, is an attempt to get a higher court – a more powerful court, if you will – to decide that there was something wrong with your original trial or that the judge made a mistake. And this happens quite a bit. It happens quite often.

Geraldo says, “Yes, that’s right.” Her only hope now – that is, her only hope not to spend the next 50 years in prison – is an appeal. Geraldo says, “I’ll be following this case for a long time to come,” meaning for a long time. Nancy says, “And getting lots of good copy.” “Copy” (copy) here refers to text that will be published or shared with readers. Usually we refer to “copy” when we’re talking about a news story. It’s the actual writing that you read when you read a newspaper. We also use the word “copy” when referring to writing in an advertisement or a commercial.

Geraldo says, “Of course. What would we crime reporters do without juicy murders?” A “crime reporter” is a journalist whose job it is to report on, or to tell people about, crimes. “Juicy” (juicy) here means very interesting, but interesting because it is also scandalous. Something that is “scandalous” (scandalous) is something that will cause you to be upset or angry or shocked.

So, a “juicy murder” would be a murder that is surrounded by circumstances that might also cause you to be shocked or upset – something terrible happened. Of course, murder is terrible in and of itself – by itself it’s terrible – but it might be a murder that is connected to some sort of sex scandal or some sort of crazy behavior – something that might happen, say, here in Hollywood.

Now let’s listen to this dialogue, this time at a normal speed.

[start of dialogue]

Nancy: Hey, where have you been?

Geraldo: I’ve been in the other courtroom watching the sentencing of that murderer.

Nancy: Which murderer?

Geraldo: The one who failed to get the charges reduced through a plea agreement. During the trial, her attorneys tried to show that there were mitigating circumstances, but the judge didn’t buy it.

Nancy: Didn’t she commit two murders?

Geraldo: That’s right. The judge sentenced her to 35 years to life in prison for each crime.

Nancy: Will she serve them consecutively or concurrently?

Geraldo: She’ll be serving them consecutively, so even with time off for good behavior, she’ll be spending the next 50 years or so in prison.

Nancy: So her only hope now is an appeal, right?

Geraldo: That’s right. I’ll be following this case for a long time to come.

Nancy: And getting lots of good copy.

Geraldo: Of course. What would we crime reporters do without juicy murders?

[end of dialogue]

Our scriptwriter’s dialogues may not always be juicy, but we think they’re interesting. Thanks to Dr. Lucy Tse for writing them.

From Los Angeles, California, I’m Jeff McQuillan. Thank you for listening, if you are still listening. Why not come back and listen to us again right here on ESL Podcast.

English as a Second Language Podcast was written and produced by Dr. Lucy Tse, hosted by Dr. Jeff McQuillan. Copyright 2016 by the Center for Educational Development.

Glossary
courtroom – the large room where legal trials are held and decisions are made

* The victim’s family members were crying in the courtroom while the witnesses were describing what happened the night the crime was committed.

sentencing – the practice of assigning a punishment to a criminal after he or she has been found guilty

* The judge surprised everyone at the sentencing when he said the punishment would be only 20 hours of community service rather than jail time.

murderer – a person who kills another person; killer

* You’re not a murderer. It was an accident. You didn’t mean to hit her with your car.

to get the charges reduced – to be officially accused in court of fewer or less severe crimes

* Originally, he was convicted of first-degree murder, but his attorney got the charges reduced to second-degree murder.

plea agreement – an arrangement where an individual agrees to state that he or she is guilty of something, usually something less severe or serious, in exchange for something else

* The woman entered a plea agreement in which she pleaded guilty to theft, but was not charged with defamation.

trial – a court session in which the evidence is examined, the accused can defend himself or herself, and the prosecutor can make a case for the crime, heard by a judge and jury

* The newspapers have had front-page stories about the trial for the past two weeks.

mitigating circumstances – conditions or events that do not excuse a criminal act, but are considered out of fairness

* Sometimes a particularly troubled childhood can be considered as mitigating circumstances when that individual commits crimes as a young adult.

judge – the person who hears legal cases, maintains control of the courtroom, makes legal decisions, and conducts sentencing for convicted criminals

* The judge told the witness to speak up so everyone in the courtroom can hear her.

to buy it – to believe and accept what someone has said

* Jamison is promising to change, but we don’t buy it.

(X) years to life – a sentence ranging from X years in prison (jail) to the rest of one’s life in prison

* If a judge sentences a 70-year-old man to 40 years to life, it means that he will probably never get out of jail again.

prison – jail; a large building used to hold criminals as punishment for their crime, and to protect other members of society from those individuals

* Can you imagine having to visit your mother or father in prison?

consecutively – happening one after the other; sequentially

* The portraits were hung consecutively in accordance with the number on the back of their frames.

concurrently – happening at the same time; simultaneously

* We’re trying to write three proposals concurrently, but it is very confusing.

time off for good behavior – a shortening of a prison sentence, or a length of time when a criminal does not have to be in jail, given in recognition of the criminal’s good behavior during the time he or she has been in jail

* If you follow all the rules and avoid getting in fights, they might give you time off for good behavior and let you out of jail early.

appeal – an attempt to have a higher (more powerful) court hear one’s legal trial again in the hopes that it will reach a different verdict (decision) and sentence

* The Supreme Court refused to hear their appeal.

copy – written text that will be published or shared with many readers, especially for a news story, a webpage, or an advertisement

* Could you please proofread this copy for me before I sent it to my editor?

crime reporter – a journalist who focuses on developing stories about people who break the law

* The crime reporter said that police have arrested the man, but haven’t yet commented on his possible motivations.

juicy – very interesting and scandalous, especially related to rumors

* How was your date? Tell me all the juicy details.

Comprehension Questions
1. What was Geraldo watching in the courtroom?
a) He was watching the murderer defend himself.
b) He was watching the witnesses say what they saw on the night of the murder.
c) He was watching the judge decide how the murderer should be punished.

2. What does Geraldo mean when he says, “The judge didn’t buy it”?
a) The judge didn’t accept the bribe.
b) The judge didn’t accept the reasons given.
c) The judge didn’t laugh at the circumstances.

Answers at bottom.

What Else Does It Mean?
sentencing

The word “sentencing,” in this podcast, means the practice of assigning a punishment to a criminal after he or she has been found guilty: “We were all shocked by the light sentencing. How could a murderer get only five years in prison?” A “death sentence” is a punishment in which the government kills the criminal: “Some people oppose the death sentences, saying that it is never right to kill another human being.” A “life sentence” is a punishment in which the government sends a criminal to jail for the rest of his or her life: “Is it ever reasonable to give teenagers a life sentence when they still have so many years ahead of them?” Finally, the phrase “to serve a sentence” means to spend time in jail according to one’s punishment: “He’s currently serving a 10-year sentence.”

juicy

In this podcast, the word “juicy” means very interesting and scandalous, especially related to rumors: “The reporters are all following the juicy story, trying to find out what really happened.” Sometimes “juicy” means involving a lot of money: “They got a big, juicy payment when they sold that old painting.” Or, “Investors were hoping for juicy returns on these stock purchases, but they were disappointed with the actual results.” Sometimes “juicy” means very satisfying, fulfilling, and enjoyable: “How did you get such an impressive, juicy job immediately after graduation?” Finally, the word “juicy” means containing a lot of juice: “Wow, these oranges are so juicy!” Or, “Lean over the plate when you eat this watermelon, because it’s really juice and it will dribble down your chin.”

Culture Note
Courtroom Reality Shows

Reality TV (shows filming real people in real life, not actors with a script) is very popular in the United States, and sometimes this “extends” (expands; grows) into legal “matters” (subjects). There are some “courtroom reality shows” where viewers can watch as legal cases are decided.

The best-known courtroom reality show is Judge Judy. In this show, people see Judge Judith Sheindlin “adjudicate” (make formal decisions about something) “small claim disputes” (arguments involving small amounts of money). The “parties” (people participating in the legal case) agree “beforehand” (before participating in the show) to accept Judge Judy’s decision.

More than 5,400 episodes of Judge Judy have been produced since 1996. Many of the cases involve “landlords” (property owners who receiving payment to allow other people to use their buildings) who are trying to collect rent, family members who want to have their informal loans paid back, “broken engagements” (situations where a person changes his or her mind and decides not to marry someone after promising to do so), and similar situations.

The show is “dramatic” (interesting for people to watch) because it has a “narrator” (a person who tells a story) who provides background information about the case, the “plaintiff” (the person who accuses someone of doing something wrong and brings that person to court), and the “defendant” (the person who has been brought to court and wants to prove that he or she is innocent). The show also has music to “punctuate” (emphasis) the courtroom “proceedings” (what happens in the courtroom) and “brief” (short) interviews in which the plaintiff and defendant give their reactions to Judge Judy’s decision.

Comprehension Answers
1 - c

2 - b