Four years and eight months in prison.
That would have been the worst possible outcome for Columbus Allen Jr. II if California Highway Patrol officer Earl Scott had found what Allen feared he might -- a .38-caliber handgun and 1 pound of marijuana stashed in his Nissan Maxima.
At best, the Stockton man may have gotten off with a $200 speeding ticket.
He got neither. In front of a courtroom packed with law enforcement officers, Allen admitted Monday he killed one of their own, shooting Scott in the face to avoid arrest.
And Allen will spend the rest of his life in prison for it.
"It seems like such a ridiculous bargain to make. It seems to us insane, from any perspective," said Mike Vitiello, a criminal law professor at the University of the Pacific's McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento.
"But a person in a moment of panic is not going to think it through. We know many felons act on impulse. That's one of their problems. That's why they're in trouble."
Park Dietz, a criminologist and forensic psychiatrist who analyzed the Columbine High School shootings, said those with a criminal background aren't often capable of ration- ally weighing the pros and cons of a decision during a high-pressure situation.
"They underestimate the odds of being punished for the ... crime they're about to commit," said Dietz, who was not involved in Allen's case. "They think they might not get caught. ... (And) they overestimate the risk of giving up now."
Those who closely followed Allen's 4½ year criminal case have seen his impulsive behavior at work in the courtroom.
The Stockton man goaded and taunted a judge as the jurist repeatedly told Allen to be quiet. Allen made frequent requests for new lawyers, sought to represent himself, then changed his mind. He tried to push the trial along, then acquiesced to further delays.
So it came as a shock to some close to Scott when Allen calmly recited what he said happened the morning of Feb. 17, 2006, when he was pulled over by Scott on the shoulder of northbound Highway 99 near Salida.
"I shot officer Scott with the intent to kill," Allen said.
Ramon Magaña, who served as Allen's lead attorney for two years, said Allen's measured decision to plead guilty to his crimes and spare his life was in stark contrast to his public persona as someone who seemed to fight the system at every turn.
"I think the surprise is the public or people didn't really know the real Columbus Allen," Magaña said.
The outcome in Allen's case mirrors a statewide trend in which prosecutors are seeking the death penalty in fewer cases and are more willing to accept plea deals to avoid trial, experts say.
In Stanislaus County, prosecutors initially sought the death penalty in 15 cases from 1990 to 2000, compared with just seven times in the last decade. Defendants involved in such cases from 1990 to 2000 were also twice as likely to be given a death sentence compared with those charged from 2000 to 2010.
"A prosecutor has put a dangerous person behind bars forever. The defendant has saved his life. And the people are spared the very tremendous cost of the trial and appellate process," Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the law school at the University of California at Irvine, said of Allen's case.
Among the factors that have attributed to a shifting attitude about the death penalty:
Jurors are more reticent to recommend death as advancements in DNA and other forensic evidence have spotlighted those wrongly accused, Chemerinsky said. Years of decreasing violent crime rates also have made people feel less threatened, he added.
Putting away a criminal for life by means of a plea deal can save the public millions by avoiding a trial and decades of costly appeals that also can keep a victim's family in limbo. In Allen's case, the estimated cost of his four- to six-month trial was $1.5 million.
In the end, Modesto prosecutors put the decision in the hands of Scott's parents and closest law enforcement friends.
Bill Scott, Earl Scott's father, chose his version of closure -- putting Allen behind bars forever -- over the ultimate punishment.
"We can get on with our lives now," he said.
Bee staff writer Merrill Balassone can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2337.