Jun 07

Justice? What Justice?!

In Brief—For a nation that prides itself on being “a nation of laws,” America’s system of justice is badly broken and delivers inconsistent, belated or no justice at all. The author gives examples of the major problems afflicting the American system of “justice.

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 *Fasten your seat belts. What follows will alarm  and anger you…as it should.

 Justice is a Cruel Joke—

Imagine that you are innocent of the crime for which you’ve been charged and go to prison because of prosecutorial misconduct, unreasonable delay, a sloppy defense or a judge that makes a tidy living off of sentencing lots of people to prison. Well, it’s not hard to grasp if an accused lives in the United States and particularly if the accused is a person of color or is a member of a group discriminated against by the system…and they are many.

Some reading this will dispute my scenario of innocence, prosecutorial misconduct, sloppy defense or corrupt judges sentencing individuals to private lockups in exchange for money or other valuable consideration. Here are examples. And please keep in mind that while the observations here may take place elsewhere in the world, I’m talking about America, a country that boasts that it is a nation of laws. America is sliding into banana republic status and readers should know it.

  • Timothy Cole of Lubbock, Texas, who maintained his innocence of forcible rape at his trial and was later cleared by DNA evidence and the admission of error by the victim, died in prison and was posthumously pardoned. He was innocent.

As an aside, Texas was described by journalist Molly Ivins as “the National Laboratory for Bad Government.” In keeping with that description, I will add that when I was a student at Loyola Law School, Texas cases were often presented as examples of bizarre, off-the-charts legal decisions. Certainly, this explains the strange rants of Texas Congressman Louie Gomert.

  • Again in Texas, despite evidence of Randall Adams’ innocence, Dallas prosecutor Doug Mulder suppressed evidence favorable to Adams, knowingly presented perjured testimony and actively deceived the trial judge. Adams was sentenced to death, but has since had his conviction set aside and has been released, but not before spending twelve years on death row. Mulder considered his actions a badge of honor and has not been prosecuted. Mulder is just one of too many prosecutors who see winning at any cost more important than justice.
  • This time in Wisconsin, Anthony Hicks was convicted of rape. His private lawyer 1) did not seek DNA testing because of cost; 2) did not check the cost of DNA testing; 3) did not seek testing of hair samples because he thought that, though inevitable, the evidence would be inadmissible. The conviction was reversed and though appealed, the case was dismissed.
  • Pennsylvania judges Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan were paid over two million dollars ($2.6 million) by PA Child Care LLC and Western PA Child Care LLC to railroad hundreds of unrepresented juvenile defendants into private jails built by the corporations. The juveniles, reported to be in the hundreds, were given two minutes or less before the judges who seemed eager to send as many as possible to the caring arms of the aforementioned corporations. The judges were removed from the bench and sentenced to prison. No word on the complicit corporations.
  • Then there are the numerous cases of accused defendants pleading guilty to minor misdemeanors or crimes they didn’t commit in order to avoid spending more time in lockup because of the delays caused by overloaded dockets and a trial that is at best a gamble because of ambitious prosecutors, harried if not corrupt judges and vastly overworked and understaffed public defenders. The American Bar Association issued a report in 2004 regarding a Georgia case where the accused spent thirteen months in jail for loitering. As a defense lawyer, I have personally encountered similar situations often.

Lest we forget, there is the all-too-common situation of police violence and overreaction. Readers who live in Albuquerque, New Mexico, are painfully familiar with this situation. I will add here that law enforcement is a difficult and often unappreciated job. At the same time, police officers are badly trained, underpaid and are imbued with the philosophy of “them versus us.” The problem with that is that “US” is the public, you and me, the people police are supposed to protect and serve.

Two Personal Experiences—

Two of several personal experiences illustrate the problem of police misconduct.

On a lunchtime errand to talk with a Superior Court judge in his chambers, I found him and two fellow judges eating lunch and laughing about perjured testimony Officer X had just given in a drug case before the judge. The judges knew the officer was perjuring himself and were laughing about it. The accused was convicted.

In another drug case in which I was representing a good friend, my client/friend reported that Officer Y had planted drugs in his car after a phony stop and said, “You screwed our buddy and now we are going to screw you.” My friend had testified against the “buddy” officer a few weeks earlier. Despite my cross-examination of the officer who perjured himself—I must add that I was admonished by the judge for delay because of my cross-examination—my friend was convicted. In the hall after the trial, the officer passed me, deliberately caught my eye and smirked. I arranged for my friend to attend a few anti-drug lectures, by the way. That was forty years ago. It’s considerably worse today.

“Well,” critics might claim, “there are only a few such cases.” To the contrary, such cases run into the tens of thousands or more, they are the everyday stuff that is increasingly part of life for way too many people in America. Readers are challenged to Google browse through subjects like Prosecutorial Misconduct, Wrongful Convictions, Police Misconduct and similar subjects to have the blinkers removed. Try reading just a sampling of the findings of The Innocence Projects. Tragically, too many of them are death penalty cases of justice gone astray.

The United States is the world’s leading jailer with about 2.3 million of its inhabitants behind bars. With only 5% of Earth’s population, it has almost 25% of all the prisoners in the world. China which has four times the population has a mere 1.6 million of its inhabitants in prison. Put another way, America imprisons 751 of every 100,000 citizens. Russia, certainly no slouch, has only 627 out of 100,000 of its citizens locked up. Europe’s rate is just 95 while South America’s is 154. Some record to boast about, and those shocking figures don’t even count the millions on probation or parole or the millions more who are ex-cons who have “paid their debt to society” and are still paying in a variety of ways.

The Coddling of the Elite—

Do you think for even a second that this group includes those whose criminality or fraudulent activities destroyed the world’s economy? Do you believe that the criminals involved in the Watergate crimes or in Irangate deserved pardons? Should Richard Nixon have been pardoned? George W. Bush, Richard Cheney and their confederates committed international crimes and condoned torture, yet they walk free as Obama looks forward, not backward while jailing whistle-blowers at an unprecedented rate and threatening journalists for not revealing sources. Do you think these elites deserve leniency? If you do, then I want some of whatever you are smoking.

Some Causes of these Outrages—

The causes are too many to detail here and are the material for future postings. However, here are just a few of the causes of this horrendous situation that afflicts American society.

  • The “justice” system is politicized. Politicians of both parties, particularly the Republicans, want to be reelected at any cost and court voters by not wanting to appear “soft-on-crime.”
  • The politicians pass draconian “Three-Strikes-You’re-Out” laws that require judges to ignore reality or prescribe mandatory minimum sentences that fail to take into account varying circumstances. Passing a bad check is one such third strike resulting in life in prison. Then those who have paid their debt to society are further punished by not being allowed to vote or being unable to find a job because of their status.
  • The death penalty is imposed despite evidence that four percent of those prisoners are innocent…that’s four out of one hundred, folks. “Hell, so a few innocents die, the guilty must be punished.” And the condemned are disproportionately people of color. Is this revealing of something rotten or not? Too many politicians fail to acknowledge that evidence clearly shows that the death penalty is cruel and unusual punishment. Even with all the evidence, Tennessee is scrambling to resurrect the electric chair because lethal chemicals are unavailable. They just want to kill regardless of the problems that are apparent.
  • The politicians too often believe that people of color are morally weak; those politicians are too often racist, ether consciously or subconsciously.
  • Twenty-five states permit private “for profit” prisons. Evidence shows that the profit incentive of the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and Geo Group corporations that have contracts with the states are not only not equal to state-run institutions, they are more costly, often overcrowded and understaffed resulting in a variety of unconstitutional conditions. Prison rape is quite common in such institutions.

These are just a few of the reasons that the system of justice is broken in America. The few examples I have given are restrained and understated. I have little doubt that readers who have taken the blue pill will refuse to believe what I have written. The plain truth is that I am merely revealing the tip of the iceberg.

I recall citing to a former friend a well-known case of an abusive search-and-seizure by the police. He heatedly denied the facts. Later, I learned that he was slandering me because of this.

In this piece, I am citing acknowledged instances of an abundant record of injustice. If you do even cursory research, you will learn that what you are reading here is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

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  1. Great article
    thank you for taking the time to share

      • Don Bay on June 7, 2014 at 17:12
        Author

      As long as the piece is, Shelley, this issue is of such grave importance that it could have been considerably longer and still not have adequately covered the injustices plaguing the American “justice” scene. All of what I have written is absolutely true. Numerous books, papers and articles, many of which can be found by a Google search, have been written on the subject. As a lawyer who has witnessed some of the injustices permeating the system, I needed to speak out and let readers know what goes on in quarters that are probably unfamiliar to them.

      This is of such paramount importance to the national character that all of us must make the effort to get America to live up to its great promise as a nation of laws. Until these injustices are addressed, we can’t consider ourselves truly civilized.

  2. Important article, Don, and right on topic. I have often thought that if I had been a lawyer I would have tried to be a part of the Innocence Project. Prosecutorial misconduct and police corruption are rampant, and the financial implications only make it more disgusting.

      • Don Bay on June 7, 2014 at 18:26
        Author

      With your passion and intelligence, Jim, you would have been a good lawyer. The lawyers and law students who form the Innocence Projects found across the country have to have perseverance, patience and a strong sense of justice to spend the months and years necessary to arrive at a conclusion that a grave injustice has been done to a human being. Moreover, since the focus of their research has too often been wrongly executed, they have to have a strong stomach. My hat’s off to these people.

      I have just barely scratched the surface of the depth, breadth and pervasiveness of this problem. It too often starts with police overreach and even prejudice directed at people of color at a young age. The injustices progress through the political process to the courts, into the prisons and too often into the death chamber. Every step of the way is fraught with injustice piled on injustice. And woven throughout the whole process is politics at its ugliest. It’s there in the piece, but despite my personal knowledge and outrage, there is no doubt that I have overlooked some corners of the daily injustices that plague the system. Readers are encouraged to explore this Dante’s Inferno that undercuts the foundations of America. Until these injustices are eliminated, we can’t rest because they are corroding the soul of America.

    • Don Bay on November 24, 2014 at 17:01
      Author

    This pingback gives me the chance to underline the sorry state of “justice” in America. It’s bad and seems to be getting worse. For instance, take the judges who sit in the various courts. Quite aside from their personal biases, judicial vacancies are not being filled for partisan reasons. Thus, the workload is becoming overwhelming creating a nightmare for defendants and judges alike as can be seen by reading my blog piece.

    Then there’s the issue of electing judges. With the arrival of Big Money courtesy of the Supreme Court conservatives in the Citizens United case, many judges in jurisdictions where judges have to stand for election or reelection must beg for money for their campaigns. Enter Big Money. Donations are made with the expectation that policies favored by Big Money will get favorable treatment in the courts…and they do get favorable treatment. It’s called “Corruption.” Author/lawyer John Grisham has warned of this problem.

    You may not like the thought of life tenure because of problems like that of the current Supreme Court conservatives, but corruption is considerably lower in life tenure situations than in situations where a judge has to beg for money (and make promises) to those donating to the judges’ election. Despite that enormous flaw, the average voter doesn’t have the interest and doesn’t see the danger to democracy in Big Money’s efforts. The New York Times recently put the spotlight on that issue, but Joe or Jane Voter simply doesn’t care. It’s time for all of us to care and stop judicial elections before it’s too late. “Justice?! What Justice?{“

  1. […] Readers are invited to see my piece, “Justice? What Justice?!” […]

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