This article from the Huffington Post is timely and important, particularly in the wake of the Aaron Swartz tragedy. It demonstrates a criminal justice system that has become completely void of justice. A system in which medical marijuana dispensaries and raw milk farms are raided by SWAT teams, but in which bankers that rob trillions with a pen face a slap on the wrist at worst and promotions to higher office at best. This kind of system, where federal prosecutors will target citizens just for publicity or because they know Washington D.C. doesn’t like the person is more reminiscent or Nazi, Soviet or East German justice than traditional American justice. It is another symptom of a nation in rapid societal decline. From the Huffington Post:
Prosecutors have enormous power. Even investigations that don’t result in any charges can ruin lives, ruin reputations, and drive their targets into bankruptcy. It has become an overtly political position — in general, but particularly at the federal level. If a prosecutor wants to ruin your life, he or she can. Even if you’ve done nothing wrong, there isn’t a whole lot you can do about it.
But by most estimates, there are at least 4,000 separate criminal laws at the federal level, with another 10,000 to 300,000 regulations that can be enforced criminally. Just this year 400 new federal laws took effect, as did 29,000 new state laws. The civil libertarian and defense attorney Harvey Silverglate has argued that most Americans now unknowingly now commit about three felonies per day.
Worse, while we citizens can go to prison for unwittingly breaking laws of which we weren’t aware, prosecutors and law enforcement officers who wrongly arrest, charge, and try citizens based on a misunderstanding of the law generally face no sanction or repercussions.
Prosecutors are protected by absolute immunity, which basically shields them from liability no matter how egregious their mistakes.
Once we have so many laws that it’s likely we’re all breaking at least one of them, the prosecutor’s job is no longer about enforcing the laws, but about choosing which laws to enforce. It’s then a short slide to the next step: Choosing what people need to be made into criminals, then simply picking the laws necessary to make that happen.
Take all of that with the massive total number of laws, and you get a system ripe for abuse. If a prosecutor has it out for you, he can probably find a law he can plausibly argue you’ve broken. Even if you’re acquitted — in fact, even if the charge is dropped, or if you’re investigated but never charged — you don’t get compensated for the time, stress, and expense the whole affair cost you. In federal cases you’re supposed to at least be reimbursed for you legal expenses, but that doesn’t appear to happen much, either.
At the state level, prosecutors are reelected, move on to higher office, or win prestigious jobs at high-powered law firms for racking up large numbers of convictions — and for getting high-profile convictions.
USA Today recently found that federal prosecutors who commit misconduct en route to wrongful convictions are rarely if ever sanctioned. Other studies have come to similar conclusions about state prosecutors.
Too often, criticism of prosecutorial excesses isn’t framed as this should never happen, but why isn’t this happening to the people I don’t like? Until that changes — until partisans are willing to condemn abuses even by their own, or committed against their political opponents or people they personally find unsavory — the problem is only going to get worse.
I’d suggest all of these factors (and probably a few I haven’t thought of) have increasingly made us a nation ruled not by laws, but by politics (and by aspiring politicians). And once criminality is influenced primarily by politics, we’re all just potential criminals.
Hopefully, Aaron’s death can serve as a catalyst for positive change.
Full article here.
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