You know that the rule of law has essentially vanished when the Attorney General himself feels compelled to state: “America’s legal system, we must face the reality that, as it stands, our system is in too many respects broken.” That is precisely what Eric Holder stated earlier this week, while seemingly taking no responsibility for that fact despite being the top lawyer in the nation. Guess he was too busy protecting his banker masters from prosecution to notice.
In any event, the broken criminal justice system really took center stage earlier this year when the federal prosector Carmen Ortiz drove child prodigy Aaron Swartz to his death by piling on overzealous charges in an attempt to advance her career. Instead she drove a gentle genius to an untimely death. Kudos Ortiz.
In light of Holder’s comment, Bloomberg columnist Clive Crook wrote an excellent article outlining some of the main attributes of out increasingly Kafkaesque legal system. Here are some key excerpts:
“As a prosecutor, a judge, an attorney in private practice, and now, as our nation’s attorney general, I’ve seen the criminal justice system firsthand, from nearly every angle. While I have the utmost faith in — and dedication to — America’s legal system, we must face the reality that, as it stands, our system is in too many respects broken.”
In a widely reported speech this week, Eric Holder delivered that assessment of U.S. criminal justice. Many commended his frankness, but if you ask me he’s confused. A broken system of justice shouldn’t command the utmost faith; it should arouse the utmost skepticism. And his appraisal was actually too generous. America’s criminal-justice system is not “in too many respects broken”: It’s a national disgrace, from top to bottom.
According to a forthcoming report from the American Civil Liberties Union, 2,074 federal inmates are serving sentences of life imprisonment without possibility of parole for nonviolent crimes. Think about that.
The U.S. — a country that loves freedom, so I’m told — has virtually abolished trial by jury. According to one recent count, guilty pleas resolve 97 percent of federal cases that are prosecuted to a conclusion. Instead of bothersome trials, the U.S. has a plea-bargain system in which prosecutors not only bring the charge but also, in effect, determine guilt and pass sentence.
Frequently you read of judges deploring the sentence they have to pass as they deliver it. They do it anyway. It’s the law.
These elements, disturbing enough in themselves, come together in an especially pernicious way. The combination of plea bargains and mandatory minimum sentences — not to mention the U.S. practice of stacking charge upon charge, with sentences to run consecutively — gives prosecutors awesome powers of intimidation. One dreads to think how many innocent people are in U.S. prisons, and will be felons for life, because they were offered the choice of a relatively light sentence if they pleaded guilty to a lesser charge, or the risk of decades of incarceration if they preferred to take their chances with a maxed-out indictment at trial.
In this system, everything — everything — depends on the decency and restraint of prosecutors. Most no doubt are indeed decent and restrained. (If that weren’t so, the demand for radical change would already be overwhelming.) But some lust after high political office and wish to make their mark; some are vain; some, as in any profession, are just bad people. The American way is to create checks and balances, so that the system’s integrity doesn’t depend on the incorruptibility of individuals. How strange that the country has made an exception for criminal justice.
This is a good time to remind everyone of point made by Harvey Silverglate that every American commits three felonies a day. Just think about how dangerous that is…
Full article here.