Posts Tagged With: justice system


Sir William Blackstone, the famed British jurist, stated in 1766 that-“Better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer.” That concept was woven into British criminal law, and then, of course, was interjected into U.S. criminal proceedings. When the U.S. Constitutional Convention met during the summer of 1787, nearly every delegate was familiar with Blackstone’s commentaries and the principles of English common law. Ben Franklin decided to up the ante by a decimal point by stating that 100 guilty should go free rather than one innocent suffer. Hence, our Constitution and all subsequent criminal statutes were geared toward preventing the guilty conviction of someone who was, in fact, innocent. Which, naturally made it that much more difficult to convict the guilty. After all, who wants to send an innocent man or woman to prison if they didn’t commit the crime. Nevertheless, innocents have incarcerated, and sometimes given the death penalty, while many of the guilty wind up with a free get-out-of-jail-card.

There are so many things wrong with our so-called criminal justice system that it’s hard to know where to begin. As I wrote in my last posting, if you possess the financial resources to hire a crack legal defense team, it’s highly likely you can avoid conviction, no matter how guilty you may be. Especially if you’re up against a weak prosecuting attorney. On the other hand, if you’re poor, as most defendants are, and have to settle for someone from the dregs of the legal community to defend you, there’s a good chance that your goose is cooked. No matter how innocent or guilty you may be. Especially, if you’re unfortunate enough to face a reasonably competent prosecuting attorney. That’s why there are lawyers out there doing pro bono work trying to free innocent victims of our so called justice system.

One such group is called the Innocence Project, which was started in 1992 by two high profile defense attorneys, Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld. It’s a national organization dedicated to exonerating those that have been wrongfully convicted, usually through the use of DNA testing. Many of these victims of our justice system were poor, forgotten and had used up all other avenues of legal relief. They were usually convicted in a time before DNA testing was available, but items remained in the case files that contained DNA. In numerous cases, when that DNA evidence was later tested, the guilty were found to be innocent. Some of those victims were incarcerated for over 20 years before DNA testing became available to set them free. So much for letting 10 or 100 guilty go free rather than locking up one innocent.

One of the flaws in our justice system is the notion of trial by juries of one’s peers. Really? If you are brought to trial, do you really want to have Brenda, who works behind the perfume counter at Macy’s, sitting on the jury and deciding you fate. Or Fred, who hauls heavy cargo off ships down at the docks. Aside from the fact that one’s peers usually are clueless about the machinations of the justice system, and can be easily bamboozled by the more effective attorney, is it really wise to have juries populated with people that have no knowledge of the law. Wouldn’t it be better to have professional juries who know the ins-and-outs of the criminal justice system, rendering impartial opinions. I have always believed that a jury consisting of legal professionals could render a much more accurate decision.

Of course, as I wrote last time, it appears to be easier to get a not guilty verdict in high profile cases when the defense can hire some hot-shot lawyers.  Besides the reasons that I previously wrote about, new statutes have also come into play. About 20 states have now passed “stand-you-ground” laws, which essentially states that one can throw common-sense out the window, and thereby get away with murder. Stand- your- ground means that when confronted by someone that intends to inflict bodily harm, instead making a safe retreat (if one is available), one can stand there and duke it out with the bad guy. Including a shoot-out similar to the gun fight at the OK Corral. Although not used by the defense, the stand-your-ground law in Florida was included in the the judge’s instructions to the jurors in the George Zimmerman trial. I’m sure it entered the jury’s thinking process in deciding to acquit. After all, why should George Zimmerman have had to retreat to his truck, when he could stand his ground and shoot an unarmed teenager.

What’s next. I’m waiting for the first state to enact a “Shoot-First-And-Ask-Questions-Later” piece of legislation. Perhaps it will be Wyoming, or Idaho, or maybe Alabama or Georgia. That annoying next door neighbor still in the habit of blocking your driveway with his truck? Bam. Shoot first and ask questions later. It’s all part of our gun culture. Gun ownership in this country has now moved beyond the point of being a fetish, to being an out-and-out addiction. Like a heroin or cocaine addiction, or worse. We’re supposed to be having a hard time in this country financially; yet there always seems to be money available for ordinary people to acquire some very expensive hardware and ammo. How hard can financial times be when gun stores can’t stock enough guns and bullets to satisfy their customers. And of course, any political movement toward sane gun-control laws has long been destroyed by the NRA and its millions of followers. It appears that when sanity comes up against paranoia, it’s sanity that gets blown away.

Australia has enacted some very strict gun control legislation, and has seen their homicide rate drop to less than half of what it is in the U.S. A case where rationality actually triumphed over insanity. But don’t look for that happening here, anytime soon. The gun addiction is just too powerful.

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Ostensibly, when a nation formulates and adopts a system of justice, its overriding purpose should be to achieve …..justice. However, the system that has evolved in this country is a long way from accomplishing that goal. Our justice system has developed into an adversarial battle between prosecuting and defense attorneys. Usually the side that has the best lawyer will win the case. Truth and case facts usually have little to do with the jury’s decision. The lawyer that can make the best sales pitch, that has the most charisma or personal appeal will invariably come out on top. Juries are often composed of members that are totally naive and ever-so fearful of of sending an innocent person to prison, that they usually bend over backwards to avoid a guilty conviction.

It wasn’t always so. Early in the 18th century, before we became an independent nation, trials were basically about finding the true facts and circumstances about the case before the court. The judge, prosecuting attorney and defense counsel would often work in unity to find the guilt or innocence of the defendant. A prosecutor somewhere along the trial’s proceedings might come to the conclusion that the defendant was indeed innocent, and recommend his release. A defense attorney might realize that the case facts do, indeed, show his client to be guilty, and say so in open court. Those days are long gone, however, and as I’ve said, today it’s purely an adversarial relationship.

In our so-called justice system in this day and age, jury verdicts in a criminal case are either guilty or not-guilty. Not guilty, however, does not translate into innocence. It just means that the jury was not presented with sufficient evidence to prove guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt,” which is a highly subjective phrase to begin with. It can also mean that the jury was too chicken-hearted to convict even though they were presented with a mountain of evidence-as was the case in the O.J. Simpson murder trial. Also, since 1969, we have what is known as the exclusionary rule; which means that if the police made any procedural error in gathering evidence, that evidence cannot be used in court. So instead of sanctioning the police for a faulty search, the public at large is victimized, as the evidence that could convict a serial killer or other type of criminal is tossed, and he is allowed to walk out of court a free man. Your justice system in its finest hour.

The only reason that the prosecution does win any convictions, is because most criminals are too poor to afford high-powered legal attorneys to defend them. Most often, these defendants are assigned legal-aid lawyers who are usually: 1) overburdened with about 2 dozen cases on their plate, and only want the defendant to plead out, so as to ease their workload, and 2) are usually not bright enough to be hired by a prominent legal firm to begin with. So the moral of this story is that if you’re planning to commit the crime, but don’t want to do the time, make sure you have enough resources to hire a hotshot legal defense team. Three recent high profile cases prove this point.

Case 1. The O.J. Simpson murder trial. In 1994, O.J. Simpson’s ex-wife, Nicole Brown, and Nicole’s boyfriend at the time, Ron Goldman, were stabbed to death in front of Nicole’s house. An overwhelming deluge of evidence pointed to O.J. as the killer. O.J. was finally arrested and thrown in the clink, and after much posturing and many legal maneuvers,  was brought to trial. The state assigned a highly experienced prosecutor named Marsha Clark to present its case. While Marsha Clark had a fairly impressive win rate, she also possessed the charisma of wallpaper. She allowed the trial to drag on from January-September, 1995, droning away with monotonous repetition over every arcane fact. I imagine that the jury, over this 9 month period, must have been ready to pull their hair out with the monotony and boredom of it all. All she really had to do was point out that O.J.’s DNA was found at the scene of the crime.

Simpson’s defense team, on the other hand, was headed up by the very charismatic Johnnie Cochran, who knew well, how to make his sales pitch to a jury. Given Cochran’s salesmanship abilities versus Clark’s dull as dishwater monotonous presentations, the jury’s fast, not guilty verdict was easily predictable. After being tied up for 9 months, the jury was just anxious to get-the-hell-out-of-there, and a not guilty verdict was the easiest way out. Even though, as I’ve said, a mountain of evidence showed that O.J. was guilty.

In a cruel twist of fate, O.J. did go to jail, but not until 13 years later. In 2007, Simpson came to Las Vegas supposedly to retrieve some memorabilia that he felt had been wrongfully taken from him. In a confrontation in a sleazy hotel room between O.J. and his cronies, versus the alleged memorabilia takers, Simpson was accused of using a gun to retrieve his supposedly stolen items. He was convicted of robbery while using a gun and other charges an sent to prison for avery long time. The charges and the case was totally bogus; but the judge and jury in Las Vegas tried to compensate for the great miscarriage of justice in the infamous murder trial 13 years earlier. O.J. just recently was in court appealing his conviction and asking for a new trial. He’s also up for parole, so he may be getting out of jail soon.

Case 2. The Casey Anthony trial in 2011. Casey was accused of murdering her 3 year old daughter, Caylee, because she wanted to party instead of having to be tied down by an infant. The facts in the case, again, overwhelmingly pointed to her guilt. She waited an entire month before reporting her child missing, and she was able to lead the police to where the child was buried. Once again the jury exhibited collective brain freeze, and found Casey not guilty. Justice for the 3-year old child would never be achieved. It’s the jury that should have been locked up for felony stupidity.

Case 3. George Zimmerman. We’re all aware of this trial that just ended with a not guilty verdict. And admittedly the evidence was weak as to who started the chain of events that led to Trayvon Martin’s death. But there is no question that defense attorneys completed out-played and out-manuvered the prosecution, as in the O.J. murder case. While the prosecutor did have a weak case, certain facts are indisputable. George Zimmerman was a wannabe cop who volunteered to patrol his neighborhood. He had a loaded gun in his pocket during these patrols. There had been a number of break-ins in his community. When he saw a tall black teenager wearing a hoodie, he obviously believed that Trayvon was one of those committing these crimes; although, of course, he wasn’t. Zimmerman phoned the police who advised him to get back in his truck and wait for them to arrive. If he had done that, the ensuing tragedy would not have occurred. Instead he got into a confrontation with Trayvon Martin, and then shot the teenager dead. Zimmerman claims that he feared for his life and shot in self-defense. A jury of 6 women agreed, and found him not guilty. (I felt it was strange to have a jury of 6, instead of the usual 12, and have only women on the jury.)

So this is what passes for  a justice system these days. But for Nicole Brown, Ron Goldman, Caylee Anthony, and now Trayvon Martin, justice will never be achieved. Call it whatever you wish, but please don’t call it a justice system.



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