How the United States justice system is flawed
Justice. The truth, however, is that the court system is flawed in just about every way imaginable. The courts are in the practice of handing out punishments – not justice – which generally work to oppress our country’s racial minority and impoverished people. Law and the legal system is supposed to evolve with the times. Are we stuck in the medieval times?
How is the system flawed?
- The UK VS the USA: In the UK, the prosecution (The prosecution is the legal party responsible for presenting the case in a criminal trial against an individual accused of breaking the law) cannot threaten the suspect and give them more aggressive charges if the person does not plead guilty of a crime but wants to go on trial to prove innocence. In America, however, this is just standard practice. The idea behind our justice system is that everyone gets his or her day in court, but that is rarely how things play out anymore. In many instances, maintaining your innocence is considered a dumb move because the potential punishment is so hefty. In most cases, people plead guilty and take a lesser punishment regardless of their culpability because the risks of losing at trial is far too risky. How is that justice?
- Unfair arrests: In the U.S., African Americans are six times and Latinos are 3 times more likely to be incarcerated than their white counterparts. Before you blame it all on behavior, police seem to disproportionately target certain people for arrests. Despite similar drug usage rates, black people are four times more likely to be arrested on marijuana charges. Moreover, punishments are not allocated equally. On average, judges sentence black convicts to 20% more jail time than white people who committed the same crime. How do you help convince a country that black and brown people are dangerous criminals? By disproportionately locking them up more often and longer to reinforce the idea that they are criminals.
- Prisons are a business: Why does the U.S. have the world’s highest incarceration rate? As usual in this country, follow the money for the answer. Over the years, prisons have gone from a state-run entity to a private enterprise. Since maximizing profits for this industry requires stuffing as many bodies into the jails as possible, that means the demand for new inmates is always high. We can’t expect justice to be served when rich people have a financial interest in seeing more people locked up.
- Plea deals?: Those who can’t afford a defense are supposed to be afforded a public defender attorney, but that is not always provided. There are documented cases of people being offered an immediate plea “deal” if they agree to not request council. The poor lawyers who agree to serve as public defenders are underpaid and overworked, and often lack the time and resources to adequately mount an effective case against the state’s prosecution. A great new HBO documentary, Gideon’s Army, portrays just how unviable the system is for everyone involved.
- Justice is dead: With pressure from the state to obtain convictions, prosecutors are forced to play a game where being on the winning side is more important than being on the right side. Somewhere in this process, the idea of finding justice is lost. Prosecutors should be tasked with presenting a fair case, not attempt to win at any cost, particularly when “winning” may mean a potentially innocent person’s freedom is at stake.
- A judges conscience: Think legislators are the only elected officials whose positions have been compromised by the Citizens United decision and the subsequent need to appeal to campaign donors? Think again: state judges (who decide 95% of the country’s court cases) are subject to the same warped system. 38 states require its top judges to run for office, and since voters generally knows little about its judicial candidates, the winner is usually the person who spends the most to get his or her (usually his) name out there. This leaves judges beholden to their private interest campaign financiers, which has unsurprisingly led to a surge of decisions in favor of corporations rather than individuals.
The Innocence Project
Every single man, woman and child in this country could easily be accused, tried and condemned in a “circumstantial evidence” case. As a result they could spend a lifetime attempting to prove their innocence. I call it the monster of deception. These laws are designed to prosecute guilty people. The law assumes that once a defendant is found guilty by a judge and jury in a circumstantial evidence case that its job is entirely finished. It is also designed to disallow any defendant a meaningful appeal of his or her guilty verdict. Circumstantial evidence laws assume that all doubts of innocence are erased once a person has been tried and convicted. Lawmakers created this monster in the hope of keeping the guilty behind bars. But what if you are innocent?
After 14 years on Florida’s death row, Frank Lee Smith died of cancer in January 2000, before he was exonerated of rape and murder. The DNA results not only cleared Smith of the crime, but also identified the true perpetrator, Eddie Lee Mosley. According to the Innocence Project, 311 people in U.S. history, 18 of whom were sentenced to the death penalty, have been freed after DNA evidence proved them innocent. The average DNA exoneree has served 13.6 years behind bars. So are prisons really corporations that need to change?
Holmes, a renowned investigator of crime, once remarked, “Circumstantial evidence is a very tricky thing. It may seem to point very straight to one thing, but if you shift your own point of view a little, you may find it pointing in an equally uncompromising manner to something entirely different.”
Circumstantial evidence is not direct evidence from a witness who saw or heard something. It is not a cut and dried fact. There is no DNA or real eyewitness testimony to help prove guilt or innocence in a case. Instead circumstantial evidence is indirect evidence that gives prosecutors leeway to actually invent allegations. These allegations are manufactured to attempt to persuade a jury that the defendant is guilty. The prosecutor can imply that something happened, but he or she cannot directly prove that it happened. It is a chain of events or facts (usually manufactured in a clever prosecutor’s mind) designed to help a jury determine the innocence or guilt of the accused.
Circumstantial evidence is generally admissible in court unless the connection between the fact and the inference is too weak to help in deciding the case. Prosecutors are well schooled in the deceit and lack of conscience their job involves. Many convictions for various crimes rest solely on circumstantial evidence.
What if you are innocent of the charges but the jury finds that you are guilty despite this fact? The real question is how can you prove your innocence? History shows that circumstantial evidence cases get very complex because of the webs of deceit spun by a wily prosecutor determined to sway a jury his or her way to gain a conviction. This has a devastating impact on the middle class and the poor who cannot afford adequate legal counsel. As the case becomes more complex the cost of defending yourself against a false allegation grows impossibly expensive. Would you like to spend your life savings trying to defend yourself against a false allegation? That’s assuming you have a large savings account.
The Supreme Court ruling: K.T. Thomas and R.P Sethi
The Supreme Court ruled that that in a number of cases where direct evidence is scanty that circumstantial evidence plays an important role. Justices K.T. Thomas and R.P Sethi ruled during a criminal murder case appeal that circumstantial evidence, furnished by the prosecution, can be used to convict, provided that the evidence is so complete that it leaves no doubt about the guilt of the accused. The judges ruled that the circumstances relied upon by the prosecution must be clearly established. The truth of the matter is that most of the allegations against a person in a circumstantial evidence case is never clearly established.
This ruling appears biased in favor of the prosecution. It is clearly unfair to someone who is innocent and whose conviction rests solely on a collection of cleverly crafted circumstantial evidence. The false allegations from the Prosecutor can come from his or her own personal need to gain a conviction. Furthermore, the laws are written in such a way to keep anyone convicted on circumstantial evidence from actually receiving an appeal. Any appeals that may be filed by an innocent person are basically futile because the Supreme Court constantly rules against them. As a result of this the innocent person in prison could be denied the right to a new trial. The laws that currently protect a circumstantial evidence conviction can and does impede true justice.
If I am innocent how can I prove that I am not guilty beyond a reasonable doubt? The answer is that you cannot. Your entire future depends on the decision that twelve people will have to make. They do not know anything about you except what they have read in the newspapers or heard on the news. Prosecutors use the press to help win their cases. Are juries fallible? The answer is, of course they are. Human beings from all walks of life are subjected to serving on a jury. Twelve people who do not know you decide the course of your life forever.
The facts are that a jury doesn’t really know if a defendant actually committed a crime. In many cases, the prosecution doesn’t even know. Mainly because of media pressure which in turn causes public outcry; these cases become equivalent to a circus act. The police and prosecuting attorneys fall under pressure because it is a part of their jobs to ensure that someone pays for a crime committed. A mean-spirited and contentious prosecutor can allege that any number of things happened and they use any means available to them to gain a conviction. What is inherently frustrating about a circumstantial evidence case is that it has the legal ability to convince a jury that an innocent defendant is guilty.
The jury has a legal obligation to carefully examine the evidence presented to it. The first question should be, Is the fact possible? If so, are there any circumstances that could render it impossible? If the facts are impossible then the jury should find the defendant innocent or guilty based on what they conclusively know. What we do know is that the real truth rarely comes out in a courtroom.
Often the defendant’s rights are greatly compromised by the way different states place limitations on their rights of disclosure. Most states do not allow disclosure in a criminal case. This can impede true justice because if a defendant had disclosure rights they would have the right to depose any witnesses who plan to testify against him or her. This would allow the defendant to collaborate more meaningfully with their attorneys and this could greatly help an innocent defendant prove his or her innocence. In most states, a person bringing a civil suit in a car accident, for example, has more discovery rights than a person who may face the death penalty or a long period of incarceration.
Discovery rights should be allowed in all criminal cases. If an innocent person could have the equal rights of discovery in a criminal case, it would eliminate any surprises the defendant may face in the courtroom. By limiting the defendant’s rights of discovery, it proves that most states actually value monetary case settlements over criminal cases that involve our most basic rights under the Constitution. These are the rights to pursue life and to have our liberty. The case eventually ends up in the hands of twelve people who have to decide who has presented the best argument for the innocence or guilt of the defendant. They deliberate by asking the questions: Who presented the best argument? Was it the defense or the prosecution?
Jurors are not legal experts. Jurors come from varied backgrounds and from all walks of life. They are human beings who can make mistakes. But the question begs asking, if jurors are not allowed to vote their consciences, how can they possibly pass judgment on another human being who may be innocent? The jury selection process needs improvement as well. Prosecutors and attorneys intentionally rule out anyone who has had any contact with the legal system. They want jurors who are uninformed and who will believe the tales invented by the prosecution. The truth is that most jurors lack the ability to decide the case based on factual evidence.
As children we are taught that the USA haS the best legal system in the world. It has some flaws, but it is the best in the world. I no longer believe that true justice exists. If the system is the best in the world, why are we sending innocent people to prison? And if an innocent person is convicted, why are we denying them the right to appeal their sentences? I vote to abolish the practice of allowing the legal system to ruin our lives by continuing to incarcerate the innocent. A new approach needs to be made and fast too.
Source: Lectic Law Library (http://www.lectlaw.com/)