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Criminal Justice in the U.S.

Published by marco on

The article Theater of Justice by Molly Crabapple (VICE) is an article by an artist who also occasionally does courtroom sketches.

She tells of Cecily McMillan, who was beaten into a seizure by police offers and who two years later stands trial for assaulting a police officer, facing seven years in prison. The officer’s record of having beaten other suspects was deemed inadmissable.

Or there is the other recent case of a black woman who tried to stand her ground, as others have successfully done. She fired a warning shot into the air, killing no one, not even wounding anyone. These were the actions of “Marissa Alexander, a PhD and mom who [wanted to] stop her husband from beating her,” That’s not a good reason, is it? Are we even sure that her husband isn’t allowed to beat her in that state? And that’s not nearly as good a reason as the guy had who killed a boy in the back-seat of his SUV for playing music too loud. Not guilty! But Marissa’s going to go away for a long time for her transgression.

“[She] was offered three years as a plea deal for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. She refused, knowing herself innocent. The judge sentenced her to 20 years. Now, she’s appealing. If she loses, the prosecutor wants to lock her up for 60.

“This is a “trial tax” you pay if you annoy the courts by insisting you are innocent.”

Who does this uppity woman think she is? Does she think she’s white? Rich? A citizen? A human being? Do not speak of justice in a system that produces hypocrisy on this scale. And the system does everything it can to make being poor or disadvantaged increase chances of prosecution dramatically.

We still have jury trials in the States; this means that non-professional, easily misled and nigh-constantly deluded undereducated head-cases are deciding your fate. Those are your peers. They can’t string two logical sentences together; what are the odds that they can wend their way through the facts of the case to come to a just conclusion? Nearly zero. What are the odds that they will decide your fate based on how you dress or act rather than evidence? Nearly certain.

“The poor, the brown, the trans – to juries, they’re guilty unless proven otherwise. Innocence is the absence of guilt. It is near impossible to prove a negative. […] If you’re too poor to afford bail, you arrive in court in chains. If you have no family to bring you a suit, you wear your prison jumpsuit.”

And people who haven’t yet been convicted are made to suffer beforehand. The unconvicted are left to stew behind bars because they can’t afford ridiculous bail. The homeless guy who was recently broiled to death in Riker’s Island because he couldn’t pay $2500 for bail on his charge of loitering was in jail for this reason. He was luckier than the homeless guy in the SouthWest U.S. who was executed by police officers for the same crime. Sure, those are anecdotes, but that doesn’t change the fact that “[…] the average defendant [is] a person of colour charged with a drug crime.” And more and more prisoners are going away for longer sentences; more and more people are taking years before they get their trial.

“Because the entire system would implode if everyone demanded a trial, prosecutors push plea bargains like restaurants hawking early bird specials. But instead of money, they’re haggling over life. If you’re too poor for a lawyer or have already spent months in jail because you can’t make bail, plea bargains can be irresistible. They account for 95 percent of felony convictions.”

As mentioned above, 95% just take the plea bargain in order to get some form of a life back. This is a life with a felony record and drastically reduced chances of making anything of yourself in a society that hates its ex-cons.

“Most trials resemble not grand dramas but factory farms. The raw material is a person. The product is a prisoner. Trials are deliberately dull. They move glacially, on state time rather than human time. If you hire your own lawyers – a necessity to have a chance of winning – you’ll blow through your life savings. As the cop cliché goes, “You can beat the rap, but you can’t beat the ride.””

If you don’t plea out, you lose your life savings and may still go to jail. If you do plea out, you lose all chance of ever making decent money again. You see? In America, you still have the freedom to choose.