Prisoners are persons whom most of us would rather not think about. Banished from everyday sight, they exist in a shadow world that only dimly enters our awareness. They are members of a "total institution" that controls their daily existence in a way that few of us can imagine. "[P]rison is a complex of physical arrangements and of measures, all wholly governmental, all wholly performed by agents of government, which determine the total existence of certain human beings (except perhaps in the realm of the spirit, and inevitably there as well) from sundown to sundown, sleeping, walking, speaking, silent, working, playing, viewing, eating, voiding, reading, alone, with others. . . ." It is thus easy to think of prisoners as members of a separate netherworld, driven by its own demands, ordered by its own customs, ruled by those whose claim to power rests on raw necessity. -- Justice William Brennan, dissenting in O’Lone v. Estate of Shabazz, 482 U.S. 342, 354-55 (1987).

Monday, July 30, 2007

Justice 101

As I alluded to in an earlier post, it didn't take me long to discover a darker side to our system of justice that I never knew existed. I am a pretty intelligent and educated person. I follow the news closely as well as legal issues. My lawyer wondered why I didn't become a lawyer myself because of my knowledge and interest in constitutional issues and the Supreme Court. How many non-lawyers do you know that can name all the Supreme Court justices and their positions on various issues?

Despite all this, I quickly found out I knew nothing about the way the process really works. And that's not just based on my own case but on the stories I heard in prison. I came away convinced that the average citizen is totally clueless about the way the law actually works.

To that end, I have decided I am going to write a series of articles on some of the practices that totally shocked me and that I think will shock the average person. I will still continue to tell my stories of prison; indeed, these articles are based on stories I heard in prison that I further researched when I got out.

Potential topics:

1. Plea Bargaining - Why the right to jury trial has become virtually obsolete.
2. Double Jeopardy - Did you know that if you are charged by the state with a crime and are acquitted, the federal government can turn around and charge you again for the same set of facts?
3. Conspiracy Laws, Drug Sentencing, and Informants - Most drug offenders are in prison, not because the government had any tangible evidence against them, but because other guilty people pointed a finger at them in exchange for a lesser sentence. You can be convicted of a crime based solely on the testimony of two or more guilty informants who are being rewarded for their testimony.
4. New Charges - Even if you win your case, oftentimes the government will indict you on something else based on what they discovered in their investigation of the original charge that you were acquitted on. Usually it will be tax "fraud."
5. Presentence Investigative Report (PSI or PSR) - Perhaps the most corrupt part of the process is that the probation department writes the PSI from the perspective of the government.
6. Computer Searches - this is an issue dear to my heart because it directly affected my case. The 4th amendment is effectively dead when it comes to searching your computer.
7. Sentencing Guidelines - The USSG was intended to create parity in sentencing across the country by limiting discretion on the part of judges. In reality, it has simply handed that discretion to prosecutors. It is the prosecutor, not the judge that decides your sentence.
8. Perjury Enhancement - If you choose to exercise your constitutional right to testify in your own defense but are convicted, your sentence can be enhanced for "perjury" without the government actually having to charge your with perjury and prove it to a jury.
9. Willful Blindness Laws - Even if you didn't know, you should have known.
10. Your Bank is Spying on You - Did you know that your bank is required under threat of civil and criminal punishment to report on your finanical activities to the government if they are deemed "suspicious." And they are forbidden from telling you whenever they do this.

There is no way I can treat each of these topics in detail -- I do have a life I am trying to live -- but I will provide links to documents with more information so you can read further.

In the meantime, if you want to get a head-start, check out this link at the November Coalition on federal judges who are speaking out on many of these very same issues.

1 comment:

Paul Eilers said...

Guilty until proven innocent, eh?

The best thing to do is to avoid even the appearance of trouble!


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