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Thursday, March 20, 2014

Holy cow! A real important op-ed in a major newspaper

And it is about criminal justice--as in, the real criminal justice system--as it actually operates!

Titled, "Our criminal justice system has become a crime," the author of the column argues that the ideals of criminal justice on which our "system" was founded (i.e., due process), really do not exist. For example:

He writes: "Here's how things all-too-often work today: Law enforcement decides that a person is suspicious (or, possibly, just a political enemy). Upon investigation into every aspect of his/her life, they find possible violations of the law, often involving obscure, technical statutes that no one really knows. They then file a 'kitchen-sink' indictment involving dozens, or even hundreds of charges, which the grand jury rubber stamps. The accused then must choose between a plea bargain, or the risk of a trial in which a jury might convict on one or two felony counts simply on a 'where there's smoke there must be fire' theory even if the evidence seems less than compelling.

"This is why, in our current system, the vast majority of cases never go to trial, but end in plea bargains. And if being charged with a crime ultimately leads to a plea bargain, then it follows that the real action in the criminal justice system doesn't happen at trial, as it does in most legal TV shows, but way before, at the time when prosecutors decide to bring charges. Because usually, once charges are brought, the defendant will wind up doing time for something.

"The problem is that, although there's lots of due process at trial — right to cross-examine, right to counsel, rules of evidence, and, of course, the jury itself, which the Framers of our Constitution thought the most important protection in criminal cases — there's basically no due process at the stage when prosecutors decide to bring charges. Prosecutors who are out to 'get' people have a free hand; prosecutors who want to give favored groups or individuals a pass have a free hand, too."

This issue is discussed in my media book on the chapter on courts. Yet, you rarely see it raised in the news media, especially in a major newspaper that is widely read such as USA Today. So of course I thought you needed to see it!

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