Forcing the Innocent to Plead Guilty, an American Disgrace
By John Kiriakou, opednews
A record 149 people had their criminal convictions overturned in 2015 after courts found they had been wrongly charged, according to a recent study. Nearly four in 10 of those exonerated had been convicted of murder, and the average newly-released prisoner had served more than 14 years in prison. Most of the exonerations came in only two states, Texas and New York. The National Registry of Exonerations, a project of the University of Michigan Law School, found that there have been 1,733 exonerations since 1989, with the total doubling since 2011. More than two-thirds of last year's exonerees were minorities. Five had been sentenced to death.
There is a reason why most of the exonerations have come from two locales. District attorneys in Brooklyn, New York, and Harris County, Texas, have begun long-term reviews of questionable convictions, actions that are being watched by prosecutors and defense attorneys across the country. With 156 death row exonerations since 1973, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, this is a problem that must be addressed.
The National Registry of Exonerations report stated further that 42 of those exonerated in 2015 had pleaded guilty, a glaring indication that the current system of seeking plea bargains simply isn't just. Indeed, Propublica found that 98.2 percent of all federal cases end in conviction, with nearly all of those a result of plea deals.
Why would an innocent person take a plea? Really, there is no alternative. First, the government uses a technique called "charge stacking." Have you committed an actual crime? Be prepared for multiple charges, including a lot of "throw-away charges," like obstruction of justice or making a false statement. In addition, the government will likely levy multiple charges against you for the same crime.
The point is not necessarily to convict you on everything, although prosecutors are perfectly happy to do that. The point is that prosecutors will eventually offer you a deal. Take a plea to one count and the others will be dismissed. It's a negotiating ploy. But for the accused, the question is this: Even if you are innocent, should you take a plea and do a couple of years in prison or should you try your luck at trial, knowing that almost no defendant wins in court? Almost everybody takes the deal.
After I blew the whistle on the CIA's torture program, the Justice Department charged me with violating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act. I had confirmed the name of a former CIA colleague to a reporter who wanted to interview him for a book. The name was never made public, but I shouldn't have done it. Still, I had no criminal intent and there was no harm to the national security.
But that didn't matter. The government added three espionage charges, as well as a charge of making a false statement. They threatened additional charges of making a false statement and obstruction of justice. Of course, I hadn't committed espionage. Nor had I made any false statements. But that didn't matter. Why risk a trial when you can just force a defendant to take a plea?
In the end, I took a plea to the initial charge. Everything else was dismissed. I was sentenced to 30 months in a federal prison. If I had gone to trial and had been found guilty, I was looking at 45 years. Realistically, I would have been sentenced to 18-24 years. Either way, I would have likely died in prison.
That happens every day in America. So it should be no surprise that innocent people are in prison as a result of pleading guilty to crimes they didn't commit. The work of the Brooklyn and Harris County district attorneys should be lauded. But innocent men and women shouldn't have to rely on the isolated prosecutor with a conscience for justice. Justice should mean justice.
Stop Punishing People for Poverty: Abolish Bail
By Maya Schenwar, The New York Times
Chicago - How can we reduce the enormous populations of our country's local jails?
Last month, Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York unveiled a plan to decrease the population of the Rikers Island jail complex by reducing the backlog of cases in state courts. About 85 percent of those at Rikers haven't been convicted of any offense; they're just awaiting trial, sometimes for as long as hundreds of days.
Mayor de Blasio's plan is a positive step. Yet it ignores a deeper question: Why are so many people - particularly poor people of color - in jail awaiting trial in the first place?
Usually, it is because they cannot afford bail. According to a 2011 report by the city's Independent Budget Office, 79 percent of pretrial detainees were sent to Rikers because they couldn't post bail right away.
This is a national problem. Across the United States, most of the people incarcerated in local jails have not been convicted of a crime but are awaiting trial. And most of those are waiting in jail not because of any specific risk they have been deemed to pose, but because they can't pay their bail.
In other words, we are locking people up for being poor. This is unjust. We should abolish monetary bail outright.
Some will argue that bail is necessary to prevent flight before trial, but there is no good basis for that assumption. For one thing, people considered to pose an unacceptable risk of flight (or violence) are not granted bail in the first place. (Though the procedures for determining who poses a risk themselves ought to be viewed with skepticism, especially since conceptions of risk are often shaped, tacitly or otherwise, by racist assumptions.)
There is also evidence that bail is not necessary to ensure that people show up for trial. In Washington, DC, a city that makes virtually no use of monetary bail, the vast majority of arrestees who are released pretrial do return to court, and rates of additional crime before trial are low.
In addition to being unjust and unnecessary, pretrial incarceration can have harmful consequences. Not only do those who are in jail before trial suffer the trauma of confinement, but in comparison with their bailed-out counterparts, they are also more likely to be convicted at trial. As documented in a 2010 Human Rights Watch report, the legal system is substantially tougher to navigate from behind bars. People in jail face more pressure to accept plea bargains - often, ones that aren't to their advantage - than do those confronting their charges from home.
Those who spend even a few days in jail can lose their jobs or housing during that time. Single parents can lose custody of their children. By exacerbating the effects of poverty, and by placing people in often traumatizing circumstances, pretrial incarceration may actually lead to more crime.
Bail also raises issues of racial injustice. A number of studies have shown that black defendants are assigned higher bail amounts than their white counterparts. This discrepancy is compounded by the fact that black people disproportionately live in poverty and thus unduly face challenges in paying bail.
Other burdens of bail also fall harder on people of color. For instance, black mothers face a particularly serious risk of losing custody of their children while incarcerated, because they are excessively targeted by child protective services.
Jails disproportionately confine mentally ill people, too - rates of mental illness are four to six times higher in jail than outside - and people with mental health problems often live in economic circumstances that make it difficult to afford bail. A study released in February by the Vera Institute of Justice found that one-third of jailed people with mental illness were unemployed before being arrested.
Finally, monetary bail is at odds with the legal ideal of the presumption of innocence. If we want to grant people this presumption, we must not punish them before their trials.
There is no getting around it: We are incarcerating people for being poor, at great cost to actual human lives. We have to stop.
We use the word all of the time. We start teaching young children at the earliest possible moment in their new lives. We have established systems in each and every culture at every period of recorded history. The desire for justice seems to be part of being human.
And yet, it appears impossible to achieve. There is always some form of inequity within any system that relegates justice to a philosophical concept as opposed to a reality in society.
On the larger scale, war is injustice itself. Society cannot wantonly kill off huge numbers of human beings and claim justice, no matter who wins and what excuses are used to 'justify' the slaughter. For a country such as the United States whose foreign policy is focused on world domination, the word "justice" cannot have any meaning.
But, that's on the larger scale. On the local, domestic front, 'justice' does just as badly. The laws are tilted toward the wealthy. The system of law enforcement is focused entirely on the poor. Those in prison are exclusively racial minorities and the poor (usually the same group because of systematic injustice).
In every society throughout history, religion has played a significant role in the lives of the people. Most people seem to believe in 'something'. In the United States, we love to loudly identify ourselves as a 'Christian' nation. It would be good if it were true. We would achieve that elusive 'justice'. But, unfortunately, there are virtually no 'Christians' in this country. The teachings of Jesus were simple and straight forward... "Love God & Love Your Neighbor". If there was one word to use in describing his teachings, that word would be "Compassion".
But then, here we are not even pretending to be Christians... only mouthing a few hollow words and totally devoid of any action. How can one pretend compassion while operating a 'criminal justice system' that is itself 'Criminal'? How can one 'justify' forcing innocent people to plead guilty? How can one 'justify incarcerating people because they are poor?
The Pledge of Allegiance concludes with a description of the flag and the nation to which one pledges allegiance..."with liberty and justice for all"... clearly that does not describe the United States today or at any point in our history, and that's the truth !!!
also read 'There is no Justice in America' by Paul Craig Roberts wherein he endorses an article by Chris Hedges, 'The Mirage of Justice'.
also read, 'Justice for All' An Impossible Goal? by Bradford G. Schleifer
of Various Subjects