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How To Crash the US Justice System: Demand a Trial 897

Posted by Soulskill
from the pleading-the-sixth dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "The U.S. Bill of Rights guarantees the accused basic safeguards, including a fair and speedy jury trial, but in this era of mass incarceration — when our nation's prison population has quintupled in a few decades — these rights are, for the overwhelming majority of people hauled into courtrooms across America, theoretical. More than 90 percent of criminal cases are never tried before a jury, in part because the Supreme Court ruled in 1978 that threatening someone with life imprisonment for a minor crime in an effort to induce him to forfeit a jury trial did not violate his Sixth Amendment right to trial. 'The truth is that government officials have deliberately engineered the system to assure that the jury trial system established by the Constitution is seldom used,' says Timothy Lynch, director of the criminal justice project at the libertarian Cato Institute. Now Susan Burton, head of 'A New Way of Life' (PDF), is helping to start a movement to demand restoration of Americans' basic civil and human rights by asking people who have been charged with crimes to reject plea bargains, and press for trial. 'Can we crash the system just by exercising our rights?' Burton says if everyone charged with crimes suddenly exercised his constitutional rights, there would not be enough judges, lawyers or prison cells to deal with the ensuing tsunami of litigation."
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How To Crash the US Justice System: Demand a Trial

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  • Uh, no (Score:5, Informative)

    by unassimilatible (225662) on Monday March 12, 2012 @06:47PM (#39332793) Journal
    Only the indigent get appointed counsel, not people who don't want to spend the extra money.
  • Re:Uh, no (Score:3, Informative)

    by nschubach (922175) on Monday March 12, 2012 @06:54PM (#39332915) Journal

    Thus the part that reads, "If you cannot afford..."

  • by snowgirl (978879) on Monday March 12, 2012 @07:10PM (#39333093) Journal

    You can't just say "I can't afford an attorney". If you have any money in the bank, or if you have a job, or both, you don't get a court-appointed attorney.

    Well, if you're willing to be a test case, and willing to sit for awhile (a long time) in jail, refuse to retain a lawyer on your own dime, and refuse to forfeit your right to representation. Without refusing to forfeit your right to representation, the court likely cannot constitutionally proceed without appointing a lawyer to represent you.

    Of course, you would also probably have to sue and appeal to get the judgement in your favor, which would require a lawyer...

    But then I did preface all of this with "willing to get screwed"...

  • Re:GAP (Score:4, Informative)

    by Jeremy Erwin (2054) on Monday March 12, 2012 @08:06PM (#39333711) Journal

    Returning to the question of being loved or feared, I sum up by saying, that since his being loved depends upon his subjects, while his being feared depends upon himself, a wise Prince should build on what is his own, and not on what rests with others.

  • by Reverberant (303566) on Monday March 12, 2012 @08:33PM (#39333967) Homepage

    BULLSHIT The segregationist racist laws of the US South were passed by DEMOCRATS

    Yes- conservative Democrats. Liberal = Democrat and Conservative = Republican is a recent turn of events, before the 1960's there were conservative and liberal Republicans, as well as conservative and liberal Democrats.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 12, 2012 @08:37PM (#39334005)

    I got a speeding ticket. I demaded discovery and the local prosecutor tried to overcharge me. then the State tried to overcharge me for the video DVD of the stop. I got out the prosecutor manaual and showed where he overchaged me. The Judge was confused, the prosecutor didn't want me brining all this stuff up so i complained to the Mayor and City Council ... When I went back to court the prosecutor said the Officer did not show up and case dismissed. he wanted me out of there ASAP.

  • by jackbird (721605) on Monday March 12, 2012 @08:40PM (#39334045)

    There is nothing in the constitution that guarantees your right to bail

    ...Other than the eighth amendment.

  • by demonlapin (527802) on Monday March 12, 2012 @08:45PM (#39334081) Homepage Journal
    Traffic tickets are usually not criminal offenses - a simple speeding ticket is not even a misdemeanor in most states, just an administrative infraction. And even where they are, states often exempt traffic courts from the right to a jury trial. And they charge enough in "court costs" that it costs you more to defend yourself than to pay the ticket up front.
  • by TubeSteak (669689) on Monday March 12, 2012 @09:23PM (#39334385) Journal

    My mother once tried to represent herself in court, over some business thing. She was berated by the judge

    That's more shocking that you think, since the judge is supposed to assist a pro se (self representing) litigant.
    But like most things in life, your mileage may vary.

    /Your mother should have filed an ethics complaint with the state's judicial ethics board/commission

  • by 0111 1110 (518466) on Monday March 12, 2012 @10:14PM (#39334735)

    Maybe it depends on the state, but in my state you have to have a sufficiently low income to be represented for free. And your income has to be very low indeed. The problem with public defenders is not that they are incompetent (although they often only recently passed the bar exam), but that they have too high a case load to give your case sufficient attention. At least that's what I've heard. I met the income requirement, but was able to borrow the money for a private attorney. I'll be in debt for a long time though because the fee is about 3/4 of my annual income. To me it's worth it if it gives me a better chance of staying out of jail, but the price is very steep indeed.

  • by DigiShaman (671371) on Monday March 12, 2012 @10:21PM (#39334787) Homepage

    Been there, done that. I got falsely accused of speeding. Honestly. Long story short, the COP confused me with someone else that blew by me going 90 MPH while I was humming along between 65 and 70. Anyways, I was so adamant at fighting the system that I decided to represent myself via trial by judge. What that a fucking mistake. The fucking workthless pig showed up and the judge hardly gave me any time to make my case. You see, I didn't speak legalese. Effectively, I had no voice and thus was not heard. No matter what. I was a peniata. A fat fish in a small barrel being shot at with RPGs. I cannot stress how sad it was to be forced to remain mute while being humiliated in front of the jury. Oh, and the jury? Combined IQ maybe passed 90 if I was lucky. Fucked either way!

  • by trevelyon (892253) on Monday March 12, 2012 @11:55PM (#39335443)
    I did the same thing many years back. If you really want to see how the legal system works challenge a speeding ticket in court. You think you have rights and the judge is impartial? Go to a trial and watch them break all the laws and trample those rights. I am totally serious even the most simple and basic things go out the window. The Judge and prosecutor are on the same team and you have little to no chance to even make a valid case. They will also threaten you with contempt of court and deny you the opportunity to video tape the proceedings (to show others what the system really is like). It was a great $200 real world lesson for me and I recommend it to everyone. That way you know the reality of the system you are living under not the illusion like most people have.
  • Re:Uh, no (Score:5, Informative)

    by Lord Kano (13027) on Tuesday March 13, 2012 @12:04AM (#39335483) Homepage Journal

    You, sir, have no idea of how that's applied. If you have a job, they say you can afford a lawyer. Even if all of your income is taken by rent/mortgage, utilities and food. If you have any income, you *can* afford a lawyer and are assumed to be refusing to pay for one.

    You really must be indigent to get a free lawyer and those usually aren't that good.

    LK

  • Re:Uh, no (Score:5, Informative)

    by YesDinosaursDidExist (1268920) on Tuesday March 13, 2012 @12:48AM (#39335715)

    Thus the part that reads, "If you cannot afford..."

    Why was this modded up to 4 - "Interesting?" I would look up the requirements (i.e. lack of income requirement) for access to the public defender system in your state. In Wisconsin for example --- if you make >$260\week you are not allowed a public defender and have to provide your own council. Let's see -- $260\week -- assuming you never take any vacation -- thats less than $14K a year. .......basically -- you have to be EXTREMELY poor before you are given access to a public defender...and its worse in some states.

    Also - I agree that coercing defendants to settle does happen -- in criminal and civil cases -- but the dockets of courts around the country are already filled -- so sure, we can "break" the system -- but unless you're willing to fight for another century to rebuild the entire judiciary -- its pointless. The reality is, trials are expensive, they suck, depending on the jurisdiction -- you may already be screwed (so settlement is your BEST option), and most people don't have the wherewithal or resources to carry a case through to final judgment.

    I have no idea what the answer is -- as I see it, there is no fix or magic bullet...but, demonizing settlement of cases, or plea bargains -- is not the answer. And nor is forcing a trial on someone who will most likely be indebted for the rest of their lives paying legal and court fees -- there is no justice in that -- and in many cases -- it is a worse fate than would have come out of settling.

  • by micheas (231635) on Tuesday March 13, 2012 @02:29AM (#39336135) Homepage Journal

    I have a friend in the middle of a lawsuit. She didn't have the $100k in up front costs so she is representing herself (I know civil, not criminal, a different world, but some lessons still apply)

    In her first two court dates in front of a judge she got to say next to nothing and was just ruled against.

    In her third filing she put in a bunch of citations about the rights of self represented litigants, and the duty the court owes them.

    The same judge that more or less didn't let her talk in the first two hearings, bent over backwards to make things fair, and when she had not prepared a notice, ordered the Lawyer for the other side to draw it up for her.

    The moral, judges are used to lawyers telling them the law, and therefore if you want a judge to respect your rights, you have to explain your rights to the judge, and why the judge has to respect them, otherwise its, "Next case. We have a lot get through today".

    ps. IANAL

  • Re:Uh, no (Score:5, Informative)

    by spiralx (97066) * on Tuesday March 13, 2012 @09:09AM (#39337651)

    And yet in both the Netherlands and Portugal heroin use is dropping, especially amongst the youth.

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