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

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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  • by jsepeta ( 412566 ) on Monday March 12, 2012 @06:37PM (#39332697) Homepage

    and my attorney advised that a trial would be more expensive, so i should just settle

    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 12, 2012 @06:45PM (#39332771)

      If you read even the summary, it is talking about criminal cases. In a criminal case "You have the right to speak to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you.".

      • 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:5, Insightful)

          by GodInHell ( 258915 ) on Monday March 12, 2012 @07:07PM (#39333061) Homepage
          Don't worry, after a few months of litigation you too can be indigent.

          That's a joke. The reality is that, yes, a jury trial is MUCH more expensive than taking your lawyer's plea agreement -- unless you calculate in your time in prison, etc.

          The real issue is that you actually CAN be punished for demanding a jury trial -- the sentence will be heavier -- this is tailored as "lack of remorse" essentially -- you're still claiming innocence!? You aren't facing up to your criminal liability. Add time.

          • Re:Uh, no (Score:5, Insightful)

            by wonkey_monkey ( 2592601 ) on Monday March 12, 2012 @07:55PM (#39333589) Homepage
            There's a dilemma there for me. Those who truly show remorse should, in an ideal world, be treated more leniently - they are more likely (again, in a ideal world) to go on to become productive members of society. But should we further punish those who maintain their innocence simply for doing so, even if it it is in the face of overwhelming evidence?


            I guess it all boils down to it still being possible - not to suggest justice is inherently flawed, just imperfect - to be convicted of a crime one did not commit.

          • Re:Uh, no (Score:5, Insightful)

            by javascriptjunkie ( 2591449 ) on Monday March 12, 2012 @09:21PM (#39334377)
            Which just goes to show that the court system in America is not accessible to everyone. It's tailored to the rich, those that have already been convicted of something, and people who are already lawyers. It's a damn travesty.
          • Re:Uh, no (Score:5, Interesting)

            by JoeMerchant ( 803320 ) on Monday March 12, 2012 @10:41PM (#39334935)

            My favorite lawyer got hit with some trumped up charges and plea bargained himself into jail for a year rather than risk a jury trial - he should know better than most which decision was in his best interests.

            If all defendants banded together and chose to fall on the knife simultaneously, yes it would crash the system. Good luck getting even 1% of defendants (who weren't already crazy enough to go to jury trial) to try that.

            As it stands, trial by jury is the option for people with nothing left to lose - if your plea bargain leaves you with some semblance of a liveable life, you're better off taking it than rolling the dice against what is usually a 10x worse option. I wonder what the founding fathers would have wanted instead of the plea bargain system, because this surely isn't what they had in mind.

            • Re:Uh, no (Score:5, Interesting)

              by TheLink ( 130905 ) on Monday March 12, 2012 @11:08PM (#39335123) Journal

              That's why nowadays you cannot assume that a large majority of those in jail are guilty. Given the way the system works, many innocent people can be convinced that it is in their best interests to plead guilty.

              Heck in one case an innocent (but mentally ill) person was told that he was helping to find the real culprit by pleading guilty!
              At least there's a bunch going around trying to such people out.

      • by Freddybear ( 1805256 ) on Monday March 12, 2012 @06:49PM (#39332829)

        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.

        • by Moryath ( 553296 ) on Monday March 12, 2012 @07:02PM (#39332987)

          Which is one reason the system is so fucked up to start with.

          Just getting ACCUSED of something can bankrupt you. Guilt doesn't enter it. Just like in the civil court system, big companies mostly use the legal system as a bludgeon, burying opponents in paperwork and attorney's fees regardless of truth or merit of any lawsuit.

          • by sdw ( 6809 ) <`sdw' `at' `'> on Monday March 12, 2012 @09:07PM (#39334277) Homepage

            I let many companies and people abuse me because I couldn't afford time or attorneys to take them to court. Then I turned my attention to learning enough to be competent enough to put a stop to that. Way overdue.

            People should be comfortable representing themselves more. Perhaps not for a crucial criminal trial, but for everything else it should be considered. Basics of the legal system and navigating it should be taught in high school. The fact is that you can combat many opponents well if it costs you next to nothing and they feel they have to pay a lot for attorneys. True to some extent even for well-funded opponents in some circumstances. A major problem is that a lot of information, like process / procedures / formats, is hidden, but you can get it eventually.

            I've successfully run a couple civil actions and successfully contested a couple low-level parking / traffic tickets. I just appealed one in California Appellate court, raising some interesting (to me) constitutional issues. (Waiting for my loss letter...) Good to do A) to work out the details of the process, B) to learn the law better, and C) protest annoying and not-helping-safety/society abuse of laws to meet a quota. I even recently figured out the details of filing citizen's arrest requests to maximally complain about a very dangerous, and illegal, maneuver of a CHP to give someone a speeding ticket. The officer was the only unsafe driver I saw between SF and SJ. (Next time, I'll get positive ID.)

            In California, additional "fees" were added to traffic tickets that make a typical speeding ticket >$500 and really minor infractions start at $240. That's enough to be worth contesting at every point. In fact, it may be enough to change the rules of evidence in some cases.

            I need to populate my pro-se site soon with some of these as examples, if people are interested.
            And yes, I want to attack the overbroad "unlicensed practice of law" statutes that exist in 49 states. Of course you can't fraudulently hold yourself out as a bar-certified lawyer, and you shouldn't (can't, according to those laws) give people advice about what they should do. (The latter makes sense in a narrow sense: Besides what the law means, and what past cases have found, to actually advise people, you should know what the local custom, practices, probabilities, leanings, etc. the local judges and prosecutors have. That is separate from talking about the law or your own experience or analysis / opinions. First amendment rules there. That's the best I can understand the real legal line for conduct.) People aren't confused about who is a doctor just because they suggest that you eat better, get exercise, and take Ritalin or whatever. It is a ridiculous abuse of the public to enact laws so clearly designed to prevent sharing of information to protect blessed professionals.

          • by hairyfeet ( 841228 ) <> on Tuesday March 13, 2012 @02:36AM (#39336159) Journal

            And that isn't even figuring in what happens when someone in the system just decides to get your ass, be it a vendetta or because they are too lazy to catch the real criminal or just because its Tuesday. true story..

            We had a prosecutor in our county the cops called "that God damned bitch" for about 4 years, the reason she had that name? Simple if you had a penis you were guilty, period. women were innocent, men were guilty and God fucking help you you got investigated for ANY things sexual as she would tear into you like a pitbull tearing into a t-bone, all because she was raped in college and it seriously warped her. A friend lost a home that had been in his family 3 generations, built by his grandfather before WWI, all because of the GDB. it was a nasty divorce, he found she was banging two different docs at the hospital she worked at and he made it damned clear he was gonna fight for his kid so she got the 16 year old stepdaughter to say he grabbed her tits. Now it didn't matter that the cops actually went into court on his side, that they had written and testified the case was bogus, the girl had changed her story no less than 5 different times and never came close to telling the same story twice and that at least on one occasion they caught grandma coaching her (which GDB refused to prosecute). Nope none of that mattered as she came up with every charge she could think of and drug it out for over 2 years. By the time it was over the jury took less than 20 minutes to find him not guilty but in the meantime he had lost his job, his home went for lawyer bills and after she cleaned his account she hired a lawyer (which he couldn't afford one after this) and got full custody of his son and promptly took him out of the country, never shall he see his son again.

            so don't think because you have a decent job now that will help you if someone decides to crush you like a bug. it amazed me how no matter how insane the charges were or the fact even the cops said it was completely fabricated this one GDB could completely and utterly destroy a person's life like that. And of course now he doesn't have 2 cents to rub together so good luck getting her for malicious prosecution, which wouldn't give him back his son anyway which he hasn't seen in 14 years now and probably wouldn't even recognize if he ran into him on the street sadly.

        • 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"...

      • by Reverand Dave ( 1959652 ) on Monday March 12, 2012 @06:57PM (#39332941)
        That's a nice rosy thought, but the ability to afford an attorney for trial has nothing to do with your budgetary capability of paying for one, it is all about how poor you are and like many social services, you have to be very VERY poor in order to have an attorney appointed for you. If you don't meet the financial requirements then the state has NO OBLIGATION whatsoever to provide you with an attorney because hey if you really really wanted to, you could not pay your rent for a month or two to keep yourself out of jail. If you can't afford an attorney and one will not be appointed for you then you are on your own. Want to go ahead anyway? Well, there are a long series of rules and procedures you have to follow in order to represent yourself in a proper manner and you have to know that the prosecution is under not obligation to help you in any way shape or form. "You didn't see that piece of evidence? Well it's been here the whole time for you to look at" etc. The american justice system is of, by, and for the wealthy and they are often the only ones that can afford to go to trial which is why more often than not they get off Scot free.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 12, 2012 @06:49PM (#39332821)

      and my attorney advised that a trial would be more expensive, so i should just settle


      That's really fucking sad.


      Justice is only for the rich, apparently.

      I don;t know what to say other than, Eat the rich.

      And for you fuckers who are going to say, "I have never gotten a job from a poor person."

      Well, I have. He was a poor bastard who got a painting contract and hired a bunch of us fellow poor bastards. He kept doing it. He's non rich but he's got a painting business that pays his bills and gives him a decent living and gives jobs to others when he has them.

      Poor people do give folks jobs and in this day and and age of offshoring, they give more jobs than BIG CORP who will insist that they can't "find any qualified Americans" to fill their positions.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 12, 2012 @07:06PM (#39333039)

        I think you mean the super-rich. A trial, ANY trial, can bankrupt a rich man.

      • by Runaway1956 ( 1322357 ) on Monday March 12, 2012 @07:14PM (#39333141) Homepage Journal

        I haven't had mod points in a week or two. Wish I had some here.

        Small businesses employ more than half of all American workers. Here's the first link I found that supports my claim, that doesn't require any special literary skills to understand: []

        So - who in the hell ARE these small business people? Well, I was one. I went into a partnership, which was later dissolved for personal/family reasons. Poor people, who scrounge for the cash to purchase tools, equipment, and supplies, and to rent building space. Poor people who hire other poor people. And, if they keep up the struggle for long enough, and if they are smart and lucky, then they move further up the food chain, so that they are no longer poor.

        I've seldom had a rich man give me a break. Poor folks are always willing to give another poor man a break! Even hardened criminals are more likely to lend a hand when you need it, than some rich sumbitch with a yacht.

    • by earls ( 1367951 ) on Monday March 12, 2012 @07:09PM (#39333083)

      You can represent yourself.

      "Self-represented defendants are not bound by lawyers' ethical codes. This means that a defendant who represents himself can delay proceedings and sometimes wreak havoc on an already overloaded system by repeatedly filing motions."

      lol, how applicable.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 12, 2012 @08:07PM (#39333725)

        My mother once tried to represent herself in court, over some business thing. She was berated by the judge, told that she couldn't do that and he was considering throwing her in jail for contempt of court. That's bullshit, obviously, but it goes to show how the system really works. Your "rights" are only what the cops and judges decide they will humor you with at the time.

        • 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 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.
        • 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

      • by westlake ( 615356 ) on Monday March 12, 2012 @08:48PM (#39334117)

        "Self-represented defendants are not bound by lawyers' ethical codes. This means that a defendant who represents himself can delay proceedings and sometimes wreak havoc on an already overloaded system by repeatedly filing motions."

        You can ask a judge to make some reasonable allowances for your ignorance of proper procedure.

        But don't for one minute think that you can play him for a fool.

    • by __aaltlg1547 ( 2541114 ) on Monday March 12, 2012 @07:49PM (#39333529)

      The unspoken assumption there is that you were going to lose the criminal case, so they money and time you'd spend on the jury trial would be wasted.

      That's not always the case. In some unknown but probably large fraction of cases, the DA not only wants to bypass the trial because it saves him money and effort, but he also doesn't have enough evidence to assure a conviction. He's pretty sure you did it -- enough to put your ass in jail --- but not so sure he can meet the standards of proof that a jury trial would require. So he tries to frighten and bully you into going to prison.

      To assess whether this is a good idea, you need a good lawyer and you need to tell him or her all about the evidence that the state has -- and might have -- against you. Then the attorney can make something of an informed assessment of:

      1. What it is the state will likely charge you with -- you can't believe the DA -- he's trying to bully you.
      2. How likely it is, given what you know about the evidence, that the state can prove its case in court. You can always reassess after discovery.
      3. The range of likely sentences you would get if convicted on each count.
      4. How much of your money and time this is likely to eat up assuming a vigorous defense.

      And there's a tactic you can sometimes use in your favor. Some cases are complicated and could take a long time to prepare. Or they could be in busy offices and get lower priority than higher-profile or more serious cases. In that case, you may have an advantage by demanding a *speedy* trial. It's your right. That means either the state has to put aside other cases to prepare yours for trial sooner or it has to go ahead with a case that's less fully prepared and your chance of acquittal may be improved.

      Now I feel guilty. I may have helped douchebags get off.

      • by tmosley ( 996283 ) on Monday March 12, 2012 @08:06PM (#39333721)
        Better that ten guilty men walk free than one innocent man be imprisoned.
      • by Xeranar ( 2029624 ) on Monday March 12, 2012 @09:06PM (#39334265)

        I honestly hate to go into this because you're right for the most part but most cases in the average metropolitan area have overwhelming evidence. The problem is is that the DA, the courts, and the Public Defender's office all have limited resources. So even if you have ten security cameras, three eye witnesses, prints on the weapon, and an arm's length rap sheet it could still take days into weeks to present it to a jury. So instead the DA gives a semi-lenient sentence to avoid having to waste valuable resources on a low-level crime (drugs, GTA, GTL, or a non-violent crime) while spending on the violent ones.

        The hands full of people who get charged with criminal offenses who can afford real legal defenses are usually the ones that the DA does want to go after because they tend to be the more violent and society-threatening (business owner/pillar of community murders his wife). The source material reinforces what we've known about the system for years. The dramatic increase actually occurred with the rise of CCTV and security cameras. Ironically the police didn't get better so much as technology made it more feasible to catch even the most mundane crime that would have been unsolvable 30 years ago. Then again a large portion of our prison population should be in rehab centers and mental institutions not prisons but that's an argument for another day.

  • Injustice (Score:5, Insightful)

    by F1re ( 249002 ) on Monday March 12, 2012 @06:38PM (#39332707) Homepage Journal

    A plea bargain ensures that justice is not done.

    Either a guilty person gets less punishment than they deserve or an innocent person gets punished when they deserve no punishment. It's a lose-lose situation.

    Of course a bigger problem with the law is that ignorance of the law is no excuse but it's impossible for me to know every law and precedent that applies to me.

    • by Anne_Nonymous ( 313852 ) on Monday March 12, 2012 @06:40PM (#39332723) Homepage Journal

      My kingdom for a mod point.

  • by iter8 ( 742854 ) on Monday March 12, 2012 @06:39PM (#39332717)
    Let me just point this out The Bill of Rights for Busy People []. Don't worry kids, you don't need those pesky "rights" things anyway.
  • by CuriousGeorge113 ( 47122 ) on Monday March 12, 2012 @06:41PM (#39332733) Homepage

    So, essentially he argues for a real life denial of service attack. Bombard the system with traffic until it breaks under the load.

    I only wonder how the government would push back in such a situation. We've already seen the US government trample over Constitutional in the name of security, terrorism, child pornography, etc. All they need is one case where a child pedo is released due to the systems inability to provide a speedy trial, and we will see another one of our rights taken from us.

    In the name of the children ... won't you please think of the children?

    • by dougmc ( 70836 ) <> on Monday March 12, 2012 @06:58PM (#39332951) Homepage

      All they need is one case where a child pedo is released due to the systems inability to provide a speedy trial, and we will see another one of our rights taken from us

      Such cases aren't rare at all. It doesn't really happen to bonafide terrorists, but people accused of "child pedo" (which could mean a whole lot of different things with varying degrees of severity) often are released without even a trial.

      Criminals are released on technicalities or rights violated by the police all the time. And innocents are imprisoned because they were tricked by the police, didn't understand the situation or couldn't afford a decent lawyer all the time too.

  • by jordan314 ( 1052648 ) on Monday March 12, 2012 @06:43PM (#39332745)
    I feel like calling the united states' bluff on how many citizens it's willing to imprison, despite overcrowding, is a bad idea.
    • by TubeSteak ( 669689 ) on Monday March 12, 2012 @07:11PM (#39333109) Journal

      I feel like calling the united states' bluff on how many citizens it's willing to imprison, despite overcrowding, is a bad idea.

      Last year, the Supreme Court ordered California to reduce their prison population by ~20% because the conditions violated the 8th amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishment

      Further, the prolonged recession is and has been causing States to release prisoners from jail early.
      Without the funding, there just isn't enough money in the budget to pay for mass incarceration.
      And without even more funding, the court system doesn't have the bandwidth to put more than ~10% of criminal cases in front of a jury.

  • by isotope23 ( 210590 ) on Monday March 12, 2012 @06:47PM (#39332791) Homepage Journal

    Not only demands for Jury Trials -

    Occupy should start the Nullify movement - E.G. if you are on a jury refuse to return a guilty verdict for victimless BS charges.

    It is your right and DUTY to judge not only guilt or innocence but also the merit of the law itself.
    Fully Informed Jury Association - []

    • by painandgreed ( 692585 ) on Monday March 12, 2012 @07:37PM (#39333417)

      Occupy should start the Nullify movement - E.G. if you are on a jury refuse to return a guilty verdict for victimless BS charges.

      BS charges like for a white man killing a black man in the Deep South? In all those old movies where a bad guy says "No jury will convict me.", jury nullification is exactly what they're talking about. That leads to break down of rule of law, and from there it goes back to lynching and vigilante justice because of lack of trust in the legal system. It works both ways. Sure there are some things I wouldn't mind jury nulification being used on, but there are lots of other things that people will use it for if it becomes an accepted practice.

      • by Jah-Wren Ryel ( 80510 ) on Monday March 12, 2012 @08:39PM (#39334035)

        By that logic we shouldn't have police either - after all a racist cop is quite capable of destroying and/or planting evidence in order to achieve a bogus ruling too. Being human, any system we come up with will be imperfect. But that is not a reason to eliminate a part of our legal system that has been there from the very beginning.

  • by cdrguru ( 88047 ) on Monday March 12, 2012 @06:50PM (#39332851) Homepage

    The problem is we are talking about people's lives here. You want to forfeit your life for a prank or to make a point? OK, thought not. Well, neither do most of the folks currently being given an opportunity to plead to a lesser charge today.

    The justice system for the most part sees the scum of the earth and very rarely are these people even technically innocent. They know it and are just interested in doing as little time as they possibly can. They already know the system is broken because they have gotten away with many, many crimes for years before being caught. If it wasn't so badly broken, they would have been caught already.

    You see, there is a really simple truth at work here. People know they might get caught but they seriously underestimate the likelyhood of it because based on anecdotal evidence it looks like most people do not get caught. The reality is only about 20% of individual crimes do end up with someone receiving some kind of punishment. But, these are individual crimes - at some point the law of averages catches up with you so on your 40th crime or so it is almost a dead certainity that you are going down for it. The people in the criminal justice system - on the receiving end - do not think this through all they way and see only the few of their friends that are getting caught.

    Sure, every once in a while a truely innocent person is hauled into court. At that point they have maybe only a 50/50 chance of escaping undeserved punishment because of the way things work. Would it be nice to fix that? Sure. But to fix it we are going to have to start training children to be more like Beaver and less like Eddie - right now, Eddie is winning out because it looks like he has a lot more fun. Problem is, the Eddies of the world do indeed have more fun but we would really like to live in a world populated with as few Eddies as possible - while it may be fun for Eddie it isn't so much fun for the people around him. We are talking about trying to undo 40 or 50 years of pop culture conditioning and 40 or 50 years of real live experiences in the inner cities of the US.

    See, today when you end up in court the guy before you is really guilty and the guy after you is really guilty. The overwhelming number of people are really guilty, so much so that it shades everyone's expectations. Everyone is assumed at one level or another to be guilty because ... for the most part they are. If even 1 in 10 was truely innocent there might be a chance of the system being able to recognize an innocent person but they are so incredibly rare as to make it impossible for the people running the system to recognize them. There may be varying shades of guilt, but even with that the number of people in the system that are in fact guilty, know they are guilty and just wanting to get the smallest pain in their life possible makes the plea bargining system work the way it does.

    • by Sycraft-fu ( 314770 ) on Monday March 12, 2012 @07:43PM (#39333479)

      Said that of all his clients, there was only one who he wasn't 100% sure was guilty. That isn't to say some of them didn't get off. One was a kid arrested with Sharpies on his person that the police claimed he used for tagging. He admitted to my friend he had in fact done so. However the search had been illegal, so the case was tossed. Saw the same kid back about 6 months later. This time the police had waited until they'd seen him tagging something, no getting out of that.

      This wasn't my friend being an asshole on his assumptions or anything. The one case he was unsure about was the only one where there wasn't direct physical evidence, or an admission, of guilt.

      In general, this is what you'd hope. You'd hope that cases would only be brought forward if the prosecution felt there was a good chance the person was guilty. The idea with the justice system isn't to just toss everyone in court and see what sticks. While a high plea rate can be indicative of other problems and we do need to monitor courts for abuses carefully, it can also simply mean that the state is doing its homework. They only press charges when they've got good evidence. The defense gets to see this evidence and tells their client "take the deal."

      That is what happened with the kid the second time around. He was initially smug and said "You can get me off again, right?" My friend explained no, this was iron clad open and shut. Take the deal offered because there was no way he was walking away free.

  • by Joe_Dragon ( 2206452 ) on Monday March 12, 2012 @06:51PM (#39332865)

    some times you lose more by getting on a jury.

    Some places have fired people for going on one []

  • Yet another reason (Score:5, Interesting)

    by tukang ( 1209392 ) on Monday March 12, 2012 @06:58PM (#39332949)

    to end the war on drugs. because this would significantly reduce the work-load of the courts and allow them to have more jury trials.

    Among the prisoners, drug offenders made up the same percentage of State prisoners in both 1997 and 2004 (21%). The percentage of Federal prisoners serving time for drug offenses declined from 63% in 1997 to 55% in 2004.[8] In the twenty-five years since the passage of the Anti-Drug Abuse Act, the United States penal population rose from around 300,000 to more than two million. []

  • by Wrath0fb0b ( 302444 ) on Monday March 12, 2012 @06:59PM (#39332965)

    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.

    That's a bit misleading no. A prosecutor can threaten to charge you with a crime that carries a life sentence but it takes a judge and a jury to impose it. The only reason that to take his threat seriously is because you predict that it's likely that he will prevail at trial. If you think you'll prevail, the threat is totally meaningless -- it's not like the prosecutor can put you in jail of his own accord.

    Look, I'm all for better trials (especially in the sense of getting better representation for defendants at the trial level where public defenders are really atrocious) but the idea that plea-bargaining is part of the problem is absurd. Plea bargains are often the most socially effective way of dealing with the most obvious cases. Gee, an officer replied to a DV call of a man beating his wife, comes in and sees a woman with a black eye and a dude that smells of whiskey* -- do we really need a jury to decide that one? Or grand theft auto where the perp is caught in the stolen car.

    Those cases abound because the criminals in the justice system are, by selection, the stupider ones: the ones that got caught. It stands to reason that, on average, more of them would be open-and-shut cases that your average crime. Just watch COPS** once to see how blindingly guilty some of these idiots are. The smart criminals are the ones that you don't see and never find and aren't taking plea bargains because of the overwhelming amount of evidence stacked against them.

    * This is not a made up anecdote, one of my neighbors served in a rather ho-him middle class suburb and he said that he responded to at least one such case per week, often more and very often with repeat offenders. It depressed him to no end that there was not a "get drunk and hit your wife 20 times in a lifetime and we get to take you out behind the woodshed and knock some sense into you" rule, but that's a different matter.

    ** Or, as my crim pro prof called it "A 30 minute class on the actual procedure of criminal law that you can watch for free every Saturday".

    • by praxis ( 19962 ) on Monday March 12, 2012 @07:35PM (#39333383)

      Gee, an officer replied to a DV call of a man beating his wife, comes in and sees a woman with a black eye and a dude that smells of whiskey* -- do we really need a jury to decide that one? Or grand theft auto where the perp is caught in the stolen car

      Yes, we do. We have a right to a trial by a jury. Every one of us. That includes stupid criminals. The alternative, where an officer or a lawyer or anyone else that decides a persons fate without due process is ripe for abuse. Really nasty and bad abuse.

  • by GodfatherofSoul ( 174979 ) on Monday March 12, 2012 @07:12PM (#39333127)

    My local municipalities all started sending cops out on fishing expeditions to supplement their income during the recession. One lawyer I talked to said the ticket rates for one city in one month exceeded that for the whole year. They started sweeps for buckled drivers and even drivers license checkpoints. I would've loved to see these drivers making all these cops go to court to defend their tickets.

  • by Charliemopps ( 1157495 ) on Monday March 12, 2012 @07:22PM (#39333221)
    While in college, I made enemies with the local college police. They had a pretty good reputation for harassment and lack of faith in the constitution, so local lawyers had made themselves available for advice, free of charge, to students in my particular situation. The police would pull me over, ask to search me... my car... they'd roll up on me while I was walking down the street. They'd meet me outside of class to ask me "Questions" regarding topics I had no knowledge of.

    The lawyer was very wise and told me a few things:

    Rights are like muscles, they become weak if you do not exercise them.

    The police are not here to serve and protect. They are here to arrest people. Period. They have special police, called detectives, that gather evidence, but the vast majority of police do one thing and one thing only... arrest people. When talking to a police officer, remember their goal. They are not your friend. They are not there to help. They are there to either arrest you, or someone you know. Why are you helping them arrest you by continuing to talk?

    The police do not decide if you are guilty. Often they try to coerce you into giving them more evidence against you, by convincing you that if you admit to something, or let them search you, they will find you more believable. You have NO REASON to care what the police believe. Their opinion is not important. If they have cause to arrest you, you are going to jail. PERIOD. When the police officer walks up to you, they already know if they are going to arrest you or not. Anything you say CAN and WILL be used against you in a court of law. By talking or letting them search you, you are simply giving them more evidence... or even giving them a reason to arrest you where one did not exist before.

    After speaking with the lawyer, I took his advice. Every time a police officer tried to talk to me, I simply refused. "I'm sorry sir, I have nothing to say to you" if they continued, then I used the lawyers line "Rights are like muscles, they become weak if you do not exercise them." I've used this line dozens of times in my life and I have never had a cop continue to bug me after using it... although several commented that it was clever.

    The campus police quickly realized I wasn't going to fall for their games anymore. So they charged me with something I had nothing to do with. I demanded a trial, much to their dismay. They tried numerous times to plead me out. I took it to court and acted as my own lawyer. They actually called several witnesses, none of whom had ever seen me before. The judge threw it out. I gave the prosecutor and police officer the devil horns and winked on the way out. I was never pulled over or questioned again in that town.
  • None of it works (Score:4, Interesting)

    by SmallFurryCreature ( 593017 ) on Monday March 12, 2012 @07:24PM (#39333255) Journal

    The dutch labour party (ex-socialists, now more commonly thought of as bleeding hearts) lost its leader who was the Mayor of Amsterdam during massive budget overruns, a political murder by a Muslim on a critic of Islam, increasing racial tension, race related riots, failure of expensive projects to get the races to live to gether (IJburg) and increased attacks on Homo sexuals by Muslims. Name: Job Cohen... the guy then became leader of labour and was not nearly as successful as a politician in the opositions as you might have thought.

    So, they currently have a leadership election and one of the leaders prides himself on having been a street coach for troubled youths... He claims though sentencing is not the answer. What then is the answer is not answered but he claims though sentencing does not stop re-offending. It tells you a lot a because anyone with a working brain cell will realize that the toughest sentence if that of death and dead people seldom re-offend.

    Mind you, he has a point. There are a lot of countries in the world and over history an almost infinite variety of methods have been used to deter crime. And not a single one of them really works, no not even the bullet to the head. The Chinese are current masters in it and their crime rate is on in increase. They show weekly interviews with the condemned and in China if you are from a bad area, you don't have a longer life expectenancy on deathrow then you got in your own home, 1 week and you are dead. And as said, the crime rate is on the rise. The US has though sentences and a high crime rate.

    Holland has a liberal system AND a high crime rate. Oh, the statistics vary but if you then put them into context such as that the dutch legal system is extremely bad at getting convictions, you have to wonder what the real crime rate.

    As for re-offending, almost any system claims something between 70-80% FAILURE RATE and that is ONLY counting those criminals who are successfully tracked at going through the entire legal procedure again leading to a served jailed sentence AGAIN. Oh, if a criminal re-offends but gets killed by the police in full view of a million witnesses who swear he was committing the crime, IT STILL DOES NOT COUNT AS RE-OFFENDING.

    Plea bargains, parole, suspended sentences, time served etc etc they are all just patches to make a system that barely works not collapse completely. And we need the system to work because there are areas of the world where the system HAS collapsed and they are not nice places to be. Prove me wrong and move to Somalia or even just Mexico.

    And you want to overload this barely functioning machine? If you are in America, you are just living thanks to the believe by Mexicans and blacks that the system will prevent them from just taking what they want. If that ever crumbles, every rich spoiled white /. nerd is going to get it is so bad that they will pray for a jock to pants them one last time before they die. It is lucky the blacks of LA are so dumb they rioted by attacking each other instead of descending enmass on Hollywood and taking out every rich white person thinking that black and hispanic cops are going to risk their lives for their rich asses and you better hope the system keeps that believe in tact.

    The system ain't perfect but so far it works. If you want to improve it think real hard whether you are going to survive its destruction. It might be nice to watch an old crappy building being blown up to make space for something new, BUT NOT WHEN YOU ARE STANDING ON TOP OF IT.

    Fight the man! It is not a battle cry the man should be using. And unless you suck as a nerd, you are the 1%.

  • Rocket Dockets (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Registered Coward v2 ( 447531 ) on Monday March 12, 2012 @07:49PM (#39333531)
    When I was in Chicago, a lawyer friend advised going to court for minor traffic offenses id you had the time - dockets were so overloaded that judges would usually simply dismiss things like an illegal turn simply because they had more important cases to push through, or the cop would often not show up leading to a dismissal. if everyone that got a traffic summons went to court the system would crash almost instantly; which is why fines need to be low enough to get people to say its easier to pay or offer traffic school to keep it off your record.
  • My own story (Score:4, Interesting)

    by microcars ( 708223 ) on Monday March 12, 2012 @08:09PM (#39333743) Homepage

    limited scope, but from my own person experience none-the-less:

    Many years ago I was in the hospital for several days, for -what turned out to be- salmonella.
    Six months after I am out, I get a "final notice" from the hospital for $7500. wtf is this? I never got the first bills. (not an excuse for non-payment but the truth)
    Not only that, I had less than a week to pay or they would sue me!

    Having no lawyer and no clue how to counter (I didn't have $7500 at the time), I contacted my landlord who had just finished telling me how wonderful this lawyer was that she had found after going through a bunch of shysters.
    Contacted the lawyer, laid everything out for him, asked him how much it would cost, he said he would file a response and request a jury trial.
    He seemed pretty sure that they would throw up their hands and walk away from it rather than agree to a jury trial.

    Sure enough, I never heard a word from them again. Still use the same doctor.
    They never sent me another bill, never tried to set up a payment plan, never dinged my credit report
    Lawyer's estimate was $350, he ended up charging me $750 before I told him to stop "monitoring" the case and billing me for each time he "checked up on it."

    //I can see how this would work (or not work) depending on who it was that was suing you. This would not work in all cases.

  • Another Perspective (Score:5, Interesting)

    by bambam1648 ( 738292 ) on Monday March 12, 2012 @11:09PM (#39335131)
    IAAL in fact I'm a DA. So let me give you some perspective from the other side. If a prosecutor is doing his/her job then if they don't believe someone committed a crime or even if they don't believe there is a likelihood of conviction then they must dismiss the case. I am most proud of the times I have dismissed cases where through further investigatory work or an honest evaluation of the case I found I could not in good conscience proceed. I would hold out my dismissals as some of my greatest achievements even over my convictions of extremely dangerous and evil murderers and rapists. Why is this? Because as a prosecutor you have the ultimate discretion on whether to proceed and your decision is paramount in its effect on peoples lives. My greatest fear would be to prosecute an innocent man but as a prosecutor with morals and who never just settles for taking someone's word for it (unless there word is corroborated by extrinsic evidence) I dig and use my own investigators and review the forensic evidence until I'm satisfied I have the guilty party. Therefore, it is very unlikely for me to convict an innocent person (short of a perfectly executed set up that is near impossible despite what the media would have you believe) especially since I have dismissed cases where I didn't believe the defendant committed the crime or when I didn't believe I could secure a conviction. I sometimes joked with a defense attorney colleague of mine, "if your guy is truly innocent I'm your favorite DA but conversely if your guy did it look out because I'm coming for him/her come hell or high water!" She agreed with my assessment. Now the problem is not every DA is like this, some are in the job just to make their trial bones and then get to the defense side some are lazy and just looking for the paycheck and will use the stiff sentence or habitual counts as a hammer just because they don't want to do the work. But there are a cadre of career prosecutors who like me do it for the right reasons and live up to the higher standards reserved for those who protect the People. I have never minded someone demanding a trial as I enjoyed the process but there is something to be said where the defendant delights in re-victimizing the victim. I once had to sit a watch as a defendant's attorney at his direction cross-examined a sexual assault victim not once not twice but three times due to mistrials and misconduct by the defense and he throughly enjoyed the hell he put her through on each occasion. (on a side note he tied her up cut her clothes off with a knife, held a gun to her head broke her jaw and nose, and then tortured her sexually). We had the evidence from the start and even though there always is the possibility of an acquittal there should be a punitive penalty for exercising your rights when in doing so this type of harm occurs. (second side note the judge witnessed how much the defendant delighted in the pain he both initially caused and the subsequently caused to the victim during the trial and he was sentenced to 48-life in Dept of Corrections. By in large most of my cases are not even close when it comes to guilt or innocence, its just a matter of considering all the factors and coming up with an appropriate plea based on criminal history, age, impact of crime and community safety. I often wonder what would happen if the defense could convince a large majority to demand trials (this would have to be public defenders as most who retain private attys couldn't afford to go to trial) what would happen? The result would be many lower level criminals would get more substantial sentences while taking away prosecutors ability to adequately attend to serious criminals so as a byproduct inevitability some cases where further work and investigation would be necessary to secure a conviction guilty defendants would go free and continue to hurt those we seek to protect causing more victimization and pain to those who are least able to protect themselves. Sorry for the verbosity of my post but I obviously feel strongly about this issue.

Space is to place as eternity is to time. -- Joseph Joubert