by David R. Hoffman for Pravda.Ru
One of the most common ways people develop perceptions and/or form judgments about certain events, people, and/or occupations is by how they are portrayed in the corporate-controlled media.
Unfortunately, these media are usually more preoccupied with entertainment value than truth and accuracy; therefore, the perceptions they create are often erroneous and/or incomplete. Nowhere is this more evident than in the fictitious depictions of America’s criminal justice system that inundate both television and movie screens.
During the late 1950s and early 1960s, Perry Mason was a popular hour-long drama about an idealistic and intrepid criminal defense attorney whose clients were almost always innocent. These shows routinely ended with Mason compelling the guilty party to break down and confess.
Mason always seemed to have an extraordinary amount of time and money to devote to an individual case, and always had on call a private detective, named Paul Drake, to investigate when Mason could not. Yet, even though he “spared no expense” in defense of his clients, he frequently only charged a small fee for his services.
In the courtroom
In the courtroom, both Mason and the prosecutor, while often combative, were always interested in truth and justice. In addition, presiding judges routinely allowed Mason great “latitude” in questioning witnesses, and/or in employing “irregular” procedures to defend his client.
The impact of Perry Mason had such an effect on some viewers that a juror in Illinois actually voted to send two men to death row, despite his doubts about their guilt, simply because he believed the real killer would be so overcome with remorse that he too would break down and confess.
I received my first taste of the realities of the criminal justice system when one of my instructors, who also served as a deputy prosecutor, announced at the beginning of class that she might be a few minutes late the following week.
When I asked her why, she replied that a sexual assault case she was trying would be going to the jury, and she wasn’t sure how long deliberations would last. She then added, “They’ll probably deliberate about two hours and find the defendant not guilty.”
She further explained that testimony had seemed to establish that the alleged victim, a drug addict, had fabricated the sexual assault allegations after the defendant, a family friend, refused to give her money to buy drugs.
The following week this instructor arrived on time, and opened the class with the following statement: “Well, I was wrong. They deliberated an hour and found him guilty.” She followed this up with a somewhat dismissive, “Oh well.”
One of the current criticisms being leveled against America’s criminal justice system is that perjury is often used to gain wrongful convictions, and/or to cover-up police misconduct. For example, after a police officer shot and killed Laquan McDonald in Chicago, many officers gave statements about the circumstances of this shooting that have since been contradicted by recently released videotape evidence.
I witnessed the prosecutorial use of perjury first-hand during my years of law practice. A client of one of my colleagues had been convicted of drug possession, based on the testimony of a police officer. This testimony was bolstered by a report the officer had written, which stated that tests conducted on the substance in question definitely proved it was marijuana.
This report, however, was somewhat suspicious, because several lines had been covered with “white-out,” a substance commonly used to obscure errors made while using a standard typewriter. This officer explained that, since he had been fatigued while typing this report, he had made several typographical errors that he corrected the following morning.
Given this explanation, the issue wasn’t pursued. But when my colleague got back to the office, another attorney suggested we hold the report up to the overhead lights to see if the typing hidden under the “white-out” was visible.
Not only was it visible, but it stated that the tested substance had not been marijuana, but tobacco. As a result, my colleague filed a motion to have the conviction set aside, and when I accompanied him to court for the hearing, we were greeted by an angry prosecutor-angry not at the officer who had perjured himself, but at us for bringing it to the court’s attention.
In a similar case, an arresting officer, to substantiate a DUI (driving under the influence) charge, testified about the specific details of a “conversation” he had with my client while transporting him to jail, even going so far as to state that my client’s words were slurred and that he had been rocking unsteadily in his seat. Yet, other documents provided to the court clearly showed that no such conversation ever occurred and that this officer had not even been the one who transported my client to jail.
A second criticism, especially when dealing with police brutality cases, is that prosecutors have a collusive relationship with the police, and therefore are more inclined to cover-up, rather than punish, police misconduct. Many critics say this was evident in the McDonald case since the prosecutor only filed charges after a judge ordered the release of the videotape evidence.
Critics also point out that prosecutors in the cases of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Eric Garner in New York, and Tamir Rice in Cleveland simply convened bogus grand juries to create the charade of due process, and then manipulated the evidence presented to these juries to ensure the police officers involved would not be indicted.
If a person is a victim of police brutality and wants to sue for damages, most states require that he/she submit a “Tort Claim Notice” advising the police department involved of his/her intentions. It is also common practice for police officers and prosecutors to fabricate criminal charges against people who send such notices.
I represented a client who was criminally charged after filing such a notice. When I appeared in court with him to answer these charges, the prosecuting attorney saw his name and remarked, “Since this guy sent a Tort Claim Notice, I’ll have to prosecute him.”
When I asked why a Tort Claim was more relevant than the facts of the case, she simply shrugged her shoulders.
Of course, I already knew the answer. Whenever people make allegations of police brutality and/or misconduct, there arises an even greater incentive to prosecute them, regardless of their guilt or innocence, because a criminal conviction substantially weakens or obviates any claims for monetary damages against the police in a civil trial.
In an even more egregious case, police officers beat and kicked an African-American man to such a degree that he required hospitalization. All the reports they filed described him as “combative,” except one. One officer actually had the courage to file a contradictory report stating that this man had done nothing to warrant being beaten, or even arrested.
The prosecutor filed charges anyway, and we were assigned to defend this man; however, this contradictory report was never officially provided to us. Fortunately, it was leaked to the news media and proved instrumental in our client being acquitted. We later learned that supervisors at the police department had required several officers to undergo lie detector tests, not to determine whether excessive force had been used or who used it, but to uncover who leaked the report in the first place.
A third criticism of the system that was recently exacerbated by the “escape” of “affluenza teen” Ethan Couch is the role that race and money play in the dispensing of “justice.”
After being involved in a drunk driving collision that killed four people, Couch, a white teenager and the progeny of wealth and privilege, was given a relatively light sentence of probation by a judge who often sentenced impoverished African-Americans to lengthy terms of incarceration for lesser crimes.
I once represented a young African-American boy who had been accused of shoplifting roughly five dollars worth of costume jewelry from a local department store. Although the prosecutor was aware that the store claimed to have videotape evidence of the theft, he charged this boy without even bothering to obtain it.
The boy’s mother advised me that her son told her he had simply been trying on the jewelry, and had subsequently been injured by security personnel angry about him “playing around” in the store. Although she had made several attempts to view the videotape for herself, she was constantly rebuffed.
After I agreed to take the case, I personally made an effort to view this tape as well, only to be told it had been “accidentally” erased.
The boy went to trial, and the judge found him guilty. A few weeks later, at the disposition hearing, the judge gave him a relatively light punishment. The probation officer assigned to the case remarked that it appeared the judge had changed his mind about the boy’s guilt. I replied that, if this was indeed the case, it was still judicial gutlessness to punish an innocent person at all.
A short time later, a friend of mine told me about how his neighbor’s daughter-an attractive blonde teenager who had been videotaped stealing thousands of dollars from her employer-had used her family’s wealth and political connections to avoid prosecution.
The final criticism I will discuss is the criminal justice system’s inability to obtain convictions in police misconduct cases. Even when these cases make it past corrupt prosecutors and bogus grand juries and actually go to trial, police officers are almost always acquitted by judges or petit juries
I also witnessed this first-hand. In the jurisdiction where I practiced, two police officers had, in the words of a federal judge, “mercilessly” beat an inmate in the county jail to death. Yet they were predictably acquitted by a federal petit jury. (The state prosecutor, just as predictably, had refused to even file charges).
When reporters asked these jurors for the rationale behind their decision, their primary response was, “We just couldn’t send two policemen to jail.”
In other words, it’s not the egregiousness of the conduct or the potency of the evidence that matters. Instead, it is the occupation of the accused that far too often determines the outcome of police misconduct cases.
This brings me back to my law school instructor. After class had ended I approached her and asked why she should not, morally at least, be considered a criminal herself. After all, she had been complicit in sending a man she believed was innocent to prison. “What difference is there,” I asked, “between a criminal who uses a weapon like a gun or a knife to achieve unjust ends, and one who uses the legal system?”
In reality, there is little difference between the criminals who break the law and the criminals who claim to enforce it: Both are usually amoral, mendacious sociopaths who routinely rationalize their criminality, and both are motivated by the belief that right or wrong doesn’t matter-it’s what you can get away with. In fact, the only real difference is that lawbreaking criminals at least have to fear capture, while “law enforcing” criminals are allowed to act with immunity and/or impunity.
For example, the Perry Mason juror I described above did not get his Hollywood ending. Instead, two innocent men spent several years on death row until it was discovered that prosecutors had failed to turn over exculpatory evidence and that police officers had committed perjury to obtain convictions. And even though three prosecutors and four police officers were brought to trial for their actions, a petit jury not only acquitted them, but even partied with them afterward.
Amid these criticisms has come talk of reforms. Well, I’m here to state, emphatically, that reform will never come from people inside the system. Almost all the personal experiences I’ve related in this article occurred during my five short years of practicing law. Imagine what attorneys see and experience over the course of decades, and the number of times each day the wrongs I’ve described are perpetuated throughout the United States.
What ultimately happens is conscientious and honest attorneys either become disillusioned and leave the profession, or they develop a cynicism in order to survive, operating within a system they don’t believe in, yet one that provides them with a decent living, and that serves as a potential springboard to judgeships or political office.
This is not to say that all attorneys develop such a cynicism. But, even in its absence, attorneys are often hampered by the realities of their profession. As a rule, they normally work in limited jurisdictions, and thus frequently interact with the same prosecutors and judges, which means the judge or prosecutor you think about criticizing today might be the same judge or prosecutor you need a favorable ruling or plea bargain from tomorrow.
If there is to be reform, it will have to come from people who are not beholden to the system, and, for this to happen, people have to be aware of how the system truly works-or, more accurately, does not work. Hopefully this article will help supply some of that knowledge.
Until that time comes (if it ever does), I will reiterate what I’ve said in several previous Pravda.Ru articles: America’s so-called “criminal justice system” is a racist, corrupt, perfidious, hypocritical, and fraudulent hoax that relentlessly seeks to obscure the truth rather than reveal it, and that works harder to propagate and rationalize injustice than it does to produce and promote justice.
David R. Hoffman, Legal Editor of Pravda.Ru