The American Nightmare: The Tyranny Of The Criminal Justice System

Tyler Durden's picture

Submitted by John Whitehead via The Rutherford Institute,

How can the life of such a man
Be in the palm of some fool’s hand?
To see him obviously framed
Couldn’t help but make me feel ashamed to live in a land
Where justice is a game.—Bob Dylan, “Hurricane

Justice in America is not all it’s cracked up to be.

Just ask Jeffrey Deskovic, who spent 16 years in prison for a rape and murder he did not commit. Despite the fact that Deskovic’s DNA did not match what was found at the murder scene, he was singled out by police as a suspect because he wept at the victim’s funeral (he was 16 years old at the time), then badgered over the course of two months into confessing his guilt. He was eventually paid $6.5 million in reparation.

James Bain spent 35 years in prison for the kidnapping and rape of a 9-year-old boy, but he too was innocent of the crime. Despite the fact that the prosecutor’s case was flimsy—it hinged on the similarity of Bain’s first name to the rapist’s, Bain’s ownership of a red motorcycle, and a misidentification of Bain in a lineup by a hysterical 9-year-old boy—Bain was sentenced to life in prison. He was finally freed after DNA testing proved his innocence, and was paid $1.7 million.

Mark Weiner got off relatively easy when you compare his experience to the thousands of individuals who are spending lifetimes behind bars for crimes they did not commit.

Weiner was wrongfully arrested, convicted, and jailed for more than two years for a crime he too did not commit. In his case, a young woman claimed Weiner had abducted her, knocked her out and then sent taunting text messages to her boyfriend about his plans to rape her. Despite the fact that cell phone signals, eyewitness accounts and expert testimony indicated the young woman had fabricated the entire incident, the prosecutor and judge repeatedly rejected any evidence contradicting the woman’s far-fetched account, sentencing Weiner to eight more years in jail. Weiner was only released after his accuser was caught selling cocaine to undercover cops.

In the meantime, Weiner lost his job, his home, and his savings, and time with his wife and young son. As Slate reporter journalist Dahlia Lithwick warned, “If anyone suggests that the fact that Mark Weiner was released this week means ‘the system works,’ I fear that I will have to punch him in the neck. Because at every single turn, the system that should have worked to consider proof of Weiner’s innocence failed him.”

The system that should have worked didn’t, because the system is broken, almost beyond repair.

In courtroom thrillers like 12 Angry Men and To Kill a Mockingbird, justice is served in the end because someone—whether it’s Juror #8 or Atticus Finch—chooses to stand on principle and challenge wrongdoing, and truth wins.

Unfortunately, in the real world, justice is harder to come by, fairness is almost unheard of, and truth rarely wins.

On paper, you may be innocent until proven guilty, but in actuality, you’ve already been tried, found guilty and convicted by police officers, prosecutors and judges long before you ever appear in a courtroom.

Chronic injustice has turned the American dream into a nightmare.

At every step along the way, whether it’s encounters with the police, dealings with prosecutors, hearings in court before judges and juries, or jail terms in one of the nation’s many prisons, the system is riddled with corruption, abuse and an appalling disregard for the rights of the citizenry.

Due process rights afforded to a person accused of a crime—the right to remain silent, the right to be informed of the charges against you, the right to representation by counsel, the right to a fair trial, the right to a speedy trial, the right to prove your innocence with witnesses and evidence, the right to a reasonable bail, the right to not languish in jail before being tried, the right to confront your accusers, etc.—mean nothing when the government is allowed to sidestep those safeguards against abuse whenever convenient.

It’s telling that while President Obama said all the right things about the broken state of our criminal justice system—that we jail too many Americans for nonviolent crimes (we make up 5 percent of the world’s population, but our prison population constitutes nearly 25% of the world’s prisoners), that we spend more money on incarceration than any other nation ($80 billion a year), that we sentence people for longer jail terms than their crimes merit, that our criminal justice system is far from color-blind, that the nation’s school-to-prison pipeline is contributing to overcrowded jails, and that we need to focus on rehabilitation of criminals rather than retribution—he failed to own up to the government’s major role in contributing to this injustice in America.

Indeed, while Obama placed the responsibility for reform squarely in the hands of prosecutors, judges and police, he failed to acknowledge that they bear the burden of our failed justice system, along with the legislatures and corporations who have worked with them to create an environment that is hostile to the rights of the accused.

In such a climate, we are all the accused, the guilty and the suspect.

As I document in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, we’re operating in a new paradigm where the citizenry are presumed guilty and treated as suspects, our movements tracked, our communications monitored, our property seized and searched, our bodily integrity disregarded, and our inalienable rights to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” rendered insignificant when measured against the government’s priorities.

Every American is now in jeopardy of being targeted and punished for a crime he did not commit thanks to an overabundance of arcane laws. Making matters worse, by allowing government agents to operate above the law, immune from wrongdoing, we have created a situation in which the law is one-sided and top-down, used as a hammer to oppress the populace, while useless in protecting us against government abuse.

Add to the mix a profit-driven system of incarceration in which state and federal governments agree to keep the jails full in exchange for having private corporations run the prisons, and you will find the only word to describe such a state of abject corruption is “evil.” 

How else do you explain a system that allows police officers to shoot first and ask questions later, without any real consequences for their misdeeds? Despite the initial outcry over the shootings of unarmed individuals in Ferguson and Baltimore, the pace of police shootings has yet to slow. In fact, close to 400 people were shot and killed by police nationwide in the first half of 2015, almost two shootings a day. Those are just the shootings that were tracked. Of those killed, almost 1 in 6 were either unarmed or carried a toy gun.

For those who survive an encounter with the police only to end up on the inside of a jail cell, waiting for a “fair and speedy trial,” it’s often a long wait. Consider that 60 percent of the people in the nation’s jails have yet to be convicted of a crime. There are 2.3 million people in jails or prisons in America. Those who can’t afford bail, “some of them innocent, most of them nonviolent and a vast majority of them impoverished,” will spend about four months in jail before they even get a trial.

Not even that promised “day in court” is a guarantee that justice will be served.

As Judge Alex Kozinski of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals points out, there are an endless number of factors that can render an innocent man or woman a criminal and caged for life: unreliable eyewitnesses, fallible forensic evidence, flawed memories, coerced confessions, harsh interrogation tactics, uninformed jurors, prosecutorial misconduct, falsified evidence, and overly harsh sentences, to name just a few.

In early 2015, the Justice Department and FBI “formally acknowledged that nearly every examiner in an elite FBI forensic unit gave flawed testimony in almost all trials in which they offered evidence against criminal defendants over more than a two-decade period…. The admissions mark a watershed in one of the country’s largest forensic scandals, highlighting the failure of the nation’s courts for decades to keep bogus scientific information from juries, legal analysts said.”

“How do rogue forensic scientists and other bad cops thrive in our criminal justice system?” asks Judge Kozinski. “The simple answer is that some prosecutors turn a blind eye to such misconduct because they’re more interested in gaining a conviction than achieving a just result.”

The power of prosecutors is not to be underestimated.

Increasingly, when we talk about innocent people being jailed for crimes they did not commit, the prosecutor plays a critical role in bringing about that injustice. As The Washington Post reports, “Prosecutors win 95 percent of their cases, 90 percent of them without ever having to go to trial…. Are American prosecutors that much better? No… it is because of the plea bargain, a system of bullying and intimidation by government lawyers for which they ‘would be disbarred in most other serious countries….’”

This phenomenon of innocent people pleading guilty makes a mockery of everything the criminal justice system is supposed to stand for: fairness, equality and justice. As Judge Jed S. Rakoff concludes, “our criminal justice system is almost exclusively a system of plea bargaining, negotiated behind closed doors and with no judicial oversight. The outcome is very largely determined by the prosecutor alone.”

It’s estimated that between 2 and 8 percent of convicted felons who have agreed to a prosecutor’s plea bargain (remember, there are 2.3 million prisoners in America) are in prison for crimes they did not commit.

Clearly, the Coalition for Public Safety was right when it concluded, “You don’t need to be a criminal to have your life destroyed by the U.S. criminal justice system.”

It wasn’t always this way. As Judge Rakoff recounts, the Founding Fathers envisioned a criminal justice system in which the critical element “was the jury trial, which served not only as a truth-seeking mechanism and a means of achieving fairness, but also as a shield against tyranny.”

That shield against tyranny has long since been shattered, leaving Americans vulnerable to the cruelties, vanities, errors, ambitions and greed of the government and its partners in crime.

There is not enough money in the world to make reparation to those whose lives have been disrupted by wrongful convictions.

Over the past quarter century, more than 1500 Americans have been released from prison after being cleared of crimes they did not commit. These are the fortunate ones. For every exonerated convict who is able to prove his innocence after 10, 20 or 30 years behind bars, Judge Kozinski estimates there may be dozens who are innocent but cannot prove it, lacking access to lawyers, evidence, money and avenues of appeal.

For those who have yet to fully experience the injustice of the American system of justice, it’s only a matter of time.

America no longer operates under a system of justice characterized by due process, an assumption of innocence, probable cause, and clear prohibitions on government overreach and police abuse. Instead, our courts of justice have been transformed into courts of order, advocating for the government’s interests, rather than championing the rights of the citizenry, as enshrined in the Constitution.

Without courts willing to uphold the Constitution’s provisions when government officials disregard them, and a citizenry knowledgeable enough to be outraged when those provisions are undermined, the Constitution provides little protection against the police state.

In other words, in this age of hollow justice, courts of order, and government-sanctioned tyranny, the Constitution is no safeguard against government wrongdoing such as SWAT team raids, domestic surveillance, police shootings of unarmed citizens, indefinite detentions, asset forfeitures, prosecutorial misconduct and the like.

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El Vaquero's picture

Again, I am luckty where I am.  Your experience will vary depending what court you are in.  I've watched judges do the equivalent of grabbing a pro se defendant by the ear and say "here is the procedure,you need to follow it.  Now, since you didn't follow it, do you want to ask me for an extension so that you can follow it?"  In some districts, you will get nowhere pro se.  I talked to a fellow who recounted his experinece pre and post passing the bar and he said that in his district, the judges flat out would not listen to a pro se litigant.  It's been long enough for me to not remember the details, but it should suffice to say that he used legal arguments, lost, then hired an attorney who used the exact same arguments and won.  He decided that he wanted to go to lawschool for much more altruistic reasons than most attorneys do. 

OldPhart's picture

Don't get me wrong.  I commend you.  It's that such a task is almost insurmountable.

MachoMan's picture

I've done it too, but I'm a lawyer...  facts make cases, not lawyers...  and if the facts are on your side, not even a TBTF bank is likely to win...  at least not in BFE courts across america (may be different in some financial hubs).

Further, in many instances, it benefits you to represent yourself because the court is often going to bend over backwards for procedural errors, evidentiary errors, etc. and guide you through the case...  just depends on the judge you pull.

El Vaquero's picture

To compliment that, it helps a lot if you are clearly trying to follow the rules.  Even if you mess up, if you are trying, the courts are more likely to be helpful.  IMO, the times when you should call the other side on not following the rules when you are pro se is when it malicious and during discovery, and during discovery, it shoudl be after they have trampled the shit out of the rules.


And yes, the facts in my case mean that it should have never been filed in the firstplace.  I was unable to afford an attorney.  I was pro se, and not by choice. 

MachoMan's picture

On foreclosure defense and the like, you're much more likely to be pro se...  They're fairly easy to defend, but because there is no money involved usually (the plaintiff will just nonsuit the case if they believe they'll lose - no lawyer fees), the lawyer has to take it on hourly billing.  If you don't already have a good relationship with the lawyer, then you'll probably have to pay a stiff retainer.  This is the reason for so many "unjust" things in the foreclosure realm...  default judgments.  Again, if you don't put up, then shut up.

The problem that pro se litigants have on foreclosure defense is that the court has already seen 15 "sovereign men" that day proclaiming some jibberish...  as a pro se litigant, you'll have to go above and beyond to drag the judge through some involved legal issues.

And yes, you don't involve the court unless you can prove the other side has completely screwed up...  if you pull the trigger too quickly, especially on discovery disputes (which courts hate to deal with btw), then you burn your credibility...  it's no different than poker...  you play tight until you need to cash in on that credibility to bluff.

El Vaquero's picture

Yup.  It was made clear to me via reading the rules and through hearing others who had been through it that being a miser over discovery issues was a bad idea, that it was best to work with the other side as long as possible to try to keep the court out of it, then to move on the issue.  Then I watched my judge on another case when an attorney was whining about a discovery issue at an unrelated hearing, and she really got pissed.  Funny thing is, I won my case by asking them for all of the documents they would have needed to win their case  They tried to jerk me around really hard..  That, combined with documents that they had sent me would have proven that banks don't keep reliable records.  Their records were outright contradictory, sometimes even on a single page. 

MachoMan's picture

Yep.  The problem with utilizing social complexity as a competition tool is that eventually the system is so cumbersome, the boots on the ground are incapable of intellectually keeping up.  It works wonders in the realm of retail finance, student loans, etc., but when you have to rely on the same people to keep up with complicated legal matters, then shit hits the fan.  You can't eat your cake and have it too.

Cloud9.5's picture

You might prevail in a small claims court or on a misdemeanor charge. In circuit court you are toast.  Never forget that the judge is a lawyer and lawyers consider the general public to be idiots. In their view if they are confronted by a pro se litigant, they are facing a nut job.

El Vaquero's picture

I wasn't in small claims when I won against a TBTF...

SilverRhino's picture

>> First, you'd have to be a lawyer,  

The entire CFR is online and searchable.  If you are good with google you can find it.

falconflight's picture

Yeah but would you trust a Jury of your peers to understand more than their all to common BrainStem level of cogitation?  Even worse if you ask for a bench trail, cause he/she's there to protect the state.

El Vaquero's picture

The rules require that I raise the issue long before trial.  Every judicial district is different.  Some are better than others.  I'm lucky.  I live in a district where the chief US District Court judge does not like LEO abuses.  The state district court level has corruption, like everything, but most of it has to do with judges hiring prostitutes and cheating to get on the bench.  The actual treatment of cases where it is somebody who is not a primo of theirs is actually decent.  When I say YMMV, I mean it in a big way.  Or rather, I should say, your mileage WILL vary, depending on what judicial districts you are in. 

falconflight's picture

And not only mastering the legal question is required but a fastidious adherence to the various civil procedures governing the actions that vary from court to court and circuit to circuit.  

El Vaquero's picture

Master the rules of civil (or criminal) procedure and master the rules of evidence.  Those procedures are your playbook.  Look up the case law pertinent to your case. Whether or not you should show up in blue jeans and a plaid shirt or a suit that makes you look like an attorney depends on your district, but know your district before you show up pro se. 

Reaper's picture

You won because your opponent didn't want to spend any more time and money. Have you ever been before an appellate court, even once? Have you ever petitioned the Supreme Court? Have you ever reported and testified about court or prosecutor corruption? Have you ever argued before a jury?

Dr. Sachs could use your expertise.

How do you counter false forensic evidence?

Have you conducted depositions? Which rules should be used against this abuse by a Clinton appointed judge yesterday:

El Vaquero's picture

No, and I won because continuing the case would have opened up a world of shit for the TBTF, and I was following procedure.  Their records were beyond fucked, and they hadn't looked at them until I sent in requests for the production of documents. 


And other pro se defendants have won on appeal in my district. 


It's easy for people who haven't been in the court system to tell others how the court system works.  Funny thing is, they're not always right.

Reaper's picture

It's easy for a person who's been to court once to tell how uncorrupt the system is.

Why have the thousands of others failed, even with lawyers, in the higher courts? Over 142,000 cases of court corruption have been reported in NY State, but your case negates them all.

Where is your district? Was it federal or state court? Your skills are very marketable. Can I send clients to you?

El Vaquero's picture

If you've read all of my posts in this thread, I've made it clear that your milage WILL vary depending on what district you are in.  I've argued in state district court - the equivalent of circut in some other states, and in federal district court.  If you've read my other posts, you'll note that I've also stated that I'm lucky to have the courts that I have.  I didn't win by just assuming that everything was corrupt.  I won by observing and learning how the courts worked, then applied that knowledge.  I also got to watch attorneys NOT apply that knowledge and get their asses kicked.  I also watched as some did masterful jobs of kicking ass. 


And, no, you can't send clients to me.  Fuckoff with your sarcasm. 

Reaper's picture

I have a PACER account. I and others here would be delighted to view your federal legal arguments. Case please.

El Vaquero's picture

If you want it, I'll need a private means of contacting you.  I'm not posting it in here. I'll tell you that the federal case was fought to a draw.  I got most of what I wanted out of it.

OldPhart's picture

Got a speeding ticket.  Cop wrote me up for doing 95 mph in a 55 mph area.

Went to court.

Traffic Commissioner was a hard ass, "you're going to jail, thousand dollar fine" (or more) at the start of the session. 

I've got a State fine of something like $600,

Commissioner looks up out over the crowd and sees me.  "[My Name], what are you doing here?" "Got a speeding ticket."  "Yeah, where you speeding?"  "Yes, but not this god damned fast."  "Ok, fine is $100."  *Bang*  "Pay the lady over there."  "Yes, sir, [His first name], thanks.".

Entire courtroom turns to look at me like I'm a fucking celebrity.

Twenty years in Scouting has some benefits.

overmedicatedundersexed's picture

El Vaquero..can I call you if I need legal aid?? your posts in this thread are some of the best on zh this year.

Deathstar's picture

I read this earlier today and I bookmarked it so that people in another country can read it when I go over there soon.

To show them how fucked up this GOV has become.

JLee2027's picture

It doesn't help that the system has become loaded with politically correct man hating feminists at every level.

logicalman's picture

I see you have fallen for the diverionary tactics ot TPTB

Hopefully you will wake up soon enough to avoid the worst of what's coming.



JLee2027's picture

It's hardly diversionary when it's happened to you.

kchrisc's picture

You are only as guilty as they need you to be.

Liberty is a demand. Tyranny is submission.


Power will be as guillotine as their crimes dictate.

large_wooden_badger's picture

Jury Nullification! Now why don't they teach that in government schools????

logicalman's picture

Same reason they don't teach about money.


TeethVillage88s's picture

Under Rated Thread.


- Jury Nullification
- Money
- Banking & Finance & Accounting & Auditing & Accounting Control Fraud
- Central Banking
- Government, Cronyism, Conflict of Interest, Financial Ties, Money & Gift Giving in Government & Revolving Door to Industry & Gerrymandering & Soft Money & How Officials Get Rich, promoted, advance their careers, get bonuses, get brand new careers, sell books
- Anti-Trust Legislation & Lack of Enforcement, FTC, SEC, FINRA Failures, 100 years of Anti-Trust Legislation
- Depressions & Banks & Tight Private Bank Lending, Low Velocity & Stagnant Capital, Leaking Capital, Outsourcing, Abusive Worker Practices,
- Cutting US Jobs as a Political Act, Threat or Coercion, Blackmail, while small businesses & self employment are Trending toward extreme low levels and Middle Class faces lower Wages and Higher Education, Housing, Transportation, Insurance, and Health Care with other Inflation

i_call_you_my_base's picture

"Over the past quarter century, more than 1500 Americans have been released from prison after being cleared of crimes they did not commit."

LOL. That's probably the number of times a cop plants drugs on someone and arrests them in one year.

Once you understand how corrupt the police are, the incentives of the prosecution, and how plea bargaining works, you'll realize that it's likely that 50% of people imprisoned are guilty of charged crimes.

logicalman's picture

Sitting in an interview room knowing this is a truly frightening experience!


Supernova Born's picture

YouTube has plenty of ask for a lawyer, invoke your right to remain silent and then STFU videos.

UncleChopChop's picture

they don't call it the 'criminal' justice system for nothin'

q99x2's picture

You have to follow the 8 fold path, not have a lot of money and be lucky.

logicalman's picture

You missed 6 folds.


WTFUD's picture

Selling drugs and Prostitution should not be a crime otherwise Mich McConnell and Family would be incarcerated for LIFE.

lost money's picture

so you have no problem with me dealing drugs and running a strip joint next to your house then.

and don't say it should be regulated becuase you ZHers are supposed to be AGAINST gov't interference in free enterprise

El Vaquero's picture

So long as it is understood that I'm allowed to shoot people assaulting me or stealing my shit, I don't believe that it would be much of a problem.  

Tall Tom's picture

If Drugs and prostitution were legal, and if you invested into such a venture, then your investment would be as good as your Username.

falconflight's picture

You're firing on all cylinders tonight :)

i_call_you_my_base's picture

If I was serving bar you would be shut off.

bluez's picture

Give him another one, asshole.

WTFUD's picture

@ lost money

Not at all, it would save me a lot of incoming and outgoing expense. However my main point is that Mitch who holds an important position in .Gov must be exerting undue influence in keeping his cocaine smuggling in-laws out of jail.

OldPhart's picture

Government has a legitimate role in setting standards in weight, measures and providing a level field for enforcing contracts.

So, yeah, it should be regulated, legal, and transparent.  Posted menus should price everything from a lap dance to an anal fuck...with a premium per girl.  A price list for the drugs should be posted in a conspicuous location along with the prices for personal booze and booze for the floozy.

Tipping should be encouraged.

lost money's picture

We have a larger prison population because we can't do what some of those other countries do with convicted criminals. In some countries, when caught dealing drugs, you are executed within a few years, as opposed to servng 25 to life in the US. In some places like Singapore, they have caning. In other places they cut the hand off a theif rather than put him in prison at tax payer expense for 15 years. We have a large prison population because that is the only punishment allowed these days and some of you want to do away even with that. 

atomicwasted's picture