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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NoBillsOfCredit's picture

Violence is the tool of the ignorant.

WTFUD's picture

Agreed gregga!
What's staggering for someone like myself who doesn't reside in the Land of the Free ( talk about a contradiction in terms ) is that a good 80% of US Citizenry have ZERO clue that even Bill Clinton has Domestic blood on his hands. Admittedly since Edward Snowden a good percentage have woken up.

No matter how wretched an existence a human being suffers, the will to cling to life never abates in the west, unlike say the poor in Afghanistan.
With access to all them bullets it's a shocker that these treasonous politicians are able to ponce around freely having been exposed as beneficiaries of monies from BankCorp with tax-payer monies going the other way.

Maybe if we had crowdfunding for people nearing the end of life with the promise to look after their families we could begin to even up the score.

sagitarius's picture
sagitarius (not verified) Jul 22, 2015 5:02 AM

Moeny money=/bribe, corruption/ rules the wrold since 10.000 years.

It has never been different. Why should it be different somewhere, e.g. US, or be different now?

RabbitChow's picture

And what about Martin Armstrong, who served the longest prison term in history for contempt of court? 

KTRcarol's picture

Huge move afoot called "Criminal Justice Reform". $50 million grant from Soros to ACLU (That should scare the heck out of everyone)

Here's the Kicker...Coalition includes Koch, Norquist +.

Don't be fooled. Suspect that what they hope to accomplish means more votes for marxists. Yes ... We probably need reform, but I have seen state legislation that would move them to their goals. (Not passed so far...)  Restoration of voting rights, lighter sentencing guidelines and pres0 has already cummuted the sentences of 89 felons. Now there is a federal move to 'Ban the Box'. This is the box to check on an employment app if you have a criminal conviction. Seriously?


"Criminal Justice Reform"?  Be careful what you wish for....

Proceed with caution!

Pumpkin's picture

The biggest problem with our system today is, the government is by far the most often party complaining.  They are servants, and spend most of their time complaining about their masters.  Fire the fuckers if they're not happy!

NoBillsOfCredit's picture

Wrong, the real problem is ignorance of the people who vote and sit on juries.

Last of the Middle Class's picture

one comment "sanctuary cities" Nuff said

FreeNewEnergy's picture

My dad was a lawyer and by the time he was a member of the bar for 35-40 years, he was thoroughly disgusted with both the civil and criminal systems.

His final days were spent trying to nail a guy that stole over $600,000 from the estate of his late aunt. The fucking criminal bastard filed bankruptcy and after 17 70 mile (one way) trips to Fed court in Buffalo, the asshat judge and trustee decided to let the fuckwad walk.

They probably were paid handsomely by the criminal thief. After all he had $600K of ill-gotten cash to spend on bribes, lawyers (4 of them) and assorted BS.

Even though my father had obtained a $280,000 judgement, he was never able to collect a single penny. Such is the court system in America.

A couple of other instances of judicial incompetence were both parties receiving awards in a small claims action, a judge granting me a motion in a civial action and then reversing himself - almost immediately - when he realized I was somebody he didn't like from 20 years ago (no lie). That case died on the vine, was never prosecuted, still actually active.

Just the other day, I received a letter from the Maryland DMV, claiming I owed them over $3000 for not returning lisence plates from 1999. Such is the bankruptcy of our government agencies at all levels, that they come after you with trumped up charges 16 years after the fact. I moved from Maryland in 1999 and never want to go anywhere near that forsaken state (I live in NY, and it's actually decidedly better). I've decided to do nothing, since the letter states they can only intercept any Maryland income tax refund I may be due, not garnish wages nor attack my bank accounts.

I am certain that some government agency will eventually come along and stiff me for thousands if I ever show any reasonable income. For that reason, I have consistently avoided working for wages and do my own taxes - filed on paper, not electronically - and, being close to age 62, am seriously consideing NEVER applying for social security "benefits."

I didn't contribute much (by design) so won't receive much anyway, so, I'm like, why wake a sleeping dog?

Sorry to ramble, but this discussion brought up many bad memories. My father died in 2009. I miss him dearly (he was 84 when he passed), but figure evrybody has to move on at some point and his suffering was truly at an end.

In many ways, I am glad he's moved on, so he doesn't have to suffer the idiocy of the 21st century American injustice system.

I've always avoided three places my entire life: courtrooms, hospitals and funeral homes. Too many bad things can happen to anyone in any of those places, and, as far as funeral homes are concerned, they're just too fucking depressing.

OK, that's my 9:00 am rant. Time to move on to more productive things like moving some stumps and clearing some brush. At least nature, as wild and uncontrolled as it may be, doesn't talk shit to you or compel you to do anything outside of normal behanvior.

Essentially, fuck the cops, the courts, the doctors, the pharmaceutical companies (biggest murderers on the planet), bankers and politicians. Did I leave anyone out?

F em all but 6's picture

The prison industrial complex must be fed. This system, composed of people must continue the course to justify their position and feed the coffers from which their salaries are drawn. It is a beast without remorse.


Shit is going to hit the fan in this country. When crushing taxes (there already?) no longer are adequate to maintain prisons, a massive release will occur.

In the coming Civil War, who's side do you suppose they will support?


NoBillsOfCredit's picture

You are probably right about TSHTF. Bthe taxes are not that bad as imposed, the problem is that your labor IS NOT TAXABLE according to the law and the people don't know it because they refuse to learn the law.

MachoMan's picture

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….’”

Yes, and I have a higher win percentage in Court...  for the very same reason...  I don't bring suits to trial that I'm going to lose...  those get settled...

Further, the settlement rate in the criminal system is on par with the civil side of lawsuits...  a very small percentage of cases, criminal or civil, go to trial.

If you want to talk about bullying and intimidation, then you're going to talk about lawyers bullying one another?  The defendant either has a lawyer or a fool for a client...

FreeNewEnergy's picture

Macho, not to impugn you or your reputation (I've read your posts over the years and you seem knowledgable and sincere), but I've found most lawyers to be arrogant, self-serving, vicious and moronic, and those are their good points.

The world (and particularly the US) would be a better place with about 90% fewer of them.

I had the advantage of having a father who was a lawyer, and I listened well to his stories, learning much along the way, not only in rules and procedure, but also in the ways and means of prosecuting a case or defending oneself. I've successfully defended myself a number of times, but the road has always been fraught with peril, simply because I, a layman, am not as well-versed as those who stand before the bar in a professional capacity.

I also don't know any judges personally, which tends to work against my sides.

MachoMan's picture

but I've found most lawyers to be arrogant, self-serving, vicious and moronic, and those are their good points.  The world (and particularly the US) would be a better place with about 90% fewer of them.

No disagreement here.  The present state of the economy combined with law schools pumping out new blood has actually caused many of these issues/characteristics to worsen.  If you don't put your dues in with a really good firm that actually cares about your development (mentorship), then you're going to be lost coming out of school.  What is actually worse is going to a really large firm and then getting thrown to the wolves without any guidance.  In both instances, the younger lawyers may even be more bloodthirsty and less civil than our predecessors.  As a professional, I get to see how bad it really is because the public (their clients) have no idea how much of a ride they're getting.  My book is expanding very quickly due to fallout from astronomical billing from larger firms scrambling to keep up with ridiculous overhead.

That said, virtually the entirety of this article can be explained with our adversarial legal system.  I think that public defenders are part of the problem.  I think we should probably open up the entire local bar to criminal defense and the only exception would be to get your 50 hours of pro bono work a year.  This will help keep prosecutors honest and, further, help bridge the gap for middle america who does not qualify for free legal services from charity organizations (this is who would largely benefit from the pro bono work).  In addition, helping the public might even improve lawyers' reputations.  As it stands, I think most jurisdictions just promote pro bono work rather than require it.

The answer to it all is to practice what I refer to as the "gentlemanly practice of law."  Whenever two lawyers on opposing sides practice it...  the whole fucking system just works...  really well.  I actually get to see it quite often because I practice more in a ruralish area.  However, when folks from out of town show up, it's like pulling teeth.  I've actually started filing motions for sanctions against other attorneys for bullshit pleadings and motions.  People are desperate for billing and it's getting in the way of their obligations to their clients (and costing my clients money).

PS, knowing the judges helps...  (this is why venue is so important) 

FreeNewEnergy's picture

The coming civil war will have many, moving fronts, because the combatants are going to be the productive vs. the non-productive, private versus public.

Having been n private business for almost my whole life, I don't relish the thought of having to eliminate my brother of sister, each of whom sucked on the government teat (teachers) for many years and will soon be recieving lavish pensions.

Neither of them will talk to me anymore, for various reasons of which I am unaware (not a mind-reader), but I'm good with that. After 60 years, I've had enough of them.

Yeah, that sounds bitter, but I've found that actual friends (I have just three, and two are dogs), are much more reliable than family.

Just a footnote: forgot to mention the estate attorney who, when told I was going to fight a foreclosure action in my father's estate, said, and this is an exact quote, "it's outside my area of practice." FUCKING ASSHOLE. Long story short, after fighting for six years, I finally won, and, today, his claim to any fee is beyond the statute of limitations (6 years on contracts in NY). So, FUCK YOU, JAMES VAZZANNA, ESQ. (been wiating a long time to say that - excorcising some demons here).

In my vast imagination, I envision a world in which I skewer asshole lawyers with a spear on a daily basis, for fun.

NoBillsOfCredit's picture

The people need to learn about the Grand jury. It is our protection if we the people know what it is and how it works. The Texas constitution says the petit jury is to judge both law and facts. (see the part about liable trials) our ignorance is the problem. How many people on this site have ever been in a law library to do research or study? How many have read the Declaration of Independence, the US Const. Or their State or countries constitution? I dare say Damn few.

withglee's picture

Prosecutors win 95 percent of their cases, 90 percent of them without ever having to go to trial….

That means they loose 1/2 their cases when the legal justice system is actually used. Seems to me that should lead someone to question the whole practice of plea bargaining.

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.

Peculiar that "lawyers" are not mentioned here. 1/2 of the lawyers graduated in the lower 1/2 of their class. 1/2 of the lawyers lose in every case that goes to trial and is adjudicated without a plea bargain. 1/2 the lawyers are defending guilty parties ... and know it. Lawyers are "trained liars".

All lawyers (and judges and prosecutors) belong to the same union. Lawyers are far and away the largest contributors to DA and judge campaigns or influence their appointments. The most successful lawyers are the largest contributors. All judges get rich though they're not that well paid. Assistant DA's are apprentices for a career as trial lawyers. Public defenders are lawyers who can't find work ... no one wants to hire them.

Implement a system flawed at every turn and you're likely to have a defective system.

not a yahoo's picture

Did you expect they would only win 50% of the cases and the other 50% were falsely accused? Thank Donald that's not the case.

withglee's picture

Did you expect they would only win 50% of the cases and the other 50% were falsely accused?

Who's to know. They short circuit the process. Then misrepresent it by taking every negotiated settlement as a win.

I personally know several people who were railroaded. I suspect you do too. Take for example speed traps. It's your word against the cops ... and of course the cop has nothing to gain from lying ... except 90% of the town's revenue comes from speeding fines. The cop gives no hard evidence at all. The option is always (and immediately encouraged), plead guilty, pay fine, take defensive driving, and it won't go on your record. Sound familiar? Most people won't waste the time and expense to fight them.

It gets even uglier when they go for a DWI. Numbers there get into the several thousands, and if you ask for a lawyer and due process, they impound your car (at your expense) and put you in jail ... on the spot. In some cases they search your vehicle and find contraband (they planted). Then take your money and claim they didn't.

not a yahoo's picture

I personally don't know anyone who was unjustly convicted. I have to say I always sort of siloed the whole car/driving/parking issue as a greedy public employees in socialist heaven/hell city where you just have to play the game - no justice involved.

22winmag's picture

Prosecutors are OUT OF CONTROL.


No wonder so many of them go on to become politicians.

mastersnark's picture

"unreliable eyewitnesses, fallible forensic evidence, flawed memories, coerced confessions, harsh interrogation tactics, uninformed jurors, prosecutorial misconduct, falsified evidence, and overly harsh sentences,"


The common denominator is "prosecutors." They, prosecutors, can prevent all of those defects from corrupting due process but many don't because it's now all about winning with DA offices, whether by plea or jury. Dismissals "in the interest of justice" or "insufficiency of the evidence" are seen as failures or a criticism of the arresting agency. Once someone is arrested, there is a vested interest in seeing that person convicted.

It's why I quit the office.

not a yahoo's picture

Let me suggest this different viewpoint:

We have 25% of the world's criminals.


not a yahoo's picture

The exception proves the rule, as far as this case shows: the judge/prosecutor were completely incompetent and the system raised about 20 flags on this one.

There could only be a mass of problems if they were not this obvious. Show me.

MrBoompi's picture

You can buy a good court outcome.  Getting off or receiving a reduced sentence can be expensive.  And you know if you don't have money the prosecutors love to put you away and make themselves look good while filling the prison beds.  The justice system is run for profit.  Just like everything else.  So why more people don't seem to understand this is beyond me.    

Lynn Trainor's picture

One vilie and infuriating thing is that many prosecutors KNOW the accussed is innocent, but want to win the case anyway - when are such prosecutors ever charged with a crime?