It appears that bad-mouthing, humiliating, and abusing law enforcement officials are all the rage at the moment. Because, somehow, the horrific abuse of power displayed in Minneapolis is indicative of how the entire law enforcement community performs. If anyone cares to look at the statics, they would see that it is not true. But not many are interested in the statistics. It is only one’s feelings about the subject that matters. I get it. Feelings of outrage, feelings of injustice are not unfamiliar to me. However, temper tantrums in the form of anarchy, does not, and will not resolve these very real issues.
It is easy to suggest that everyone should just “respect and obey the instructions of an officer,” If we find ourselves in that position. Some find it easy to declare “If you didn’t do anything wrong you should have a problem complying with requests.” In theory that may be true, however, if you are raised in an environment of mistrust of law enforcement, you are less likely to fall for that line. If one is aware they have committed a minor infraction, but are conditioned to believe that they will be accused of a much more serious crime, resisting may seem like the lesser of two evils.
There is an element of a race issue in this truth, in that it is not a “life lesson” that is taught in the “white” community. But it is no less true that they can experience the same treatment from a county prosecutor - they are just ignorant of the politics involved in the justice system. I certainly was.
We talk about the prison population and justice reform, and some problems are certainly being addressed. President Trump granting Alice Marie Johnson clemency for her absurd sentence is only one example. The First Step Act is another. This act addresses Federal and “non-violent” crime. What are the states doing?
Here is the difficult truth we have to face. People who have committed crimes - even those that qualify as “violent,” can experience injustice. Stacked charges to provoke plea deals, and creative prosecution strategies that distort facts, and excessive sentences from judges are but a few of the issues. While it’s easy to claim that there is the right to appeal, they are rarely successful, expensive, and take so long that one must do a cost/benefit analysis to determine if it’s simply not worth the investment. Many just resolve to serve the time - whether they deserve it or not. In recognizing this fact we cannot neglect to acknowledge that most will believe they received too much time. That they believe it does not make it true. While addressing the issue of time, there are victims who may believe that the accused and convicted did not receive enough time for their crime.
There is no easy fix to this very complex problem. This problem involves people. People who have very real feelings of pain, fear, injustice, and outrage. And others who have agendas, biases, egos, and jobs to think of. The common denominator in both is relationships.
This is why we are a country of laws not of men, as attributed to John Adams from 1790:
A Declaration of the Rights of the Inhabitants of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts
In the government of this commonwealth, the legislative department shall never exercise the executive and judicial powers, or either of them: the executive shall never exercise the legislative and judicial powers, or either of them: the judicial shall never exercise the legislative and executive powers, or either of them: to the end it may be a government of laws and not of men.
We have indeed lost our way. The cause? Pride and power, and the politics of greed and envy. We have lost our way because we allow our feelings and our offended sensibilities to direct our responses to crime. At some point, through the actions of our judicial system - (at all levels) we have become a government of men rather than of laws.
In summary, the judicial system has become institutionalized vigilantism.
We are a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. We vote for our lawmakers, for our local officials, prosecutors, and judges. The problem we face now is one of moral relativism and decay. For decades we have permitted the courts, government, and the culture to slowly erode the moral compass that guided the founding fathers and gave them their vision for our Constitutional Republic.
Our elected officials are dependent on the approval of the voters. Our “free press” no longer is concerned with truth. Rather, the voters are manipulated by media, provoked into outrage - whether the outrage is justified or not. What is the result? Feelings of the outrage drive the elected officials. - We are left with the very vigilantism that the judicial system is intended to control.
These observations are not those of one looking in on it from the outside. I’ve never been accused of a crime but I have had the unique opportunity to see this system from two perspectives. I was directly involved in two criminal cases. The first taught me lessons on the second.
My first experience with the criminal court (not as the accused) enlightened me to the truth about “how they do things” in my county. My second experience showed me that not all courts are created equal. They both showed me that few people care about the process. The second showed me there is at least one judge in my county who cares about applying justice according to the law.
Though the state legislatures have passed the laws the courts are to follow, and the prosecutors are charged with prosecuting crimes, not all courts administer equal justice under the law. Justice is not always easy to define. There may be mitigating factors that justify different sentences for two separate crimes with the same outcome. There are facts and evidence, but there is also the truth behind them. There is no justice if the truth is theorized, politicized, and manipulated to appeal to an angry mob, to push a particular agenda, or even to “make an example of” the accused.
Prosecutors can twist the truth like a pretzel, present theory as fact without supporting evidence, dismiss direct testimony as “minimizing” the crime. Then to follow is the appellate court reviewing the case in the light “most favorable to the state.” State Supreme Courts only agree to hear a very small percentage of the appeals that come before them - and when they do it is unlikely to rule against the state. It’s not about the law, seeking truth, and administering justice.
I know this injustice occurs because I have lived it for the past ten years - as the victim making every attempt to get an unjust vigilante prosecution and bench conviction corrected. I experienced a county prosecutor, the judge, and an appellate court disregard the truth in favor of a far worse scenario. The crime just as it happened was not enough. They distorted evidence to make a single crime become two. - Together, the prosecution and the court indulge their own flavor of vigilantism. A self-righteous form of justice. I have had the rude awakening to the fact that it's all about relationships and preserving the institution.
Injustice happens. - In the courtrooms and judge's chambers every day. It is an ugly truth we need to face and resolve.
Why such a light sentence? Why such a severe sentence? High bail imposed? Released on recognizance? Continuance granted - or not. The “discretion” granted the court becomes ambiguity which cuts both ways. It can be as unfair to the accused as it is to the victim of the crime.
It is unwise to allow celebrity or social media outrage and inflamed public passions, followed by knee-jerk reactions of elected officials to drive the legislative and judicial processes. Too often there is a “do something to do something” mentality, only thinking about the ramifications of the action taken when it is too late.
Cops using excessive force is not nearly as widespread as overzealous and deceptive prosecution practices - (even at the highest levels of government.) Add to it the excessive sentencing handed down by the courts. The result is an unfounded distrust of all law enforcement officers.
Why is no one talking about the real problem?
The judicial system has failed me and is failing others like me. Each post will reveal a different instance of our failing system, of violations of law, and violations liberties. If you or a loved one has experienced similar injustice, or if, unlike me, your local local judicial system has served you well, feel free to share your comments.