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Is the American justice system fair and equal?

Is the American justice system fair and equal?


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Captain Adverse

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Is the American justice system fair and equal?

No nuances, just 'yes' or 'no'.

IMO? Depends on a number of factors, not the least of which is whether or not you can afford the best legal counsel from start to finish.

Still, I'd say in general is it more fair than not.
 
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Pumpkin Row

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As fair as it can be.
 

ocean515

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Is the American justice system fair and equal?

No nuances, just 'yes' or 'no'.

No. So?

The guilty get away with things, and the innocent get locked up.

Would people prefer algorithms to determine guilt and innocence?

Humans are involved. American Justice will never be fair and balanced.

That doesn't mean it's bad.
 

Patrickt

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The last thing in the world people want is justice. It might even be farther from what they want than is what they deserve. Fair and just are frequently at opposite poles. The criminal justice system is a system to promote peace and order and not justice. It used to be a system of enforcing agreed upon rules in society.

Now, not so much. It's a fraud. It's called, sarcastically, let's make a deal. Now who does the deal benefit. Well, it clearly benefits the criminal. He committed a string of armed robberies, people were hurt, and he pleads guilty to theft and gets a four-year sentence. That means he'll be out in less than two years and committing more robberies.

Who does let's make a deal harm? Well, it harms all the victims who are killed or robbed by the man who should have been locked up. But, even, worse, it harms the rare innocent man who's been charged with a serious crime. "If you'll plead guilty we can get you a four-year sentence and you'll be out in two." "But, I didn't do it." "Well, then you can go to court and if you lose you'll spend 25 years in prison. That's quite a risk to take." "But, I didn't do it." "That's not the point."

Consider the vaunted exclusionary rule. If the police err in collecting evidence, through malice, a mistake, or the exact and proper following of the law which is then changed after the fact, then the evidence of guilt may not be used. Now, keep in mind that if the person is innocent there is no evidence of guilt to be found. The bloody clothes found on the floor of the closet wouldn't have been there and the knife clotted with blood from the two victims in the house next door wouldn't have existed, either. But, in Chicago, a man was arrested for killing a neighbor and her three-year old daughter. He was convicted of murder. Then, lawyers convinced a judge that the two police officers had not had sufficient probable cause to make the arrest so the search of his room pursuant to the arrest was an error. The just agreed that while there was probable cause it was insufficient and the man was released from prison. The District Attorney could not use the clothes soaked in the blood of the two victims as evidence. The District Attorney could not use the knife clotted with blood as evidence. The District Attorney could not use the repeated confessions made by the murderer. So the man who was clearly a murderer was released. And, a few years later he killed another woman. Now who benefited from the wonderful exclusionary rule and who suffered. Surely not the attorneys for the murderer. When asked if they felt any responsibility for the woman's murder said, like a guard and Buchenwald or Hillary Clinton on defending the child rapist successfully, "It was just my job. I feel no responsibility for the woman's death."

So, how does the exclusionary rule serve "justice"?

A man was charged with a rape that the District Attorney knew had never happened. When asked why he was prosecuting the man he said it was an election year and he couldn't anger the women's groups. So, the innocent man went to trial and got a hung jury. The jury could not decide on guilt or innocence. On the one had there was an alibi that he was in another city at the time of the rape and on the other hand there was a woman crying and saying, "That's the man." So, women's groups were outraged and the innocent man was tried a second time. This time he was acquitted. The District Attorney said, "See, it all worked out the way it was supposed to. The system works." "Are you going to reimburse this innocent man the tens of thousands he spent on his defense?" "Well, no."

In this wonderful system, if a police officer makes an error, for whatever reason, he can be prosecuted criminally, he can be sued personally, and the people who employ him, the taxpayers, can also be sued. The taxpayers have some limited liability but the cop doesn't. Fortunately, he also doesn't have much money so the lawyers aren't really interested in him. But, if the prosecuting attorneys err, for whatever reason, they have immunity, period. Consider Mr. Nifong of the Duke Lacrosse Team Rape Case fame. What happened to him? Consider the lawyer, President Clinton, who admitted to perjuring himself. What happened to him?

Think for a moment of Sen. Harry Reid. The senator who, when asked if he regretted lying about Gov. Romney not paying taxes sneered and said, "Why? He didn't win, did he?" Before he was a senator, and before he was a lawyer, he was a police officer.

There is no criminal justice system. Justice and fairness are political constructs that really have no meaning.
 

radcen

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IMO? Depends on a number of factors, not the least of which is whether or not you can afford the best legal counsel from start to finish.

Still, I'd say in general is it more fair than not.
Doesn't that mean it's not fair? What the point of justice being supposedly blind if money makes such a big difference?


No. So?

The guilty get away with things, and the innocent get locked up.

Would people prefer algorithms to determine guilt and innocence?

Humans are involved. American Justice will never be fair and balanced.

That doesn't mean it's bad.
You're arguing results, which isn't insignificant, but I am thinking treatment or approach.

For this thread, I mean. I certainly rail against unequal results often enough.
 

FluffyNinja

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In the greatest sense.....looking at the big picture?.......yes. Its one of the fairest and most equal in the world today as far as I can tell.

Are there obvious problems and even outright violations and abuses of it from time to time?........yes, of course. Thankfully we live within a system where wrongs can be, and quite often are, rectified.
 

Vox

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Is the American justice system fair and equal?

No nuances, just 'yes' or 'no'.

Here's the problem.

The economic system is not fair.

People with money get good lawyers and get a fair deal.

Poor people get bad lawyers and make bad plea deals.

Thus the justice system is fair.......for people with money.
 

Patrickt

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IMO? Depends on a number of factors, not the least of which is whether or not you can afford the best legal counsel from start to finish.

Still, I'd say in general is it more fair than not.

No, being able to afford the best promotes injustice. Consider the "justice" in the cases of Sen. Ted Kennedy and Mr. O.J. Simpson.
 

Captain Adverse

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Doesn't that mean it's not fair? What the point of justice being supposedly blind if money makes such a big difference?

No, being able to afford the best promotes injustice. Consider the "justice" in the cases of Sen. Ted Kennedy and Mr. O.J. Simpson.

Well, the criminal justice system is heavily weighted in favor of the prosecution because people are willing to pay taxes to cover the expense of law enforcement. That means in a criminal case you have a large staff of well-paid attorneys, supported by police and prosecution investigators, expert witnesses from the CSI, coroners office, and psychiatric support systems.

The average defendant has little to no funds to pay for their defense and must use Public Defender services (where I used to work). The public really doesn't want to pay for defense. So you have underpaid attorneys, sharing a very small investigation staff (in our office we had 3 investigators) which is usually dedicated to major case investigation, and that's about it. There are limited funds to pay for expert witnesses, again almost always dedicated to major felony cases (Murder, Armed Robbery, Major sex offenses in that order).

To balance this the majority of judges try to be fair and balanced, often leaning over backward to give the defense the benefit of the doubt. Moreover, the Prosecutor's office is not "out to get someone, anyone;" they are pursuing a case that the available evidence indicates is guilty.

To tell you the truth in the majority of cases brought to court the defendant is guilty of some offense. A Public Defender often finds that the case requires sifting through the crap charges the prosecution piled on hoping one sticks in order to isolate the one(s) that apply; then either try to get the best plea deal possible (something many defendants are actually looking for), or do our best to win the case anyway. There are some innocent people who are falsely accused, and I believe most Public Defender's will do their best to provide a good defense in any case at bar.

The problem (as stated above) is that in major cases it's like David fighting Goliath, only with just a rock without the sling. It costs money to investigate, pay for evidence processing, private CSI services, and expert witness to counter all the "free" support the prosecution has. That's where a person really needs a private sector attorney and all the support services he can afford.

So on balance, I believe the system is fair.
 
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Skeptic Bob

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You get what you pay for.
 

azgreg

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It's plenty fair as long as you have a **** ton of money.
 

TurtleDude

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Is the American justice system fair and equal?

No nuances, just 'yes' or 'no'.


the correct choice would be NO but better than other systems. no system is going to be fair and equal but the US system is among the best.
 

TurtleDude

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You get what you pay for.

not always. Now I admit most of my trial work was in federal courts. cases that were brought after often a year or two of groundwork. And Public defenders in the federal system were really good. and in some cases better than private attorneys because federal public defenders only did one thing-try cases in federal court. The good ones had dozens of federal trials-something few private attorneys had. Now who were the BEST attorneys for a federal defendant? answer-former DOJ prosecutors who became defense attorneys. but the public defenders were really close.
 

Northern Light

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With the amount of plea bargaining happening before cases go to trial, and the fact that most of those bargains are offered to poor people who can't afford real legal defense, I'd have to say no. The justice system is a conveyor belt for big business now. And it doesn't even attempt to solve any of the underlying socioeconomic problems fueling crime, or mental health problems.

America's prisons are overflowing with convicts of petty crime, and crimes that shouldn't even be crimes.
 

TurtleDude

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With the amount of plea bargaining happening before cases go to trial, and the fact that most of those bargains are offered to poor people who can't afford real legal defense, I'd have to say no. The justice system is a conveyor belt for big business now. And it doesn't even attempt to solve any of the underlying socioeconomic problems fueling crime, or mental health problems.

America's prisons are overflowing with convicts of petty crime, and crimes that shouldn't even be crimes.

what is funny is (and I am not referring to you) is how many liberals rightfully complain about low level drug dealers or even street muggers going to prison but then complain that tax cheats or white collar frauds don't get hard jail time. Jail should be reserved for people who are a clear and present physical danger to others and have to be incarcerated to prevent them from violently harming others
 

Captain Adverse

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With the amount of plea bargaining happening before cases go to trial, and the fact that most of those bargains are offered to poor people who can't afford real legal defense, I'd have to say no. The justice system is a conveyor belt for big business now. And it doesn't even attempt to solve any of the underlying socioeconomic problems fueling crime, or mental health problems.

America's prisons are overflowing with convicts of petty crime, and crimes that shouldn't even be crimes.

That is not the fault of the justice system. The justice system does not make the laws that are being enforced, the justice system simply enforces them.

If you want to blame someone (and rightfully so) for all the "crimes that shouldn't even be crimes," then blame the get tough on crime politicians and the citizens who support them.

As for the plea bargaining? Please refer to my post above:

To tell you the truth in the majority of cases brought to court the defendant is guilty of some offense. A Public Defender often finds that the case requires sifting through the crap charges the prosecution piled on hoping one sticks in order to isolate the one(s) that apply; then either try to get the best plea deal possible (something many defendants are actually looking for), or do our best to win the case anyway. There are some innocent people who are falsely accused, and I believe most Public Defender's will do their best to provide a good defense in any case at bar.
 

Northern Light

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That is not the fault of the justice system. The justice system does not make the laws that are being enforced, the justice system simply enforces them.

If you want to blame someone (and rightfully so) for all the "crimes that shouldn't even be crimes," then blame the get tough on crime politicians and the citizens who support them.

As for the plea bargaining? Please refer to my post above:

It's both. It's the legislators and it's the enforcers.

The criminal court system is corrupt. Less than 5% of cases make it to trial, because prosecutors are allowed to threaten defendants with absurdly high sentences if they lose the case, versus if they take the plea bargain. Defendants with families and dependents are of course going to take a deal if it means the alternative separates them from their families for absurdly long times. And it's all based on a person's ability to pay. People with money get all the perks.

The system is NOT about justice. It's about money and punishment. If we cared about justice then at least 50% of cases would go to trial, but that's no longer the case.
 

Captain Adverse

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It's both. It's the legislators and it's the enforcers.

The criminal court system is corrupt. Less than 5% of cases make it to trial, because prosecutors are allowed to threaten defendants with absurdly high sentences if they lose the case, versus if they take the plea bargain. Defendants with families and dependents are of course going to take a deal if it means the alternative separates them from their families for absurdly long times. And it's all based on a person's ability to pay. People with money get all the perks.

The system is NOT about justice. It's about money and punishment. If we cared about justice then at least 50% of cases would go to trial, but that's no longer the case.

Where do you get this from? :shock:

The reason there are so many plea bargains is because most defendants ARE guilty. They know it, their defense attorneys know it, and the prosecutor has the evidence to prove it.

That is not to say that some first time defendants were not wrongfully charged, or that some defendants with a prior record were not wrongfully charged. This does happen.

However, it is not as frequent as people seem to believe watching all those TV movies.

I used to think the same thing as you do before I worked as a Public Defender. Then I learned the truth by dealing with the defendants themselves.

You get a wake-up call when trying to defend people who lie to you, and then lie some more, and then finally admit they did it and ask what kind of deal they can get. I actually had the greatest respect for defendants, usually repeat offenders, who admitted their fault and had an honest discussion about what we could do for them in the way of a decent plea agreement.

I admit I've encountered some lazy, cynical, or burnt out Public Defenders during my period of service who assume the worst and simply go for the plea. But IMO that is NOT the norm. A Public Defender will do his best for a defendant who is innocent, and most judges I've encountered will bend over backwards to give a defendant a fair hearing.
 
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Northern Light

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I appreciate and trust your experience. My knowledge does not come from television, but from working in social systems. I'm not an enabler and I don't come to the rescue of people who I think are for sure guilty. What I'm saying is that the system is supposed to be about innocent until proven guilty and plea bargains bypass all that. Granted, people are signing their right to a trial away - it's their free will and perfectly legal to do so - but we will never know who is really guilty and who isn't because the plea bargaining system creates an obvious bias and power disparity, especially where class and race differentials are involved. It's easy to coerce people into bargaining out with steep sentences, especially if they have less agency.

You're saying that most people plea bargain out because they're guilty. How then do you explain that less than 5% of cases go to trial anymore? Is it because the justice system has become so amazingly good at collecting surefire evidence? Doubt it. There has to be another explanation. Like quota systems. DAs have to get so many wins in order to maintain their industry cred and get funding. That's just one example of how bias is created. Justice is supposed to be blind, not self-interested.

What you pointed out originally, that legislators are part of it, is surely a factor. If a DA can offer a 3 year sentence vs. 10 years that the state has legislated, then of course most people will take the 3 years, even if innocent, because it represents less of an opportunity cost. On the other hand, the odds are stacked against people of color and repeat offenders, even if innocent.

I'm not trying to downplay your experience, I just tend to err on the side of the rights and liberties of the individual in almost every case. I'm one of those people who would rather see 9 guilty people go free than see 1 innocent person get locked away. And it happens too often for my taste. Plus all the stories of corrupt judges making it to national news in the past few years, like the judge who dolled out guilty verdicts to feed the corporate prison system, mostly to black youth.

The mechanisms of justice are screwed up .

Where do you get this from? :shock:

The reason there are so many plea bargains is because most defendants ARE guilty. They know it, their defense attorneys know it, and the prosecutor has the evidence to prove it.

That is not to say that some first time defendants were not wrongfully charged, or that some defendants with a prior record were not wrongfully charged. This does happen.

However, it is not as frequent as people seem to believe watching all those TV movies.

I used to think the same thing as you do before I worked as a Public Defender. Then I learned the truth by dealing with the defendants themselves.

You get a wake-up call when trying to defend people who lie to you, and then lie some more, and then finally admit they did it and ask what kind of deal they can get. I actually had the greatest respect for defendants, usually repeat offenders, who admitted their fault and had an honest discussion about what we could do for them in the way of a decent plea agreement.

I admit I've encountered some lazy, cynical, or burnt out Public Defenders during my period of service who assume the worst and simply go for the plea. But IMO that is NOT the norm. A Public Defender will do his best for a defendant who is innocent, and most judges I've encountered will bend over backwards to give a defendant a fair hearing.
 

Captain Adverse

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I appreciate and trust your experience. My knowledge does not come from television, but from working in social systems. I'm not an enabler and I don't come to the rescue of people who I think are for sure guilty. What I'm saying is that the system is supposed to be about innocent until proven guilty and plea bargains bypass all that. Granted, people are signing their right to a trial away - it's their free will and perfectly legal to do so - but we will never know who is really guilty and who isn't because the plea bargaining system creates an obvious bias and power disparity, especially where class and race differentials are involved. It's easy to coerce people into bargaining out with steep sentences, especially if they have less agency.

You're saying that most people plea bargain out because they're guilty. How then do you explain that less than 5% of cases go to trial anymore? Is it because the justice system has become so amazingly good at collecting surefire evidence? Doubt it. There has to be another explanation. Like quota systems. DAs have to get so many wins in order to maintain their industry cred and get funding. That's just one example of how bias is created. Justice is supposed to be blind, not self-interested.

Well, let's take a look.

That figure of 95% reflects Federal cases and comes form this study:

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics (2005), in 2003 there were 75,573 cases disposed of in federal district court by trial or plea. Of these, about 95 percent were disposed of by a guilty plea (Pastore and Maguire, 2003). While there are no exact estimates of the proportion of cases that are resolved through plea bargaining, scholars estimate that about 90 to 95 percent of both federal and state court cases are resolved through this process (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2005; Flanagan and Maguire, 1990).
https://www.bja.gov/Publications/PleaBargainingResearchSummary.pdf

The 95% figure refers specifically to Federal cases, there are no figures on State cases but one can accept a 90% figure as more likely than not.

Now I didn't work at the Federal level, but from personal contacts with peers who were Federal Prosecutors or Public Defenders in professional discussions about cases, as well as my education on the differences in case preparation, I understand that Federal cases are extremely well-prepared long before any charges are brought. If the Feds charge you with something it's because their case is near iron-clad.

They have both the time and unlimited resources to make sure of this. As a result, unlike State cases, you will find very little "padding" of charges at the Federal level, and I understand that most of the plea deals will be for a sentence reduction in exchange for complete cooperation.

Now remember that point I made about guilt? The vast majority of people charged with a crime are guilty of some crime. Not of all the charges the State level Prosecution often pads a case with; but rather at least one valid crime that they are trying to make stick. Most of the padding is to allow for lesser offense options for purposes of plea bargaining. You'd be surprised at how many defendants start their initial interview with questions about what the best deal they can get will be.

I've found that there are two types of defendant who will not be interested in a plea bargain and insist on trial. The most common are individuals who are guilty but want to go to trial either to see if they can be gotten off, or who want to break the monotony and stress of incarceration by participating in the Court process. The remainder are honestly innocent people.

Admittedly, Public Defender offices are typically under-funded. This means a small staff of under-paid attorneys dealing with case overload. You said that you work in the Social field. My sister was a social worker for the NYC Dept. of Social Services, and her caseload was 3 times larger than the job description authorized. That, and worse, is what Public Defender's often face. This may color some of the legal counseling offered. If a defendant admits he did the crime, it is a waste of the Public Defender's time to provide a courtroom defense, when that time could be better dedicated to the defense of an innocent client. So yes, there will be efforts to divert a guilty defendant to a plea which will serve justice while getting the best deal possible.

That does not make the system less fair.
 
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