American efficiency

4 11 2007


This article was translate by Carlo Parlanti for show what is the justice in America


The American Judicial system is efficient because there are no real trials, there are no appeals and  there are no motivations given for the verdicts. This system has produced the largest mass imprisonment since Stalin.

According to the United States Government 96% of the guilty verdicts for felony are obtained through plea bargaining. Only 40% of the verdicts for criminal homicide – manslaughter or murder – are obtained by trial and almost all civil disputes, thanks to the “American Rule”, are resolved by agreement. For all misdemeanors (lesser crimes) the procedure is even speedier and it is said that in two thirds of the cases the proceedings last less than than a minute. This is due to the fact that, in the lower courts that handle these matters, a defence attorney is not mandatory,  in fact it is often not even permitted. The accused may insist on demanding a real trial, in which case the matter is carried to a higher court; but until then he goes to jail.
 It is standard practice to keep those who require a public defender in prison, and to keep them there for the length of time equal to the probable sentence; they are then conducted before a judge, chained to one another a dozen at a time, the pubic defender will obtain a guilty verdict for them whereupon the judge will impose a “time served” sentence. This system allows the enormous amount of work to be “taken care of”; work resulting from more than 14 million arrests every year made by the 18,000 United States police agencies – even though 50% of serious crimes are not even reported.  There are only 150,000 trials by jury, familiar to those outside the U.S. from exported TV shows and films, and they have the big advantage of not requiring motivation either for the verdict or the sentence. The jury does not have to explain why they find you guilty while sending you to the gallows or how they came to that conclusion, nor do they have to explain how they evaluated the evidence and testimony, and, for that matter, neither does the judge. Sentences are normally carried out immediately and the convict is taken to and from prison and courtroom directly. In many cases, the judge may opt for “probation”, even for serious crimes and or long sentences.  This enormous quantity of arrests and convictions has produced the largest mass incarceration since the ones carried out by Stalin and the huge American Gulag detains 2,350,000 convicts – in 2005 the increment alone was as large as the entire prison population of Italy. 1,450,00 are serving sentences longer than one year in state or federal prison, as compared to the 200,000 thirty years ago. 130,000 are serving life sentences, one fourth of which are L.W.O.P. (life without parole) and 2,000 of these were child offenders at the time of their crime.  There are more than 100,000 minors in reformatories and 15,000 juveniles sent to adult prisons; every year 2,300,000 children are arrested: 500,000 are not yet fifteen, 120.000 between 10 and 12 and 20,000 less than 10 years old. The arrest of a 4 year old is not exceptional. There are 100,000 minor girls in prison.  500,000 of the 800,000 crowding the county jails are not waiting so much for a trial as for someone who will provide any kind of legal counsel. The rest are serving sentences less than a year. Let us add to those the 4,200,000 on probation, the 800,000 on parole, who have not fully served their  sentence, the 5 million that have lost their civil rights, and lastly add the minors that have at least one parent behind bars. We can see how an incarcerated subclass comprising 5% of the total American population was created in the last thirty years. The turn over is amazing: 2,200,000 on probation in 2003 and 600,000 in prison. It is not possible to calculate the turn over in county jails. In America an appeal is not a constitutional right and only death sentences have an automatic trial review, which is not a new trial. American appeal is only a verification if the proceedings were formally correct; the witnesses are not readmitted, there is no jury and the convict has lost any (theoretical) presumption of innocence.  A capital appeal can become a never ending ordeal, back and forth, between state and federal courts, but for everybody else the prospects are quite different. An appeal is rarely granted, in fact never after plea bargaining. Times can drag out forever; Texas had to pass a special law in order to release the 13 innocent defendants in the Tulia travesty. It is common for somebody to serve a “mere” 5 to 10 year sentence before being recognized as innocent. There is no problem with the statute of limitation because the clock stops when the judicial process starts. The judicial system foresees appeal courts and supreme courts at the state and federal level. Each state has at least one federal judicial district, belonging to one of 11 federal circuits (not counting District of Columbia with its 2 Circuit Courts). The  Federal Supreme Court is the highest court. The State and Federal Appeal Courts in general have absolute decisional power to hear and to reject cases without explanation. The Federal Supreme Court receives from 7 to 8 thousand requests a year to verify the constitutional integrity of convictions, but issues only 60-70 opinions. It is not correct to say that American judges have political biases, because they are fully part of the political world; they are politicians to all effects. Whether attorney or prosecutor, they have behind them a life of political activity . They are sometimes elected, but more often than not they are simply appointed by other politicians, and in the end they are all held to account for their decisions. A judge may pay dearly for handing down a sentence disliked by a majority of voters.




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