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December 1, 2011

Conrad Black's latest harsh attack on the US criminal justice system

Notable federal felon Conrad Black has this potent new commentary on the US criminal justice system, which notably appears in the National Review Online. The piece is headlined "Justice Denied: The U.S. legal system is a disgrace," and here is how it starts and ends:

In the current issue of Commentary, there is a symposium of 43 knowledgeable people who discuss whether they are optimistic or pessimistic about America.  In the current edition of The New Criterion, the eminent British historian Andrew Roberts, now a U.S. resident, assesses similar points in a lead essay about how benign America has been as the superpower, and how keenly it will be missed if superseded in that role by China.

Nowhere in either interesting section of either magazine is the appalling state of the U.S. justice system mentioned as symbolic or indicative of the country’s problems.  Very adequate attention is given to the uncompetitive deterioration of American public education, to fiscal irresponsibility, and certainly to the shortcomings of popular culture and the media.

I try to rise above the fact, known to most readers, that I write from a federal prison where I have been sent for a total of 37 months, for crimes I did not commit, and after all 17 counts against me were abandoned, rejected by jurors, or vacated by a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court.  I have amply described my legal travails elsewhere and refer to them here only as disclosure.

The United States has six to twelve times as many incarcerated people per capita as Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, and the United Kingdom, all prosperous democracies.  The U.S. has a much higher percentage of successful prosecutions, a lower hurdle to clear to prosecute (with rubber-stamp grand juries), a greater range of offenses, heavier sentences, and a higher recidivism rate than any of those other countries.

As Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia wrote in his essay “Criminal Injustice” two years ago, either those other countries are less concerned with crime than the U.S., or Americans are more addicted to criminal behavior — both preposterous suggestions — or the U.S. justice system is not working well.

There are 48 million people in the United States with a “record,” many of them based on ancient DUIs or disorderly behavior decades ago at a fraternity party and other unstigmatizing offenses, but still a severe inconvenience to them when they travel abroad or their names are fed to almost any information system; and millions have had their lives effectively ruined.  The U.S. has 5 percent of the world’s population, 25 percent of the world’s incarcerated people, and 50 percent of the world’s lawyers, who invoice almost 10 percent of U.S. GDP (around $1.4 trillion annually).  In the mid-1970s, the U.S. had about 650,000 people in mental institutions; today, it has only 50,000.  Prisoners cost $40,000 per year to detain, and some states can no longer afford it.  The conditions of hundreds of thousands of prisoners are grossly and shamefully inhumane. (My own are not.)

The Fifth, Sixth, and Eighth Amendment rights of assurance against capricious prosecution, due process, no seizure of property without due compensation, an impartial jury, access to counsel, prompt justice, and reasonable bail, don’t exist.  The ubiquitous plea bargain is just the wholesale subornation or extortion of inculpatory perjury in exchange for immunities or reduced sentences (often with people who are threatened, although there is no evidence against them).  Assets are routinely frozen on the basis of false affidavits in ex parte proceedings to deny defendants the ability to defend themselves.  Those who do exercise their constitutional right to a defense receive three times as severe a sentence as those who plead guilty; 95 percent of cases are won by prosecutors, 90 percent of those without trial.  The public defenders have no resources to conduct a serious defense and are usually just Judas goats of the prosecutors conducting the defendants to legal destruction.

Sentences are absurd: A marijuana deliverer is apt to be sentenced to 20 years in prison. There is minimal effort to rehabilitate nonviolent offenders.  Private-sector firms are increasingly active in the prison industry and they and the militantly unionized correctional officers, almost all unskilled labor, constantly lead public demands for more criminal statutes and more draconian penalties.

Unfortunately, the immense surge in American incarceration rates is largely credited with the decline in crime rates, though better police work, more general use of video cameras at potential crime sites, an aging population, and, for a long time, improving living standards, were responsible....

The state of American justice is shameful and unspeakable, literally so to judge from the hear-no-evil, see-no-evil, speak-no-evil insouciance of Commentary’s blue-ribbon high table of contemporary critics.  Many of them attacked the nihilistic, self-destructive anti-Americanism of the American campuses, absolutely correctly.  But if they noticed the fraudulence that has metastasized through the American legal system, their critique would carry greater weight.

The moral soul of America is rotting away and the only defense an individual American has is numbers: The prosecutocracy cannot send more than 1 percent of the entire adult population to prison at any one time, if only for budgetary reasons.

The first line of defense of society as a whole are those whose vocation is to study and espouse public policy.  Failure on this scale will make them complicit in this vast crime of the state, if it continues.  I am listening for Jefferson’s firebell in the night and all I hear is Gertrude Stein’s sound of one hand clapping.

Wowsa!  I assume that Bill Otis and perhaps other readers will perceive these assertions by Conrad Black to be just another anti-criminal-justice rant from another hater of America. That may be accurate, but I think Bill and others tend to assume that these folks come to hate America from the left and only get attention from liberal-leaning media. But I do not think Conrad Black is fairly considered a lefty, nor do I think the National Review can be fairly blasted for being part of the left-leaning media.

December 1, 2011 at 09:48 AM | Permalink

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Comments

"...either those other countries are less concerned with crime than the U.S., or Americans are more addicted to criminal behavior — both preposterous suggestions — or the U.S. justice system is not working well."

Maybe a large swath of the U.S. population *is* addicted to criminal behavior. Why is this preposterous?

Fatherlessness, materialism and superficiality, slothfulness and class-envy, deviant and hyper-sexuality, the decline of biblical behavior whilst the advance of secularism, &tc., contribute to criminality here perhaps more than in Europe.

Nevertheless, I think the *non-minority American crime rate* runs in the midstream of European numbers, so possibly immigration without assimilation may be a major factor.

Posted by: adamakis | Dec 1, 2011 10:04:38 AM

"The ubiquitous plea bargain is just the wholesale subornation or extortion of inculpatory perjury in exchange for immunities or reduced sentences (often with people who are threatened, although there is no evidence against them)."

Bingo.

Posted by: Thinkaboutit | Dec 1, 2011 10:39:02 AM

Reminds me of the old joke: Q - What do you call a conservative who's been arrested? A - A liberal.

Posted by: lrr | Dec 1, 2011 12:19:42 PM

Adamakis--

You think that the United States has more hypersexuality than Europe? ;)

Agree with you on the fatherlessness, materialism, and slothfulness whole-heartedly, though. Last year two sociologists determined that people who (1) graduated from high school, (2) got married, and (3) waited to have children until they were married had a 95% chance of living above the poverty line, and a 76% chance of entering the middle class.

Our sociological stats speak for themselves sometimes.

Posted by: Res ipsa | Dec 1, 2011 12:55:36 PM

Conrad Black admires Franklin Roosevelt and Richard Nixon. That makes him at least something of a leftie in my book. But it might be interesting to get reactions from the public defender community to see how they feel about being characterized as Judas goats. (There's also some tension between complaining that American lawyers consume too much of GDP and that defense counsel are underresourced.) And if Canada (for example) really does have a higher percentage of prosecutions that end with acquittals, does that mean they have a better-functioning system or that they have even more over-the-top prosecutors who are persecuting more innocents?

Posted by: JWB | Dec 1, 2011 1:59:53 PM

Res ipsa --

Indeed.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 1, 2011 3:24:27 PM

@Res ipsa

"Last year two sociologists determined that people who (1) graduated from high school, (2) got married, and (3) waited to have children until they were married had a 95% chance of living above the poverty line...."

That means that 5% of those who acomplished these things were still below the poverty line, which means that that 5% is about 1/3 to 1/2 of those below the poverty line, depending on the state and most are Southern. So 1-3 are not magic bullets.

Posted by: George | Dec 1, 2011 5:18:05 PM

Poor Conrad. I would correct him on one point, however. Conviction rates in Japan are rather high - with trials for serious offences going at about 99-1 for the prosecution. This is higher than even the worst jurisdictions in the US, let alone the other named capitalist democracies.

Posted by: Marko | Dec 2, 2011 1:06:41 AM

I will take any bets on what Conrad's position would have been had he NOT been declared to be a killer...... "it's the greatest system in the world" until it works against you, then it's the worst. Whatever. He seems rather unrepentant. Perhaps he would rather have been tried in China?

Posted by: Rich Mantei | Dec 2, 2011 7:35:08 AM

Could it have anything to do with the fact that the US has one lawyer for every 263 people. This is the highest % in the world. We have more law and more opportunity and resources to prosecute. I don't think US citizens are less law abiding than those in the rest of the world.

Posted by: beth | Dec 2, 2011 1:42:27 PM

Marko: "Conviction rates in Japan are rather high - with trials for serious offences going at about 99-1 for the prosecution"

I suppose that explains why the prison population in Japan is LOWER?

Prison population total in Japan (including pre-trial detainees/remand prisoners) was 74,476 mid-2010 (NATIONAL PRISON ADMINISTRATION - JAPAN)

Prison population total in the U.S. {including pre-trial detainees/remand prisoners) was 2,292,133 end of 2009 (U.S. BUREAU OF JUSTICE STATISTICS)

Prison population rate in Japan (per 100,000 of national population) was 58 based on an estimated national population of 127.9 million at mid-2010 (JAPANESE GOVERNMENT STATISTICS BUREAU)

Prison population rate in the U.S. (per 100,000 of national population) was 743 based on an estimated national population of 308.4 million at end of 2009 (U.S. CENSUS BUREAU)

Posted by: Huh? | Dec 2, 2011 10:04:36 PM

beth: "I don't think US citizens are less law abiding than those in the rest of the world."

Ain't that the truth!

Posted by: Huh? | Dec 2, 2011 10:07:24 PM

"Assets are routinely frozen on the basis of false affidavits in ex parte proceedings to deny defendants the ability to defend themselves. Those who do exercise their constitutional right to a defense receive three times as severe a sentence as those who plead guilty; 95 percent of cases are won by prosecutors, 90 percent of those without trial."

I personally know these things to be true....the Government emptied numerous financial accounts in my name, they put a lis pendens on my house--and then put a lis pendens on other property that had zero connection to the bogus crimes I was accused of--preventing access to assets. There is very rarely a right to a hearing about seized assets pre-trial.--- And in fact even now, seven months after my Federal Trial where I was acquitted of all counts against me, the Government continues to hold my assets. I Still have no right to intervene or have my day in court until the judge is good and ready.
I am so blessed to have been able to afford competent counsel--but that still
does not guarantee that the jury would have reached the right decision. Odds against the defendant are incredibly high---and I have nightmares about how my life would be if they had reached the wrong decision. The loss of my home, the loss of my life savings, and even the loss of property that I bought a decade ago--because a jail sentence is not enough. There are frequently many more punishments pile on top of that.
I would NEVER have believed how incredibly unfair our system is until I came into contact with it. YES I was acquitted---but that DOES NOT mean I believe the "system works"

Posted by: folly | Dec 3, 2011 8:25:21 PM

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