How the US Justice System Can Put You in Jail Forever...When You're Innocent

The American justice system works well.  It does not work perfectly.  Like a well running, expensive automobile, a single malfunctioning part can result in minor inconvenience or, sometimes, disaster.  Our justice system has several defective parts in it.  At the least, they undermine confidence in our system.  At worst, they can ruin your life — yes, your life.

They have been used against President Trump in an effort to destroy his effectiveness as president and even to seek his removal from office.

A few recent cases, well publicized, have provided an oil dipstick by which we can measure the threat.

One of them involves the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution.  It states that, among other protections, no "person [shall] be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb."

The ordinary, man-on-the-street interpretation of this, is that if someone is charged with a particular crime and acquitted, he cannot be charged a second time for that same incident — but there are several ways to get around that expectation.  One of them is for a separate jurisdiction to file charges.  Oftentimes, this means that if a defendant is found not guilty in a state court, he can then be tried by a federal court for essentially that same exact incident.  The power to do this undermines the power of President Trump to issue pardons.  Presidents can pardon only those charged with a federal offense, not with a state offense.  This means that if President Trump pardons Paul Manafort, a state court can try him and convict him, sending Manafort to state prison and rendering the federal pardon inconsequential to Manafort.  His political connection to President Trump, not the crime itself, seems to be the primary purpose of the charges.

Complicating the matter, there are borderline cases, involving something called "severance."  A single incident may violate more than one law.  Robbery and assault, for example, can be charged as separate crimes, even for the same incident, especially if one law is state and the other is federal.  The scandal is that severance can be selectively applied based on political considerations.

Over-charging is a common ploy in high profile cases.  The practice of over-charging puts pressure on those accused to accede to plea bargains, even when the accused is innocent of any crime at all.  It has been successfully used against both Martha Stewart and General Michael Flynn for lying to federal investigators.  Of course, the crime is serious and deserves punishment, but in both cases, the prosecutors had ulterior motives.  Ordinarily, such cases do not result in the level of punishment that occurred.  Flynn was punished essentially as a means to harm the Trump presidency.

The same principle applies in the case of families who have paid bribes to college officials in hopes of obtaining college admissions for their children.  The crime, no doubt, is serious, but prosecutors are seeking excessive penalties, including for mail fraud.

Apart from that obvious injustice, there is the issue of unequal application of the law.  As Tucker Carlson recently pointed out on air, Chelsea Clinton, daughter of a former president, was admitted to Stanford, despite an utter lack of demonstrated scholastic ability commensurate with that required of her college classmates.  Numerous other offspring of politically connected and influential parents are routinely admitted based on favoritism to premier universities such as Yale and Harvard.  Each one of them displaced a more deserving student, whose admission was denied.

Perhaps the most unjust violation of all is that of prosecutors charging defendants whom they know to be innocent.  One of the most egregious cases is known as the Duke Lacrosse Scandal.  The prosecutor was district attorney Mike Nifong.  Quoting from the linked article, "Nifong would later be disbarred after being found guilty of a battery of ethics violations for his handling of the investigation.  Some of the things he was found guilty for were fraud, dishonesty, making false statements of material fact before a judge, and lying about withholding exculpatory DNA evidence."

Nifong's punishment was jail — but only for twenty-four hours, despite the fact that he had sought years of imprisonment for the innocent defendants.  Why wasn't his punishment the same as what he had sought for those whom he wrongly accused?

Another case was that of George Zimmerman, who killed Trayvon Martin in self-defense.  Then-governor and now senator Rick Scott (R-Fla.) ignored the local prosecutor's finding that Zimmerman had committed no crime and sent state officials to seek a conviction.  Zimmerman was acquitted, but one impetus for the prosecution was the involvement of then-president Barack Obama, who famously said that if he had a son, he would look like Trayvon Martin.

Perhaps the worst case of persecution of known innocent defendants involves former special counsel Robert Mueller, who investigated President Trump.  Mueller not only knew early on that Trump was innocent of all the criminal accusations leveled against him, but ignored credible allegations of even worse crimes by Hillary Clinton.  It gets worse.  In the Whitey Bulger case, Mueller withheld exculpatory evidence that would have freed four innocent men, two of whom died in prison.

Few of us will ever be prosecuted for any criminal activity, but the threat is always there, a sword of Damocles imperiling all Americans.  Innocence is no defense.

The American justice system works well.  It does not work perfectly.  Like a well running, expensive automobile, a single malfunctioning part can result in minor inconvenience or, sometimes, disaster.  Our justice system has several defective parts in it.  At the least, they undermine confidence in our system.  At worst, they can ruin your life — yes, your life.

They have been used against President Trump in an effort to destroy his effectiveness as president and even to seek his removal from office.

A few recent cases, well publicized, have provided an oil dipstick by which we can measure the threat.

One of them involves the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution.  It states that, among other protections, no "person [shall] be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb."

The ordinary, man-on-the-street interpretation of this, is that if someone is charged with a particular crime and acquitted, he cannot be charged a second time for that same incident — but there are several ways to get around that expectation.  One of them is for a separate jurisdiction to file charges.  Oftentimes, this means that if a defendant is found not guilty in a state court, he can then be tried by a federal court for essentially that same exact incident.  The power to do this undermines the power of President Trump to issue pardons.  Presidents can pardon only those charged with a federal offense, not with a state offense.  This means that if President Trump pardons Paul Manafort, a state court can try him and convict him, sending Manafort to state prison and rendering the federal pardon inconsequential to Manafort.  His political connection to President Trump, not the crime itself, seems to be the primary purpose of the charges.

Complicating the matter, there are borderline cases, involving something called "severance."  A single incident may violate more than one law.  Robbery and assault, for example, can be charged as separate crimes, even for the same incident, especially if one law is state and the other is federal.  The scandal is that severance can be selectively applied based on political considerations.

Over-charging is a common ploy in high profile cases.  The practice of over-charging puts pressure on those accused to accede to plea bargains, even when the accused is innocent of any crime at all.  It has been successfully used against both Martha Stewart and General Michael Flynn for lying to federal investigators.  Of course, the crime is serious and deserves punishment, but in both cases, the prosecutors had ulterior motives.  Ordinarily, such cases do not result in the level of punishment that occurred.  Flynn was punished essentially as a means to harm the Trump presidency.

The same principle applies in the case of families who have paid bribes to college officials in hopes of obtaining college admissions for their children.  The crime, no doubt, is serious, but prosecutors are seeking excessive penalties, including for mail fraud.

Apart from that obvious injustice, there is the issue of unequal application of the law.  As Tucker Carlson recently pointed out on air, Chelsea Clinton, daughter of a former president, was admitted to Stanford, despite an utter lack of demonstrated scholastic ability commensurate with that required of her college classmates.  Numerous other offspring of politically connected and influential parents are routinely admitted based on favoritism to premier universities such as Yale and Harvard.  Each one of them displaced a more deserving student, whose admission was denied.

Perhaps the most unjust violation of all is that of prosecutors charging defendants whom they know to be innocent.  One of the most egregious cases is known as the Duke Lacrosse Scandal.  The prosecutor was district attorney Mike Nifong.  Quoting from the linked article, "Nifong would later be disbarred after being found guilty of a battery of ethics violations for his handling of the investigation.  Some of the things he was found guilty for were fraud, dishonesty, making false statements of material fact before a judge, and lying about withholding exculpatory DNA evidence."

Nifong's punishment was jail — but only for twenty-four hours, despite the fact that he had sought years of imprisonment for the innocent defendants.  Why wasn't his punishment the same as what he had sought for those whom he wrongly accused?

Another case was that of George Zimmerman, who killed Trayvon Martin in self-defense.  Then-governor and now senator Rick Scott (R-Fla.) ignored the local prosecutor's finding that Zimmerman had committed no crime and sent state officials to seek a conviction.  Zimmerman was acquitted, but one impetus for the prosecution was the involvement of then-president Barack Obama, who famously said that if he had a son, he would look like Trayvon Martin.

Perhaps the worst case of persecution of known innocent defendants involves former special counsel Robert Mueller, who investigated President Trump.  Mueller not only knew early on that Trump was innocent of all the criminal accusations leveled against him, but ignored credible allegations of even worse crimes by Hillary Clinton.  It gets worse.  In the Whitey Bulger case, Mueller withheld exculpatory evidence that would have freed four innocent men, two of whom died in prison.

Few of us will ever be prosecuted for any criminal activity, but the threat is always there, a sword of Damocles imperiling all Americans.  Innocence is no defense.