6th June 1998

Column 17

I've finally gotten some ribbons for my typewriters, so I am able to write a bit more. I want to talk about the legal system again, but it isn't an easy topic to talk about because of all the intangibles that come into play. In deciding on how to talk about it, I figured instead of saying, 'You get arrested, you get a lawyer assigned to your case etc.' I thought that I would instead talk about things I have seen and various anecdotes related to the legal system. Hopefully you will be able to make sense out of what I write, even if it seems to bounce around a bit, but it is the best way I think there is to talk about such a complicated process.

The legal system isn't only about picking a jury and having a trial. Instead, it is the culmination of many things that have to happen during the process that leads up to the trial. Most people seem to have the attitude, 'if you had a trial by Jury, you've had a fair trial'. In theory that sounds good, but the reality is much different. If you don't have the resources to defend yourself, to hire a Private Investigator, to hire experts in the various forensic sciences and you don't have the funds to pay for even the most basic things needed to prepare a defense, while on the other side, the Prosecutors have unlimited public funds and the use of other unlimited resources to be used against you. I have even heard of the prosecution paying a 'retainer' to various experts in the forensic sciences, not so the prosecution could use these experts for their case, but in order to keep the defense from being able to use these experts during a trial. I know that people don't care about these sorts of things. After all, if a person who is charged with a crime goes to trial and is found innocent, the media starts ranting and raving about how that happened. Too bad they don't rant and rave as hard about how slanted the legal system is for conviction, regardless of guilt or innocence. It would be nice if a 'Fair Trial' was only about picking a Jury and letting them decide the outcome, but it doesn't work like that. It all comes down to economics and how much you have to pay for your defense.

I was wryly amused by a letter I received some time age (from someone in another country) and they talked about how sad it was that in America, which is supposed to be the 'Land Of the Free', the defendant has to prove they are innocent. (This person was talking about seeing a story of a person in the USA, that had been arrested for something and our media already had the person convicted, or so he thought, from the story he had seen). He went on about how much superior their legal system was in his country, because a person was presumed to be innocent until the Government proved otherwise. I spent a bit of time trying to explain to him that in theory, our system was supposed to be the same way, but the reality of it is that the innocent have to prove they are innocent. I found it ironic that somebody from another country would be talking about how much better their legal system was because they had the presumption of innocence, when one of the foundations of our legal system is suppose to be the presumption of innocence and other countries had followed suit, in time. Americans have become so brainwashed, they automatically assume that if a person is arrested, they are guilty unless they prove otherwise. A good example of this is the guy that was accused of the Bombing in Atlanta, during the Olympics. The media had basically convicted this guy (I think his name is Jewel) and I can guarantee you, if he hadn't been fortunate enough to be able to prove his innocence before he went to trial, he would be sitting in prison for the rest of his life, right now.

The reason that economics plays such a big part in being able to defend yourself is the prosecutor (as I said before) has unlimited resources available to them. They have hundreds of Detectives and Investigators, they have access to any scientific laboratory they want, they have a staff of attorneys to work on cases, they have unlimited money to pay for any legal experts that they want. The list goes on and on, but I'm sure you get the idea. On the other hand, the defendant has a court appointed Lawyer who probably already has a number of other cases to work on. The attorney has to go to the court to get any money at all, to pay for an Investigator, to pay for any scientific work that may need to be done to check the evidence that the prosecution puts up. The Judge has the option of granting, or not granting any money to the defense. So when your defense lawyer spends a good deal of their energy just to get the money to do their job, then that is time taken away from when they could he working on your defense, or on the defense of one of their other cases.

The thing about a court appointed lawyer is you never know if they are good, or no good, until it is too late to do anything about it. Unless you personally have knowledge of the way the legal system works. There is one notorious attorney who has 7 former clients sitting here on Death Row. After the seventh time, even the courts were embarrassed enough to finally stop giving this attorney clients. Not for the fact that he has 7 former clients on Death Row, but for the fact that he was so obviously incompetent, that the court couldn't get away with assigning anymore death cases to this lawyer. He had an average of one week in which he picked a Jury, the Prosecution put on their case and the defendant was convicted with any defense on their behalf. Now, one week to go from picking a Jury to a conviction and getting a death verdict, (those of you who have been paying attention, you remember that this means two separate trials in a week) when in even the more minor cases, it is not unusual to have a trial that last a couple of weeks, and that is for a minor offense. The Prosecutors use a lot of tricks to try and screw up the defense as well. One prosecutor had a reputation for arresting defense witnesses as soon as they came out of the courtroom, when they had finished testifying for the defense. This Prosecutor would make sure that the other defense witnesses saw the arrests. After two or three arrests, the rest of the defense witnesses would leave the courtroom and refuse to testify for the defense. Eventually the California Supreme Court reprimanded this prosecutor. The Prosecutor was proud of that and would brag and joke about it. The sad part about it is that this guy was promoted in the Prosecutors office, to supervise and train new Prosecutors.