What Judicial Activism REALLY Looks Like

23 11 2010

For the past couple of years, we’ve been hearing lots of imbeciles ranting about “judicial activism”. This charge is most often raised when one political cesspool or another is upset with some court ruling. A lot of this comes from what passes for conservatives, but liberals do it as well. Not as much or as loudly anymore, but neither group has clean hands when it comes to leveling this particular nonsense charge in order to get votes. There have been a few cases of what might be considered “judicial activism” by more than one side of our political duopoly, but they’re usually few and far between and rarely as utterly brazen as the tale I will now unfold.

It seems that the town of Clarksville, TX is still living in the stone age, complete with good ol’ boy politics … and justice. I could have sworn Jim Crow had been relegated to the depths of our barbaric past where it belongs, but the “law enforcement” folks in Clarksville seem to be doing their best to keep the bad old traditions alive.

After a black man (Kevin Conway) sold some marijuana to a Sheriff’s informant, a raid was staged on the house where the Conway lived. The raid consisted of just about everybody involved in law enforcement in town- including the prosecutor, for some bewildering reason. They waited until 10:30 PM, when the house was full of relatives for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, then they burst in without warning-or knocking. Everyone in the house was arrested, as was another family member who’d been sitting in his car outside with his girlfriend. When the homeowner- Virgil Richardson, a respected high school coach with no criminal record- asked to see the search warrant, the Sheriff told him several times that he would show it to him, then eventually got around to pulling what looked like a cash register receipt from his pocket and waving it in the air briefly in front of Virgil’s face before returning it to his pocket. Apparently, these small-town hayseed cops had never heard of Mapp v Ohio from 1961, where a similar paper-waving incident took place.

It eventually turned out that the Sheriff didn’t actually have a warrant at the time, although one was quickly requested and signed- about 20 minutes after the raid started. I’m pretty sure the Supreme Court ruled that this sort of thing was illegal in Mapp v Ohio, but I’m not a lawyer- or even a lawn-care professional. During this illegal search, marijuana, cocaine, and methamphetamines were discovered in a shed behind the house. The shed was locked, there was only one key, and that key had been found in the pocket of Kevin Conway.

After a brief interrogation, it came to light that the primary suspect, Kevin Conway, had been allowed to stay at the normally empty house while Virgil Richardson was out of town working. Conway confessed that the drugs were his, but claimed that the rest of the family did not know that he was dealing. Despite the lack of evidence that anyone else knew or had access to the drugs, the entire family was charged with manufacturing and possessing drugs with intent to distribute- which carried a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison.

Enter the lawyers. Virgil Richardson had some money, and so did his family, so they hired a top-notch defense attorney. This attorney kept hammering away at the town’s case- first getting the prosecutor replaced by one from the state, and then eventually getting the Sheriff to admit that the warrant hadn’t even been signed until well after the raid was already over. The state prosecutor looked at the evidence and filed a motion for dismissal of charges against everyone except Kevin Conway (who had confessed), “in the interests of justice”.

The story should have ended there, except for the local judge. He refused to sign the dismissal order because the Richardson family had filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the town, the prosecutor, and the entire police force. This judge offered the defense attorneys a “quid pro quo“- drop the lawsuit and he’d sign the dismissal. After he got told to pound sand, he upped the ante: drop the lawsuit and testify against the rest of the family in exchange for the judge signing the dismissal order.

Even in Texas, you don’t try to bluff with a six-high hand when the other guy has three aces showing. It took a while for the defense attorneys to get the judge replaced by the state, but they did. The new judge didn’t even bother with a dismissal order- he immediately exonerated the Richardsons. It was three years later, of course, and  too late for Virgil’s career. He’d been fired as soon as the news of his arrest reached the school board where he worked. He’s also worried that the utterly bogus arrest and the charges filed against him will result in a lot of additional attention from law enforcement. He is scared (justifiably, in my opinion) that every cop who runs his plates will use the arrest as an excuse to pull him over and harass him. The two million dollar lawsuit probably makes this scenario even more likely.

So here we have a family getting raked over the coals of the so-called “justice system” for three years by a real-life activist judge, despite the total lack of any evidence that they had committed any crimes. Some variation of this particular event is probably happening in several other small towns across this country even as you read this, but the victims aren’t wealthy enough to afford legal counsel good enough to fight city hall and win. How many innocent lives are being destroyed in this country every year by over-zealous police, prosecutors, and judges?

Too many. Even one is several thousand too many. It is better that a thousand guilty men go free than one innocent be wrongly convicted. The law is supposed to protect those without power against the abuses of those who do. The law is supposed to protect the people from the injustices of government.  There is no excuse for allowing this in our country.

And now, we return to Ed Howdershelt‘s Four Boxes. “There are Four Boxes to be used in defense of liberty: Soap, Ballot, Jury, and Ammo. Please use in that order.” It is our duty as citizens to stand up to this sort of abuse of power. Speak up- loudly and frequently. Do not allow abuses of power to go unnoticed and therefore unchallenged. Vote- every time. Your vote is the most potent weapon you have. Run for office, too. Make sure you speak up about why you voted as you did. Take the bastards to court. Serve as a juror.

We, the People, must use those first three boxes to the utmost to fight injustices such as what happened to Virgil Richardson and his family. If we do not, then sooner or later those injustices will sweep away all of our liberties. Then we would be forced to open that last box, which would spell the end of this country.

Current status: disgusted

Current music: Closer to the Edge by 30 Seconds to Mars

Orwell Was An Optimist

9 11 2009

“Justice” system, my pasty, white, lumpy, asymmetrical ass!

In yet another example of how far astray from its alleged purpose our “justice” system has wandered, here are a couple of articles about some journalism students at Northwest University getting harassed by an Illinois prosecutor. Their crime? Glad you asked. It turns out that a Journalism professor at Northwest has, for the last ten years or so, tasked his advanced students with learning if anyone currently in prison might actually be innocent. Evidence uncovered by these student-journalists is turned over to the relevant attorneys, and a total of eleven innocent men have been freed as a result of their efforts. This has apparently raised the ire of the Illinois State Attorney, who seems to be trying to intimidate the students and their professor by launching an investigation into … the students’ grades.

I’m reasonably certain that somewhere in a prosecutor’s job description it is written that justice is the goal. Far too many prosecutors seem to have forgotten this, judging by the extravagant mental gymnastics several prosecutors have used recently in attempts to keep demonstrably innocent men in prison.

Despite the supposed focus on justice required by their jobs and oaths of office, far too many prosecutors across the country are more interested in their conviction ratio. The more convictions they get- especially in high-profile cases- the more pay and bennies they earn. This is doubly true for those prosecutors who are elected to their offices.

For those of you who failed to pay attention in civics class, here’s a hint: Prosecutors are public servants. We (the People) are the public. I fail to see how we are being served by political hacks more interested in promotions, re-elections, and pay raises than in justice.

Back to the case at hand. A prosecutor, when given evidence that someone has been wrongfully convicted and sent to prison, should examine the evidence, re-examine the case in light of the new evidence (if it has any value), and either get the convict a new trial or immediately get him or her released from prison. Alas, this ideal state does not exist except (possibly) on paper. In reality, prosecutors have been trained that more convictions means more money and power for the prosecutors, so penny-ante subjects like the actual innocence of their victims doesn’t come into the picture.

I don’t know about you, but I was always told that it was better that a thousand guilty men go free than one innocent man be deprived of life or liberty. Our so-called “justice” system is supposedly set up with this principle in mind. It is the price of a free society. There is no excuse for sending innocent men or women to prison. If there is a reasonable doubt, they must be found “not-guilty” (note that this is not necessarily the same as innocent). If they have already been convicted and sentenced, the presentation of new evidence which may provide “reasonable doubt” must be looked at dispassionately by judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys alike with justice in mind. If the new evidence had been presented at trial, would this convict have been found guilty? Does this evidence provide “reasonable doubt” of the convict’s guilt? These are matters of Law and Justice, and the political status and professional pride of the prosecutor should have no bearing on the decision.

I am a firm believer that some crimes merit the death penalty. That said, the death penalty must only be invoked for truly heinous crimes about which there is no doubt of guilt. Not “reasonable doubt”- no doubt whatsoever. A sentence of death should be a separate decision from that of guilt or innocence, and any doubt should immediately drop the maximum penalty to that of life imprisonment without possibility of parole. Given the shenanigans prosecutors around the country have been pulling lately, a blanket suspicion of doubt has effectively been cast over all convictions. The actions of a few prosecutors are tainting the very heart of the judicial process. If prosecutors are willing to allow innocent men and women to languish in prison or even be put to death if it might further their career, then the criminal justice system in this country is broken beyond repair.

And now, we return to my catch phrase: the Four Boxes. There are four boxes which must be used- in the following order- in defense of liberty. These are Soap, Ballot, Jury, and Ammo. This subject demands that we (the People) use those first three boxes to correct these injustices, now and forever. If we fail to immediately and permanently deal with the application of injustice by our public servants with those first three boxes, then our Republic is doomed. We will be forced to open that Fourth Box, in the aftermath of which the United States of America will be no more.

So, start paying attention. Use that sloppy grey goo between your ears for a change. Take the time to learn the facts for yourself, from multiple sources whenever possible. When you find the putrid smell of injustice, root it out. We cannot afford to let it fester, for that way lies madness and destruction.

Current status: Pissed off

Current music: On My Way Home by Enya