“Can we crash the system just by exercising our rights?”

I was somewhat surprised to read, in the New York Times opinion pages of all places, an opinion piece titled Go to Trial: Crash the Justice System which contains the following question in the first paragraph.

“What would happen if we organized thousands, even hundreds of thousands, of people charged with crimes to refuse to play the game, to refuse to plea out? What if they all insisted on their Sixth Amendment right to trial? Couldn’t we bring the whole system to a halt just like that?”

The answer to the posed question is supplied in the fourteeth paragraph.

The answer is yes. The system of mass incarceration depends almost entirely on the cooperation of those it seeks to control. If everyone charged with crimes suddenly exercised his constitutional rights, there would not be enough judges, lawyers or prison cells to deal with the ensuing tsunami of litigation. Not everyone would have to join for the revolt to have an impact; as the legal scholar Angela J. Davis noted, “if the number of people exercising their trial rights suddenly doubled or tripled in some jurisdictions, it would create chaos.”

Now, even though the opinion is contained in the pages of the New York Times, and is written with an eye slanted towards the allegedly disadvantaged, in the current times when America is daily enduring
increasing government control of all aspects of individuals’ lives; i.e. the chances of you doing something “illegal” in the eyes of the law daily increase; the question is not as theoretical as it would appear.

Though such an action is not quite straight forward massive, passive civil disobedience, it is not armed civil war.

Link to NYT opinion piece via InstaPundit.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 03/12 at 01:17 PM
  1. I just started reading William Stuntz’ The Collapse of American Criminal Justice, which makes exactly these points.

    An extra turn of the screw is that as more and more actions are criminalized, punishment has been weakened to avoid overly penalizing people who committed acts that shouldn’t have been crimes in the first place.

    The result is that essentially harmless people suffer a huge decrease in quality of life, while hard core violent criminals, robbers, rapists, and murderers, accept a few months or years of incarceration as a price of doing business. A stint in prison is practically a badge of honor in some circles. (I’ve seen this argument made before in reference to gun laws; it’s one of the reasons they preferentially disarm the innocent.)

    Two additional side effects:

    No one is actually found guilty anymore; the police do not have to prepare rock solid cases based on evidence. They only have to have enough to plausibly threaten a defendant.

    As a result, prosecutors can find some way to charge almost anyone.

    Posted by DJMoore  on  03/12  at  03:24 PM
  2. And we all know that the vast majority of all statutes and ordinances under which you can be charged with a crime are nothing more than a scam to fill the coffers of the local municipalities.
    The little town that I live close to recently decided to crack down on truckers not staying on the state route. No matter that GPS routes you differently. No matter that negotiating the turns through town to stay on the state route is damned near impossible for an 18 wheeler. The chief of police has ordered 24/7 surveillance at the one place where truckers always screw up. The poor bastard OTR trucker isn’t going to come back and fight it in court so he pays his $150 tuition for a lesson in small town fund raising.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/12  at  07:39 PM
  3. I’m in agreement that we have too many laws making things illegal that make no sense.  I agree that many laws are “enforced” simply to raise money for the city or county.  I am not sure the article is on your side.  The firs clue is “the legal scholar Angela J. Davis”!!  Have we forgotten she provided the convict the gun to murder a judge?  That she is considered a “legal scholar” is a terrible shame on all of us.  In a civilized world she would be in jail for life.  I can’t help but wonder how that judges family feel about “the legal scholar Angela J. Davis” spouting off about how too many people go to jail.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/13  at  10:32 AM
  4. “Couldn’t we bring the whole system to a halt just like that?”
    =============

    No.
    They’d put you on the docket and 11 years from now, when you’re sitting in the rocker on the porch recuperating from your 3rd hip replacement (thanks obamacare) you’d get the notice thru fedex (cause the postal service collapsed on itself) of your court date. The fine would now be 800% more than what it would have been because of the interest they will charge - as punishment for your infractionous ways and a message for others contemplating the same.

    The gov’t is endlessly persistent.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/13  at  11:37 PM
  5. GWTW, I assumed as you did that the Angela Davis quoted was the infamous one.  It makes sense given the topic and, in the age of Professors Ayers and Dohrn, it’s hardly surprising to see such a one cited blandly for academic authority. But the “J” made me do that search engine thing and it turns out that legal scholar Angela J. Davis is not the Frankfurt Schooled commie we remember. She whose firearms found their way into the courtroom wound up as a Marxism/African-American/women&gender;-type scholar.  She continues her “global struggles against inequality and powerlessness” by seeking to replace America’s prison-industrial complex with “basic necessities such as food, shelter, and freedom” that will “really make our communities secure.”

    So, easy mistake.  They probably see each other around and stuff.

    From the article itself, this struck me as particularly evil:

    The Supreme Court ruled in 1978 that threatening someone with life imprisonment for a minor crime in an effort to induce him to forfeit a jury trial did not violate his Sixth Amendment right to trial. Thirteen years later, in Harmelin v. Michigan, the court ruled that life imprisonment for a first-time drug offense did not violate the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

    Whatever ails the Justice System seems to be spreading downward from the top, where delusion and aphasia impair recognition of the meanings of those amendments and of those words like “right” and “violate”.

    The whole thing’s probably coming down no matter who does what at this point.  That, or simply continue to morph into the system Angela (no J.) Davis (for one of so many) champions and seeks to impose.  There will be fewer written laws, but withholding “basic necessities” from “communities” will figure foremost among those that you’d better not break, on penalty of learning the revolutionary means of keeping the populations of reeducation facilities down to manageable - but up to productive - size.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/14  at  05:00 PM

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