Thursday, April 21, 2016

Two Examples Show How The Legal System Is Stacked In Favor Of The Rich

This is what happens to people at the bottom of the justice system. Reported today at VOX.

This is what happens to the people at the top. Reported today in the New Yorker.

A 75 year old disabled man in Mississippi who did time many years ago for robbery is tried for marijuana possession. He is convicted and sentenced to life in prison, a mandatory sentence because of his 20-year old conviction for robbery. The Supreme Court refuses to consider his appeal. Apparently life imprisonment for marijuana possession is not cruel and unusual punishment. Or the Supreme Court can’t be bothered. This is what happens to people at the bottom of the system.

Meanwhile the SEC, the agency charged with investigating and bringing charges against the largest financial companies, hesitates to prosecute individuals who made billions by defrauding millions of ordinary Americans during the financial crisis.


Because the man at the SEC who was in charge of the case had seen the “devasting [sic] impact our little ol’ civil actions reap on real people more often than I care to remember. It is the least favorite part of the job. Most of our civil defendants are good people who have done one bad thing.”

People at the top level of massive multi-billion dollar frauds that ruined thousands of ordinary people’s lives are “real people” who “have done one bad thing” but a sad old disabled onetime felon who possesses pot is nobody.

The poor man in Mississippi is nobody that anybody running the system knows personally. Nobody the prosecutors care about. Prosecutors mingle with “real people” who earn massive fortunes, sometimes by fraud. The fraudulent seem very plausible, that is how they are able to commit the fraud. The larger the fraud, the more plausible and real they seem. Prosecutors don’t enjoy mingling with people at the lower end of the criminal spectrum where their misfortune and desperation makes them less plausible and less deserving.

Successful criminals who have massive fortunes and fabulous Manhattan apartments plus expensive homes in various luxury enclaves are real people but ex-cons who live quietly on a farm in Mississippi are not real people––at least in the eyes of the law. There have been multiple cases rejected by the right hand side of the Supreme Court, cases where a man has been proved innocent but is still facing the death penalty. The conservatives on the court shrug and say No. But the criminal who has stolen massive amounts of money from millions of unsuspecting Americans gets a pass. Someone who seems that real and that plausible must not have meant any harm. He can keep his houses and his money.

This is what Americans are angry about. This is what Bernie Sanders is listening to. This might be the kind of non-violent marijuana "offender" President Obama pardons. But we need to repair the system, not simply hope that occasionally a hand reaches down from the sky and corrects one or a handful of the terrible injustices. This is why electing a Democrat president is so vital this year. It would begin to redress the harm and rebalance the scales in favor of regular people.

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