Over the years, Ricochet’s members who practice law have occasionally mollified our common predilection for lawyer jokes by providing examples of honest-to-goodness Justice in action. At the local levels, at least, American judicial systems seem to work now and then; even if other first-hand experiences among Ricochetti have been downright depressing.
Would anyone care to defend the federal criminal justice system? Mark Steyn has written many times that US courts at the national level boast a conviction rate that would impress brutal third-world dictators.
You have the “right to a fair trial,” but U.S. prosecutors win 99 per cent of the cases that go to court — a success rate that would embarrass Kim Jong Un and Saddam Hussein. Indeed, the feds win 97 per cent without ever going near court.
Are these statistics roughly accurate? Or does Steyn mistake a subset of cases or federal cases generally?
Steyn claims this is accomplished in some measure by piling on charges for procedural crimes and other crimes unrelated to the reason for the arrest. Some charges have more merit than others.
You’re facing 47 felonies adding up to 397 years in jail. So you agree to a plea “bargain.” Because otherwise you risk a jury that wants to show how Solomonic it is by acquitting you on 44 counts but convicting on three — enough to destroy your life. The U.S. Attorney operates on the same principle as the IRA, who, after the Brighton bombing, taunted Mrs. Thatcher that they only had to be lucky once; she had to be lucky every time.
Expenses are another reason nearly all defendants at the federal level agree to plea bargains. Is this an avoidable situation?
Was the conviction of Conrad Black emblematic of common procedural practices? Or can other perspectives from inside the federal system offer more confidence that real justice is normally served?Published in