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What does an innocent man have to do to go free? Plead guilty (propublica.org)
216 points by radmuzom on Sept 8, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 193 comments



I have first-hand experience in this area. Someone close to me was accused of a crime she didn't commit. The police officer was hell bent on arresting her on the worst possible charge. At her initial hearing, the public defenders were flippant and detached, and generally unhelpful. After she hired a criminal defense lawyer, he more or less forced her to take a crappy plea deal that he negotiated (and made the prosecutors look like winners). If she did not, it would mean tens of thousands of dollars to defend herself.

The flaws I personally witnessed through the ordeal:

1. The police have arrest quotas, and enormous pressure to "make the arrest" regardless of the cost, or whether the person is actually guilty.

2. Criminal defense lawyers love the system as-is and will fight to protect it. More arrests mean more business. An absolute worst conflict of interest that you can imagine.

3. Public defenders will do the minimum amount of work, and will always strong-arm you to take a plea deal.

4. The whole system is rigged against you. You are guilty the moment you first enter the court room. Nobody cares whether you are really guilty or not - judges, lawyers, prosecutors, clerks, cops.

5. The worst part of all - there is a strong groupthink among these power players. They wholeheartedly believe they are living gods, protecting the world from societies ills.

My hope is that one day there is true criminal justice reform. The fact that America has the largest incarceration rate is a red flag.


I want to extend my comment. The big takeaway from all of this is that to beat the system, you need to be prepared to defend yourself at all costs, to the very end. The system depends on everyone taking plea deals. It's a well-oiled machine where by taking the plea deal, everyone wins but you. The defense lawyer made his money, the prosecutor gets their "win". The judge looks "tough on crime" for their next election. The cop gets a plaque for locking up lots of people.

My advice: Save some money. Just like a car accident, or some health or other emergency, it's best to be prepared with some kind of emergency fund.


Plea bargains should be eliminated. It's insane that people are basically punished for insisting on their right to a trial, and everybody is OK with this. If somebody wants to avoid a trial by pleading guilty, that's fine, but it shouldn't affect their punishment.

The typical argument in the other direction is that requiring every case to go to trial would overwhelm the courts. I think that means that we either have too many crimes or not enough courts, or some mixture of the two. A society that pretends to have the rule of law must be able to afford to give every accused person a trial.


The court system is absurdly underfunded, but no one is willing to pay more for it. And, unfortunately, too many people have the attitude that if you're arrested you must have done something so you're criminal scum and deserve whatever you get.


It's strange, because the amount of government money spent on courts is pretty small relative to everything else. If we had to scale them up by an order of magnitude, it could be done without too much fuss.

I guess your second point causes people to be biased against spending any more money, no matter how little.


Yeah, you would think the tax dollars spent on prisons vastly outweigh the extra dough it would take to actually try everyone who goes through them.

Plus, the innocent who aren't jailed pay taxes and do productive things for society.

This is all ignoring the human cost of the equation.


For profit prisons and the politicians paid off by them have an incentive to keep plea bargains because money.


Yep. Another reason to disallow private prisons.


It isn't underfunded; it's just being asked to deal with too much inane nickle and dime 'crimes'.

I really look forward to when self driving cars eliminate ALL traffic cases.


Court system underfunded but enforcement (police) overfunded - sounds like trouble.


Reminds me of the ludicrous idea of medical savings accounts. Hardly anyone below the top 0.1% could ever hope to "save" enough money and put it away to cover a medical or legal disaster or a really bad accident involving personal injury or destruction of extremely valuable property.

It just isn't a realistic proposition. Insurance with all its flaws exists for good reason.


There is no "criminal defense insurance". Believe me I looked all over. There are just some surprise expenses out there you have to be prepared for.


Start a company?


Most people don't take plea deals because they are too broke to defend themselves, by going to court you risk a much higher penalty if you lose. Would you take a guaranteed 12 months in prison or gamble on a 50% chance of 10 years?


If you are guilty a plea deal is a good deal. If you are completely innocent, and have some money to defend yourself, you have a moral obligation to fight the charges. (Note: I'm no expert on moral authority, it's just how I feel. Sorry)


The problem is, US lawyers are ridiculously expensive. I'm not aware of any other country where one court case against you can ruin you financially. So it doesn't matter if you are innocent or guilty, if you are charged, you've already lost.

EDIT: Why not make it a law that when you are found innocent then prosecutor's office should refund whatever it cost you to hire your lawyer?


Good question. It's rare to be reimbursed. You can sue for malicious prosecution after you have been aquitted, but many times these cases don't prevail.


Do other countries have this? It would discourage nuisance suits if this also applied to civil cases.


It is my understanding that in German civil suits it's customary for the loser to pay the cost of the law suit, including lawyer's fees (which are usually coupled to the monetary value of the lawsuit, so frivolously racking up the fees is difficult).


In the US, the winning party in a civil suit can sometimes get their legal costs paid by the losing party. It depends on the type of case, and sometimes on whether the losing party is determined to have brought the case frivolously or for the purpose of being a nuisance.

The question, though, was whether a person in a criminal case would be reimbursed the cost of their defense by the government after being found not guilty.


Completely innocent people can still be convicted. Some even get put to death. One of the distressing things about the courts is that everybody can just "know" the guy is guilty, but in truth they know the evidence is crap. But luckily his defense is crap (good defense costs money) so they can get away with it. This happens time and time again and eventually the odds catch up to them and they've convicted a lot of innocent people.

Even worse is when the evidence is poor but they want to convict the guy anyway because he looks like a bad guy. "Even if he didn't do this, I know in my heart that he's guilty of other crimes."


Why should that burden fall on a group of people who, are in general, least able to take it up?


Unfortunately that "moral obligation" doesn't pay for itself, and if you can't afford to fight you're SOL.


Does anyone know if there are insurance policies for this? Something like life insurance where you pay monthly and if you need a defense attorney because you are accused of something you will receive a capped sum of money for that purpose.


Funny you ask. I looked into this very thing when I became involved in this situation. There are pre-paid legal services like LegalShield, but most will only cover 20-25% of the cost. This represents a possible startup opportunity IMO.


I feel like you'd suffer heavily from adverse selection.


You mean folks who already decided they will commit crimes and take out insurance for "free" money?

That's a good point. This is where working with experienced actuaries to build risk models will be important. This idea would not be a tech startup per say. Just a good 'ol insurance policy with a shiny iOS app wrapper :)


Yeah, I could see this turning into a nightmare scenario where you waive privacy rights and carry a tracking device everywhere so they know you have an alibi. Sort of like how car insurance companies offer those plug in things to monitor your driving habits to lower your premium.


Has this already occurred? Has anyone been able to use their phone's location history for their alibi? The data exists. Isn't this what subpoenas are for?


I used my Google Location History as part of an alibi with the police (it never made it to the courts). My guess as to why that was successful despite the obvious flaws was:

1. The crime occurred in another city about 3 hours way, so poor granularity or precision really didn't come into play.

2. The crime itself was a hit and run on a road worker. Not something you'd generally believe to be premeditated where I'd have thought to have a friend haul my phone around town to provide an alibi.


It's not the best alibi since your phone isn't physically attached to your body. Someone intending to commit a crime can easily drop their phone somewhere else to conceal their true location.


That's quite a complex plan, especially if the phone in question is making http requests and taking calls.


I don't see how it would be different than any other insurance product. If you're an established criminal no adjuster would recommend you be insured. Or maybe the premium would be astronomical, like thousands per month.


prepaid legal exists

quite a bit better than public defenders, still a lot of incompetence from my experience on the paralegal side, but they'll do the research. I haven't had experience with criminal cases though


I still can wrap my head around the fact that judges are elected!!!

Are there elections for judges in other countries too?


Basically no, and it definitely baffles people.

That's not to say there isn't corruption and cronyism when appointing judges in other places :( . No system is perfect.

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/25/world/americas/25iht-judge...

there are only two nations that have judicial elections, and then only in limited fashion. Smaller Swiss cantons elect judges, and appointed justices on the Japanese Supreme Court must sometimes face retention elections


> My advice: Save some money. Just like a car accident, or some health or other emergency

Isn't this what legal costs insurances are for? Why should everyone save huge amounts of money individually if you can spread the cost (as well as the risk) over a large group?


> 2. Criminal defense lawyers love the system as-is and will fight to protect it. More arrests mean more business. An absolute worst conflict of interest that you can imagine.

Criminal defense lawyers hate the system as-is. There isn't much money collecting $1,000 here and there convincing people to plead guilty. The criminal lawyers that make the real money are the ones that take big cases to trial. There would be a lot more of that work if the system weren't so stacked in favor of taking a plea deal.

> 3. Public defenders will do the minimum amount of work, and will always strong-arm you to take a plea deal.

Public defenders' offices are incredibly overworked; deal almost entirely with people who are, in fact, guilty; and work within a system where not taking a plea can have very negative consequences in terms of sentencing.

The root of both (2), (3), and (4) is the American public. In many European countries the maximum prison sentence effectively is 15 years, and many don't really have a plea bargaining system. It's not like those countries don't have lawyers who have the same incentives as American lawyers. That's not the difference. The difference is that the people over there are more moral and virtuous, and don't keep voting for politicians who push "tough on crime" and inhumanely-long sentences.


Regarding (2), I don't disagree totally, but from what I saw, the person in question was originally charged $5,000 (the fee was eventually reduced) just for the hearing/plea deal. If she wanted to go to trial, he told her $20,000+.

Breaking down the math, the lawyer did a total of 5 hours of work just for the plea. If he had to go to trial, the hours of work would have exploded to 50-100.

So:

Plea: $5,000 / 5 = $1,000/hour

Trial $20,000 / 50 = $400/hour

The criminal defense lawyers know that most cases will get plea-ed, so they frontload their costs. I can't speak for every CD lawyer out there, and I imagine many would like to see CJ reform, but not too many of them are complaining about the current system (that I know of).

> The difference is that the people over there are more moral and virtuous, and don't keep voting for politicians who push "tough on crime" and inhumanely-long sentences.

Agree 100%


> Plea: $5,000 / 5 = $1,000/hour Trial $20,000 / 50 = $400/hour

The challenge for most lawyers is keeping a full pipeline of work. Unless you’re a household name, you do a lot of unpaid work to get each engagement, and often have downtime between engagements. So it’s vastly preferable to have fewer engagements that are more work each. Just look at the numbers above. Say plea bargaining became illegal. Even if the number of prosecutions dropped by a factor of four (highly unrealistic), lawyers would still come out ahead by earning the same money in fewer engagements.

> but not too many of them are complaining about the current system

They have an advocacy organization that does that. The National Association of Criminal Defense lawyers advocates vigorously for changing the system. E.g. https://www.nacdl.org/reports/misdemeanor/

> Millions of people each year are now processed for misdemeanors. In a 2009 report titled “Minor Crimes, Massive Waste,” the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers described a system characterized by “the ardent enforcement of crimes that were once simply deemed undesirable behavior and punished by societal means or a civil infraction punishable by a fine.”


Don't forget the differences in prosecution versus defense budgets. The government has proven it's more than happy to spend millions to prosecute bubble gum theft.


Family court isn't much better:

https://www.divorcecorp.com/the-film/


Your comments are full of hyperbole. It’s counterproductive, unless your goal is only to express the frustration of it all.

Maybe that sentence prompts a knee jerk thought that I don’t want to consider how bad it really is, or that I don’t care about or have empathy for your friend. I assure you both are not true.

It’s just counterproductive to say things like public defenders want to do minimum work. Is that because they are lazy? Or is it because of a budget/management/legislation issue that would better deserve to be highlighted?

These are all not only complex topics but they vary wildly based on location and local vs federal government etc. The reasons may be different.

The point is it would be more helpful to try and identify root causes and motivations, because that shows where the thing is broken.


I personally sat in a courtroom and watched this unfold. In some cases the PD shows up at the last possible minute with some scant details about the case, asks the defendant how they want to plea, converses with the judge, then leaves.

I never made an insinuation as to the "why", just the "what". Are they overworked? Definitely. And yes this is a large city, where the cogs are moving fast. I'm sure in a smaller jurisdiction there is more attention to detail.


> Your comments are full of hyperbole.

If only that were true


What’s true is my response was a little callous and dickish, I shouldn’t post here after all nighters. But that doesn’t make the OP blanket statements productive.

There is cancer, let’s try to understand it and use a scalpel before chemo.

Maybe just naming the city state and jurisdiction? That at least potentially allows specific issues or causes to be discussed.


I think any urban public defender's office struggles to cope with the kind of workload they see. They don't have the resources to take every case they see to trial so they try to convince their clients to plea bargain. I'm sure they're good people and they're trying their best, but at scale, it's hard to provide a bespoke, high quality legal defence.


The public defenders in many jurisdictions are so overloaded that they could not do a good job if they were the most conscientious people in the world.


Many are good people. I talked to one through the whole ordeal who wanted to help, but he was forced to recuse himself from the case. And that's the issue: you are assigned a defender, and if it's an unsympathetic one there's little you can do.


I'm not saying they're bad people; I'm saying that they're assigned far too many cases to give defendants the time they deserve.


Why are they rushing things?

Wouldn't it be better to wait a week to meet a public defender for a day instead of having 20 minutes with one?


How's that going to help? Even assuming no deadlines beyond their control, they'd only fall further and further behind until you were waiting years to even meet your attorney. The system needs to be funded.


But their integrity wouldn't be questionable.


One reason so many people take plea bargains is they've waited so long in pretrial detention they just want time served, a problem you're proposing making much worse. I recommend this article, although it doesn't touch on places like Louisiana where the public defender system is woefully underfunded in the first place. https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/09/innocen...


I served on a jury recently, so I got firsthand experience in a different way.

I'd disagree with 4. We did arrive at a guilty verdict so you might take that to support your thesis here, but everyone involved seemed genuinely interested in giving the defendant a fair trial. The judge who presided over voir dire and the judge who presided over the trial were rigorous, affable, and sincere in their desires to be fair to everyone. The public defender fought well for her client. The clerks didn't insert themselves. I was really taken by the lengths that everyone went to in order to ensure that we weren't biased by certain facts. For example, it came out in cross-examination that the defendant was on probation. We wouldn't have known that otherwise.

We deliberated for hours, so the outcome was far from pre-determined.

Some other marginally relevant impressions:

1. The courts need more state funding. Your post actually makes me reconsider this, since it could increase corruption. But I think that if you had more judges and courtrooms, it could remove a bottleneck that might lead defendants and prosecutors alike to take the plea deal and move on rather than getting tied up in the courts for a long time. There are probably corrupt interests that make the current system the way it is, but I know that one reason people push plea deals is because the system would become paralyzed otherwise. More money could maybe go to public defenders as well or provide incentives to go to trial and fight hard. I have to think public defenders push towards plea deals because they have too much on their plates already.

2. Everyone should stop making "get out of jury duty" jokes, and jury duty should be more heavily incentivized. It's a lot harder to get a trial by your peers if you're lower on the socioeconomic ladder, because people are trying to get out of jury duty since they can't lose the money from work or perhaps even the job itself (that's illegal de jure, but de facto? Who knows). I'm not sure I'd want my jury to only be there for the money, but there's always gonna be a risk that your jury has bad motives.

3. People watch too many crime dramas. This isn't as relevant to what you're saying, except that it might actually be a counterpoint to your argument. Jurors can be unwilling to convict because the guy didn't confess to the police, get caught on video, AND leave DNA in five spots at the crime scene. It has to be harder to get a conviction now than 30 years ago, for better or for worse.

4. It's amazing how charges can get slapped onto someone. One crime could end up having three or four different charges attached to it. I could see how that'd be scary when it's time to plea bargain, but what can you do here? How can you have a variety of charges to choose from to adequately cover justice for different kinds of crimes without using them as a club to beat guilty pleas out of people?


Only under 5% of cases ends up in actual court. Over 95% of cases pleads. Basically, if you are sitting in the jury, the case is alreasy unusual.


I often think there should be a superhero archangel comic character that is a ruthless defender of justice. I don't understand the mentality of prosecutors, nor the judges, public defenders and others who are also complacent in an evil system.

I have had three encounters with law enforcement, the first ended in similar fashion to this story. I was charged with a crime I didn't commit which happened to occur on video.

After 18-months, and threats of serious felony charges, I refused to accept a plea. I asked my lawyer if it was illegal to plead guilty to a crime I didn't commit and he said it was.

The prosecutor then says, "the state moves to drop the case citing lack of evidence". Again, the crime (theft) was recorded on videotape and two other guys I didn't know clearly stole the items involved. I won but the court wouldn't actually let me win.

Another time I was caught in an unfortunate incident where a security guard pushed me into a street. I was tackled, tasered, later choked, threatened to be killed and then powerslammed head first on concrete by Detective of the Year, Glenn A. Ritchie, of the Broward County Sheriff's Office.

Ritchie charged me with non-violent misdemeanors and then a day later, alleged felonies in a contradictory and clearly false 2nd police report. I spent 34-days in jail until the charges were non-filed but not until the felony was refiled as a misdemeanor, sent to the wrong address, resulting in a still standing capias warrant for my arrest.

The system is flawed. People who work in the courts, especially in major cities, are not to be celebreated but derided. It's an insane system of high bails, boilerplate plea deals and cold indifference.


Public defender offices are funded by the state and they are terribly under funded.

http://www.abajournal.com/magazine/article/the_gideon_revolu...

Because not much political upside to helping criminal defendants exists, many jurisdictions end up with a perennial funding problem ... In both cases, the committee heard about extreme funding shortfalls, excessive caseloads and insufficient pay.

After years of cuts, his budget was down from $9 million to about $6 million, and he had just eight investigators for 21,000 cases per year.

This matters because the majority of defendants—a 2014 study put it at 80 percent—use some kind of indigent defense. That means most Americans charged with a crime are at risk of bad outcomes partly caused by the quality of representation that they can afford.


This is where I'd love to see rappers that care about their community out there money. Increase public defender funds. So many predominantly black folk go to jail because they lack the resources to fight the corrupt system.


Black Lives Matter organized something similar this year for Mother's Day https://www.thenation.com/article/this-mothers-day-black-liv...


I'm not sure on the best way to handle this, but it seems like this should come from tax money, rather than donation money. Relying on donations to make sure our justice system is working seems like the wrong solution.


I don't want to rely on it. I just think this would be one of the best public works rappers can do. "Fuck the police"? Sure with good lawyers that don't just cut a deal.


"out there money." -- what is meant by this?


put their money


A mentor of mine who used to work for a government agency once told me something that I hadn't really appreciated until recently. To paraphrase, sometimes the best way to change a system that is flawed is to work from within. It's harder, sure, since it takes time to get enough power to make effective change, but it's an idea nonetheless.


This is a sane advice on face value.

Yet following it in an heavily corrupt organization means you find yourself doing very dirty stuff to get recognized by your peers, oversee and facilitate corruption to get buy in from your superiors, and crush weaker people to stand on top where you’ll get more power.

In the event you yourself get crushed in this process, the only trace you’ll leave in the world will be dirty things you didn’t agree with in the first place and actually strived to change.

I wonder how much that approach bares fruits when it comes to really shitty organizations.


I think it can work, but it requires some kind of laser focus on the "true goal". I also tend to fear what else our (hypothetical) protagonist may do when the ends are (much) more important than the means.


If you did enough dirty work to get to the top of a corrupt organisation you can be quickly removed if you try to challenge the status quo. After all, all your peers have a ton of dirt on you.


The best way to change a flawed system is unrelenting public pressure. As others have said, once you're inside the system, you can either stand up for what should be done and be sidelined, or you can shove aside your idealism in order to gain power before trying to make changes. More often than not, that idealism never returns.

I've thought about this more in the political realm, so it may not apply as cleanly in the justice system. We know that public pressure works in politics because they depend on voters to keep voting them in. The only way to stave off a slide into conformity is to hold people accountable for behaving the way they said they would during a campaign. It's not an easy answer since it requires a lot more public participation, but I think we have been lulled into believing that these institutions are self-maintaining once set up, and that is clearly not the case. A few honest and caring people just entering the justice system are going to have a hard time of it. Millions of people outside the system shouting loudly and unceasingly about its abuses have a better shot at causing changes.


Obligatory New Yorker cartoon: https://condenaststore.com/featured/he-feels-he-can-do-more-...

Out of curiosity, are there good examples of fundamental/systemic flaws -- where it's not that the system needs to be fixed, it's that a new system is needed -- being fixed by people working within the system? The success rate of violent, armed revolution is low, but it has produced some concrete successes (e.g., the existence of the US and more generally the fall of monarchy).


The US is a weird example of an armed revolution because it was a colonial revolt largely by people who already had power and were part of the colonial governments. The layer of government that was being scraped off was relatively thin, locally. For example, both Washington and Jefferson were in the Virginia House of Burgesses, and they're just the first two I googled to find out the details of their pre-Revolutionary political careers.

If the Confederacy had succeeded in seceding, it would have been a very similar revolution - the state governments on down would remain intact, with just a little bit at the top being rearranged. I'm not sure I could name a third, similar armed revolution off the top of my head; most of the ones I'm familiar with involve charismatic outsiders burning down the existing institutions and starting over fresh.


That's a good point - the leaders of the American Revolution were already "working within the system," they just also led a violent revolt. I think there's a good point to be made that that's one of the best ways to make sure that you can successfully burn the existing system down and put what you want in place.


That cartoon made my day.


The problem is that the bad behavior of these systems is emergent. For this strategy to work, your ability to disregard your own self interest (plus others like you) has to outweigh the self-interest of everyone else making up that system. From what I've seen, most people get tired, succumb to their own self-interest, yet continue telling themselves the altruistic narrative.


> A mentor of mine who used to work for a government agency once told me something that I hadn't really appreciated until recently. To paraphrase, sometimes the best way to change a system that is flawed is to work from within. It's harder, sure, since it takes time to get enough power to make effective change, but it's an idea nonetheless.

I believe this is formally called the "SLC Punk Maneuver"


[flagged]


We've banned this account for continuing to violate the guidelines after we've asked you repeatedly to stop. If you'd like to email us at hn@ycombinator.com, we're happy to unban accounts when we believe they'll post civilly and substantively in the future.

https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html


Ha, ha ha.


Or, publicly shame them.

There's a reason judges impose gag orders which violate people's right to free speech. They're OK with violating peoples constitutional rights to serve their own self interests.

Who bells the cat?


[flagged]


You've been posting a ton of unsubstantive and/or uncivil comments that break the HN guidelines and have ignored our request to stop. We ban accounts that do this. Since you've been a user for a few years I'd prefer not to ban you, but if you keep this up we'll have to, so would you please read https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html and fix this?

What it boils down to: post civilly and substantively or not at all. Put differently: if you have a substantive point to make, make it thoughtfully; if you don't, please don't comment until you do.


I'd like to reply to 'bitJericho here - please start commenting in a tone that makes the HN moderators happy, because the positions you're espousing are ones that I think is extremely valuable, and it would be a loss to the site to lose them.

I realize that it's hard to separate a tone that makes the mdoerators unhappy and content that makes the moderators unhappy (I didn't read the comment above as unsubstantive or uncivil at all!) but you gotta play by their rules.

(Or, I guess, burn HN down and start a new one that isn't subservient to capital. I'll join.)


The question is how to make a forum that doesn't burn itself down. 'Tone' is sometimes a word people use to trivialize that challenge. I don't find it trivial (rather hard in fact), but others might do better. There is surely room for new kinds of internet community, and if anybody starts one that produces better results at scale than what we have on Hacker News, I'll be interested. If they do it without paying anybody ('subservient to capital'), I'll be doubly interested.

In the meantime, HN is merely one specific kind of community, and it has specific rules which, if people want to participate, they have to follow. Those rules are at https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html. They're not hard to follow for anyone who wants to.


>The system is corrupt and should be burned to the ground.

Ok, so we burn the system to the ground. Then what? Crown bitJericho king?


Write a new Constitution given the lessons of the last few centuries.


But we already have a method in place for changing the Constitution, no revolutions necessary.


The architects who wrote that method also claimed that it would inevitably become ineffective.


Is there evidence that it has become ineffective?


What type of evidence are you looking for? Constitutional rights are violated every day on a large scale basis by those who have sworn to uphold its principles


Failed attempts at a Constitutional convention which should have succeeded?


What good would a failed attempt be when the congress which would conduct the convention is corrupted?


Then adopt saner system like the ones in most european countries.

It's such a silly mindset. Do what we currently do in US or anarchy. There are over hundred other countries on earth and significant fraction of them is doing way better than USA in most aspects.


What seems silly to me is the premise that completely destroying the existing system would somehow result in a saner and more just system replacing it.

Adopting something more akin to European style democracy (which is what I assume you're mostly referring to) is already possible within the US system. That it hasn't been done yet isn't evidence of corruption within that system, but of the culture of the US simply not wanting it.


Yes. It's a silly premise. But almost equally silly is the premise that, a system where so much money and power relies on its insanity can be gradually turned into something different, saner.

You need really a lot of disregard of previous system and power to make any significant changes. You'd need either revolution or invasion. Obama inaptitude shows that the system can't be touched from within even by smart person in position of highest legal power.


[flagged]


Having a flawed legal system is what you call a first world problem. For comparison in China prosecutors have so much power that the conviction rate is a tiny almost immeasurable sliver of a fraction below 100%. Conversely with weak rule of law you get lynchings, vendettas and retributive violence. Incarcerating innocent people is terrible and I appreciate the sentiment that it's better that 10 guilty people go free than one innocent is incarcerated, but not that no guilty people are ever brought to justice.

Anarchic theories are premised on the idea that everyone would act as individuals and treat each other equally, but that's not what happens. People naturally form alliances, tribes, religious groups or out and out criminal gangs.

The prosecutorial assumption of infallibility is just one symptom of a wider malaise. IMHO what America needs to appreciate, as a nation, is that it's nothing special. It's just big and therefore powerful, but it really doesn't have any special moral status or exceptional ethical immunity. You see the ideological belief that it does throughout American History from Manifest Destiny to America First, both the isolationist movement of the 40s and today.

America is a great nation, yes. It's a bastion of democracy, true. But it's a very long way from moral infallibility. There's the perception that e.g. Europe is a corrupt den of elites, born from America's struggle for independence from and conflicts with European Monarchies such as England and Spain, but it's ludicrously out of date. The American allergy against Communism is a symptom of this. At it's root communism and socialism is about individual freedom and a caring society, but communism got infected with totalitarianism early on. Individual communists have often been as shocked and appalled by Soviet excesses as anyone else. George Orwell, who wrote Animal Farm and 1984 as critiques of Stalinism was himself as communist, but the distinction between Communists like Orwell and ones like Trotsky is lost on American ideological anti-communism. You really can have a fair and caring society, and real meaningful individual freedoms. They're not absolute, utterly opposed principles and in fact they need each other. You can't have guarantees of real individual freedom without a society that cares about making that guarantee and takes actual steps to protect it. Even Ayn Rand accepted welfare support when she needed it. You can't have a well functioning system of state care and support for individuals without individual freedoms to hold that system to account and drive change when it's needed.

What makes change in the justice system so hard, as in other areas, is this assumption of ideological purity in the American system, mainly by American Republicans I have to say. As a British lifelong Conservative voter I find this hard to cope with but in the post-Reagan era I find very little common ground between myself and mainstream Republicanism these days. It's a bit bewildering realy.


You can't have nothing. Something will fill the power vacuum.


[flagged]


[flagged]


Ok, since now you're crossing into personal attack, I've banned this account until we get a commitment from you that you'll follow the site rules at https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html. You can email hn@ycombinator.com if you want to do that.


That makes me privileged, and lucky, and maybe a bit square, but it doesn't prove me wrong.


Said many Iraqi Joes before the US invasion.


While I kind of agree with the sentiment whose to say the replacement will be any better? And who even has the power to replace the system? Working from within and doing what you can to improve it sounds like the most plausible solution to me.


Sounds great, won't work. Nobody who's in the system wants it changed. The only people willing to even work in the system are corrupt or unable to cope outside of the system.


Well that's how we got into this mess in the first place. The only people who seem to work in it are incapable of doing the right thing. Doing nothing isn't going to fix it. And burning it to the ground isn't a realistic option.


Why isn't it a realistic option?


How? Why? What? Are you serious? This doesn't sound reasonable in the least.


> I often think there should be a superhero archangel comic character that is a ruthless defender of justice. I don't understand the mentality of prosecutors, nor the judges, public defenders and others who are also complacent in an evil system.

A comic book character, you say? Let me quote V for Vendetta, Chapter Five, Versions, second half:

[Scene: Roof of the Old Bailey (building of the Central Criminal Court of England and Wales) in London. V stands beside the large statue of Madam Justice which adorns the top of its dome, and acts out a… conversation of sorts:]

Hello, dear lady.

A lovely evening, is it not?

Forgive me for intruding. Perhaps you were intending to take a stroll. Perhaps you were merely enjoying the view.

No matter. I thought that it was time we had a little chat, you and I.

Ahh… I was forgetting that we are not properly introduced.

I do not have a name. You can call me V.

Madam Justice… this is V.

V… this is Madam Justice.

Hello, madam justice.

“Good evening, V.”

There. Now we know each other. Actually, I’ve been a fan of yours for quite some time. Oh, I know what you’re thinking…

“The poor boy has a crush on me… an adolescent infatuation”

I beg your pardon, Madam. It isn’t like that at all.

I’ve long admired you… albeit only from a distance. I used to stare at you from the streets below when I was a child.

I’d say to my father, “Who is that lady?” and he’d say “That’s Madam Justice.” And I’d say “Isn’t she pretty.”

Please don’t think it was merely physical. I know you’re not that sort of girl. No, I loved you as a person. As an ideal.

That was a long time ago. I’m afraid there’s someone else now…

What? V? For shame! You have betrayed me for some harlot, some vain and pouting hussy with painted lips and a knowing smile!”

I, Madam? I beg to differ! It was your infidelity that drove me to her arms!

Ah-ha! That surprised you, didn’t it? You thought I didn’t know about your little fling. But I do. I know everything!

Frankly, I wasn’t surprised when I found out. You always did have an eye for a man in uniform.

“Uniform? Why, I’m sure I don’t know what you’re talking about. It was always you, V. You were the only one…”

Liar! Slut! Whore! Deny that you let him have his way with you, him with his armbands and jackboots!

Well? Cat got your tongue?

I thought as much.

Very well. So you stand revealed at last. You are no longer my justice. You are his justice now. You have bedded another.

Well, two can play at that game!

“Sob! Choke! Wh-who is she, V? What is her name?”

Her name is Anarchy. And she has taught me more as a mistress than you ever did.

She has taught me that justice is meaningless without freedom. She is honest. She makes no promises and breaks none. Unlike you, Jezebel.

I used to wonder why you could never look me in the eye. Now I know.

So goodbye, dear lady. I would be saddened by our parting even now, save that you are no longer the woman that I once loved.

Here is a final gift. I leave it at your feet.

[V places on the ground a heart-shaped package wrapped with a bow, bows deeply, then leaves.]

[A large fiery explosion destroys the dome and the statue is toppled. V watches the fire from a distance.]

The flames of freedom. How lovely. How just. Ahh, my precious Anarchy…

“Oh beauty, ’til now I never knew thee.”


this is seriously fucked up

How can you still live there?


My first thought when I saw Broward County was, "Oh! He's in Florida. Now it makes sense." Which is really sad.


Why is this downvoted? Sounds like a really fucked up place.


We need to reinvent our criminal justice system. The wrong people are punished.

If you get arrested the best thing is if you are clearly wrong rather than innocent. Trying to defend yourself will only get you in four times more trouble. It appears Judges will through the book at people for having a trial by jury.

Plea Bargains are also given to criminals when they are caught red handed on video camera.

My adopted children's mom was murdered with a baseball bat by one of my son's biological father. He then knocked on my door at 8 AM but thankfully I was out of town with his biological son. He got 20 - 40 and can have parole in 16.

Then I have my friend accused by someone with zero evidence except a changing accusation over 9 months. He was offered 18 months I begged and even cried telling him to take the deal. "Why should I take the deal when I never did anything wrong?" 18 month plea became 12 YEARS!


the issue is its impossible for the state to afford to provide a jury trial to everyone that is currently eligible. A trial has >5 paid professionals involved, plus the jurors, there just isn't enough time or money to process the case load.

the courts/prosecutors, out of necessity, have set up a shadow system of pressuring most defendants into plea bargains based on the relative strength of their case, which would be fine except the rules around this are weak and its ripe for abuse by the lazy or career/politically motivated.

At some point we'll need to admit this and draw up a better system for minor felonies.


I wonder how much we could free up the courts if we stopped wasting time on useless laws?

Example (that is drenched in personal opinion): How much time would we save the courts if we stopped prosecuting people for personal drug abuse?


It's an appealing story to think that the main reason the courts and prisons are so overburdened is personal drug use. Since most (of us) agree that rehabilitation or laissez-faire is better than imprisonment, we get to solve another huge problem by adopting our preferred solution.

Unfortunately, they're not particularly complicated cases, and drug offenders only make up like a sixth of the prison population. So, it'd help, but the USA would still be a huge outlier internationally, let alone among developed Western countries.


> It's an appealing story to think that the main reason the courts and prisons are so overburdened is personal drug use.

I don't believe this at all (simply due to lack of evidence), which is why I phrased it as a question. Additionally, it's just an example, in which I tried to be clear that my personal beliefs make me biased in. Feel free to substitute your own "useless prosecution" in it's place |;)

That being said, 1/6 seems like a pretty hefty amount.


It's a good first step. Other steps we should take are to make it easier (and cheaper) for people who are awaiting trial to get out on bail if they aren't a flight risk and to cut sentence lengths across the board to be more in line with other countries.


I gave you an upvote, but how overwhelmed will our social services become if personal drug use goes unchecked by policing? (orphaned children, neglected or abused children, poverty/welfare of possible increase in drug use)

I'm not saying I agree with the war on drugs, but we may just trade one problem for another


I don't necessarily disagree with you, but how many children are pushed through social services because their parent is waiting a proper trial?

FWIW, my point is not about drugs, that's just an opinionated example. It's about wasting time policing things that shouldn't be policed.


I guess I'm not in the majority these days but I believe that no cost is too high to prevent an innocent person being subject to imprisonment.

Also if the cost is too high then our society/laws are broken and that is what needs fixing - not by just working out cheaper ways to lock people up.


I agree, but are you willing to pay higher taxes to fund that?


This reminds a little bit of when people tell me we have to have undocumented workers getting paid below-minimum wage with, in practical terms, little protection from abuse because otherwise fruit or hotels would be more expensive. It seems so plainly morally bankrupt that I'm surprised how often I hear it.


a) end the insane drug war

b) get rid of the distinction between 'prosectuor' and 'public defendant' - make state laweyers take sides randomly (With coin flip) and reward them more for wins on defense than prosecution.

c) make private prisons pay the state a refund when any released prisons commits a new crime outside. Watch recidivism drop.


Yes - but I'd rather remove the prohibition on a whole swath of currently criminalised activities.


If the state can't afford it, then they should choose to prosecute more selectively. It's on them if they can't afford it, but instead it's pushed onto the poor instead.


It seems we've been rotting from the inside for quite a while now.


The West Memphis Three (of whom Paradise Lost) was about entered Alford pleas.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/West_Memphis_Three

Here's why prosecutors seek it:

As part of the plea deal, the three men cannot pursue civil action against the state for wrongful imprisonment.


This should be upvoted because it's the key in this whole thing. It's a complete cover-your-ass move that attempts to hide the entire thing as quickly and easily as possible.

And if you think about it.. if they really thought this person was a murderer, letting them out would not be on the table.

Personally, I believe that if a prosecutor wrongly pursues a case, hides evidence, whatever and gets a conviction. When the sentence is overturned, it should be applied to the prosecution. It might teach some respect for the power they're throwing around.

* Yes, I know that won't work. :(


It's interesting that politicians make things illegal without funding the prosecution and imprisonment that comes as a result of making things illegal. I read somewhere that it costs up to $245K for a state to try a case in court.

In Florida, they actually charge the defendant the cost of prosecuting him. What the hell?!

https://www.lawserver.com/law/state/florida/statutes/florida...


This is unreal... How is this any different than procedures in North Kore or Burma? I don't care if I'll lose 10 points for this comment. I just feel sad that such a great place as SV is located in a country on a level of Burma, if you travel just 500 miles east.


This is widespread all across the country. I'm sure it happens in SV as well.


The major issue with our justice system is that it is connected to a large portion of the economy. Sending people to jail, and making them pay fines generates money for a lot of entities. Until this is remedied the poor will continue to be treated as fuel for the legal machine.

If you are poor and charged with a crime you cannot afford a good attorney and you will more than likely be forced to plea and get either fined or jail time. Once you have been convicted your upward mobility will be retarded and the cycle will repeat.

On top of that, the bail system is used to enforce this cycle. A poor person is arrested, and bail is set at $5k. They cannot afford it so they sit in jail awaiting trial. They will plea guilty out of desperation just to get out of jail and try to get back to work to support their family. (Guilty plea does not necessitate prison)

The whole system is rigged to punish the poor and allow the rich to purchase a get out of jail card.


Just recently on TAL[0] was a depressingly similar case (from 1980); a kid is accused of a murder he did not commit by a pathological liar (the only "witness"), and who, not seeing the logic in admitting guilt for something he did not do, is therefore not eligible for parole later down the road:

[0]https://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/282/...

The 15 year old who did commit the murder was actually caught too, and also prosecuted at the same trial, but he would not take his own plea deal, which would have freed the innocent accused.

edit: some grammar.


I remember that episode. It's mind boggling that you have all these people in the justice system going through their procedures but nobody does anything when something goes blatantly wrong.


The police and prosecutors in that case are explicitly to blame for basically being lazy and forcing the first suspect they found to be the one they prosecute, irregardless of the evidence which would not support their claim.


"Ninety-seven percent of [US] federal convictions and ninety-four percent of state convictions are the results of guilty pleas."

https://www.themarshallproject.org/2014/12/26/plea-bargainin...

Definitely time to get the lawyers OUT of government.


Well, that's still lower than Japanese police conviction rate. According to The Economist, 95% of people arrested in Japan sign confessions, and Japanese courts convict 99.9% of those who come before them. You're practically judged by the street cop or prosecutor that makes the arrest.

Source: The Whole Story on Japan’s 99% Conviction Rate, and the Corruption that Follows - Confessing for Nothing

http://skeptikai.com/2013/09/28/the-whole-story-on-japans-99...


Unfortunately, despite the title of the story, it presents only one particular aspect. Wikipedia does a much better job of discussing the issue: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Criminal_justice_system_of_Jap...

Specifically, the link you specify gives very misleading information from some of it's sources. For example when discussing Ramseyer and Rasmusen's paper, they quote a part out of context from the introduction of the paper and conclude that the paper indicates that corruption among judges is the reason for high conviction rates.

However, if you look at Wikipedia's summary of the conclusion, you get a completely different perspective: "In murder, U.S. police arrested 19,000 people for 26,000 murders, in which 75% were prosecuted and courts convicted 12,000 people. In Japan, 1,800 people were arrested for 1,300 murders, but prosecutors tried only 43%. Had the allegation that Japanese prosecutors use weak evidence mostly based on (forced) confessions to achieve convictions been true, the larger proportion of arrests would have resulted in prosecutions and eventual conviction. But the opposite is true. In fact, the data indicates that Japanese prosecutors bring charges only when the evidence is overwhelming and likelihood of conviction is near absolute, which gives a greater incentive for the accused to confess and aim for a lighter sentence, which, in turn, results in a high rate for confession."

Even though I live in Japan, I don't actually know that much about the justice system. The one time I've seen the police in action they were incredibly lenient (My friend, who suffered from schizophrenia violated the terms of her visa and also punched a police officer, yet they treated her incredibly kindly and didn't even arrest her).

I often say this in threads about Japan. There are problems here just like anywhere else. Unfortunately, however, it seems to be fairly profitable to write stories in newspapers that promote stereotypes of foreign countries, including Japan. I would recommend trying your best to track down primary sources before you make any conclusions about these kinds of stories.


Who wrote that analysis? I'm aware that the answer is "I don't know" and "likely several people", but that's my point. It's less reliable than a random comment on HN. Wikipedia is good for some things, but an analysis of research on the Japanese legal system isn't one of them (IMHO).


The analysis is in the paper, so I know exactly who wrote it :-). You can check that the summary is correct by reading the paper.


So we agree: HN readers can't rely on the Wikipedia excerpt. :-)


I feel a bit like I'm being trolled, but just to close the gap between our positions, that's exactly the point of my original post: you need to look up the primary sources so that you can tell if the spin is accurate. It was never my intention to suggest that Wikipedia is more or less trustworthy than any other random site on the internet. Rather, because both sites reference the same study and come to exactly opposite conclusions, it's a good indication that you should read the original paper. It is my opinion that the Wikipedia article in this case is considerably more accurate than the original linked article. I'm not quite sure how the original article came to the conclusion they did, unless they were being intentionally misleading, to be completely honest. Again, I highly recommend reading the paper if you are interested in making your own conclusion.


> I feel a bit like I'm being trolled

Sorry, not my intent at all.


Your story would likely be different if she was Japanese.


While your link raises a number of interesting arguments, that statistic doesn't stand by itself.

By and large, the vast majority of people that appear before the courts are guilty. If the guilty/not-guilty split were 50/50, it would indicate completely indiscriminate policing.

So, to make a determination about the false-guilty pleas, we'd need some data those in particular. That is to say, that statistic combines true-guilty and false-guilty, so you can't make an argument that too many people are forces to plea guilty. At least with that statement alone.


True. That invites the question, can we know what proportion of the prosecuted are guilty? I think we can, but we would need to hire a pool of people to secretly serve as test subjects -- to commit a crime (or not) then be charged for it (or not) and tried for it, and only reveal their true status after their case reached a verdict.

Only then could we get a good idea how fair the legal system really is. The invention of such a clandestine "Justice League" would be a pretty interesting way to measure whether any local or national police/justice system is fair and effective.


It doesn't stand by itself, but when viewed in conjunction with what we know about the legal system and how defendants are strong-armed by all sides to accept plea deals, it's sickening.


Plea deals need to be ended. Allowing any sort of plea deal is imposing a punishment for demanding one's rights.


What if someone did it and is willing to admit it? Still force them to go to trial, a trial that may take longer than the punishment for their crime? And victims too, say someone robs you, now you're forced to take time off work to attend a trial for the person that admitted to robbing you and also doesn't want a trial.

Plus there would need to be a massive expansion of the court system to accommodate trials for everyone. Where's the money to pay for that going to come from?

Criminal justice reform is necessary, removing plea deals completely is foolishly short sighted.


If you can't afford to give that many people due process you can't afford to imprison them.


That many people don't go to prison, they get fines or community service or probation.


That has nothing to do with the ethical impetus. Plea deals are baked in to prevent procedural prosecution.


> Still force them to go to trial, a trial that may take longer than the punishment for their crime?

Yes. People have been coerced into false pleas. The prosecutor should have to prove the case. And if their punishment is so light, we should consider if it should be a crime at all.

>And victims too, say someone robs you, now you're forced to take time off work to attend a trial for the person that admitted to robbing you and also doesn't want a trial.

If you want them to be punished, then the prosecutor has to prove their case. If it is so cut and dry, perhaps they don't need your testimony at all.

>Plus there would need to be a massive expansion of the court system to accommodate trials for everyone. Where's the money to pay for that going to come from?

We get rid of minor crimes that shouldn't be crimes to begin with. Reduce the prison population and you can use the saved money to expand courts a bit, if need be. Was the cost reason enough to not ensure other rights are met, such as work needed to comply with ADA?

>removing plea deals completely is foolishly short sighted.

Not seeing the fundamental violation of rights caused by plea deals is foolishly ignorant.


What if someone did it and is willing to admit it?

Under current policies, that results in more lenient punishment than the innocent who fight their charges. So, yes, try them.

Where is the money for that going to come from? Ending the Drug War would cut the number of criminal cases by more than half.


The whole point of a plea deal is to give a more lenient sentence in exchange for admitting guilt. If that wasn't the case everyone would just go to trial for everything, there's always a chance of getting out.

Even traffic court works this way.


In theory. In practice, extreme punishments, along with penury from the costs of a defense, have to be threatened because the CJ system has lost the ability to deliver justice at trial.


>The whole point of a plea deal is to give a more lenient sentence in exchange for admitting guilt.

Which is the same thing as giving a more extreme sentence to someone insisting on their right to a trial.


If we end plea deals entirely, will we have to go to court for silly things like speeding tickets?


Yes, which would have the effect of cutting down on speeding tickets issued since it's an extra court date for the officer. Many can't be bothered already when you take a ticket to court.


Summary violations are reasonable enough in my opinion as the fine doesn't increase by virtue of attending court.


Require the police to prove their point, make it take some actual work, and perhaps departments will stop using them as a revenue source and focus on more dangerous driving issues than someone going 5 over.


Speeding tickets aren't criminal offenses.


Perhaps instead it's time to work on prevention, rather than cure?


I thought that's pretty much standard procedure for low level drug offenses: "please guilty and get only a few years or go to trial and risk 30 years". The rational decision is most likely to go for a few years and not risk the 30. In my view plea bargains should be abolished and everyone should go to trial.


But very few go to trial because the courts cannot afford to try that many cases. So, like most social issues, where does the money come from?

Edit: I want to be clear. I agree with your point, but observing the obvious roadblock to implementation.


There are far too many cases being brought into our courts for silly or erroneous charges. We need to end the war on drugs, for one, and stop prosecuting low-level offenses so harshly. This would reduce a huge amount of the load on the court system.

There are a lot of companies that make a ton of money off of having more people in prison. Maybe we should just tax them.

In any case, I think it's important to realize we cannot let widespread Constitutional violations go unchecked. It's not that there's no money. The real problem is that there are so many entities profiting from this unjust system that no one bothers to look for solutions in the first place.


You let them go free. "It is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer."

If you actually have so many people committing crimes that there are actually too many guilty people for the courts to properly try, you have a societal engineering problem, not a courtroom efficiency problem - you need to get people to stop committing those crimes in the first place, since clearly the justice system isn't working as a deterrent. There are lots of options, including changing social conditions, reclassifying the behavior at issue as not a crime, etc.


This mentality is hard to get to for a lot of folks. It doesn't just hit this issue.

Let's talk about race. When a white supremacist wants to kills some folks, sure, that's a problem and we should try to detect, prevent, mitigate, and punish (in that order) their actions.

However, the real issue to solve at a higher level is the societal engineering one where large segments of the population feel a need to turn towards white nationalism. Note: I don't mean "let's make thoughtcrime a thing". I assume the issue is that racially homogeneous rural areas end up with a combination of little welfare and little economic opportunity.

In the medium/long-run, these sorts of issues require UBI, an improved education system, public transportation, and universal healthcare of some sort. That's a tall order and hard sell, so we're left demonizing individuals (treating symptoms).


White rural areas in fact get more federal welfare benefits than urban areas.


The Eighth Amendment requires that citizens be given a speedy and public trial.

Very few go to trial because of false-carrots-on-a-stick plea deals to throw someone away without the trial, because the prosecutors know the trial may not go for them.

I wonder if it could be argued that plea deals deprive a citizen of their right to a speedy trial, and are therefore unconstitutional?


Some amendments are more strongly enforced than others. Also, it's the 6th that's a speedy trial. The 8th is the equally-ignored excessive fines and punishment.

At least the 3rd is still going strong!


Oh whoops I read them out of order in the list talking about the drafting of The Constitution. It may have been the 8th in an original list but two below it were not ratified. I am not worthy!


regardless of the amendment number, there has been zero clarity from the Supreme Court about what fair and speedy means.

As such, there are people in prison for almost a decade without a trial because they couldn't afford bail, see the Riker's Island cases.

This is not what I had in mind and I think this result undermines the social contract people have in mind for this country.


Frankly, if the courts can't handle the load of the minor cases, those cases should be dropped in favor of pursuing the more severe ones. The courts should be damn well certain someone is in fact guilty before convicting him instead of copping out and allowing plea bargains.


Which then brings up the thorny issue of which cases to drop, and why make those things illegal in the first place. I don't know what the alternative is though. Maybe Judge Dredd style law enforcement of police, judge and jury in one job..


If plea deals were not allowed and cases had to go to trial (with adequate support for public defenders), we (as a society) would find satisfactory answers to those questions. It doesn't mean it would be easy, but if the pressure were there, we'd find a solution. Fewer cases would be heard, fewer people would be jailed, and a truer justice would be served.

Plea bargains allow the justice system to effectively ignore all those costs and instead push them onto a non-representative subset of society.


In many countries judge and jury is one job - it does have downsides of course, but the way juries are selected in the U.S., I think I prefer it.


That's a good point. Others have answered that and I agree with them. But we also have to work with what we have. Petty things like drug possession should be decriminalized. However, good luck getting Congress or state legislatures to decriminalize minor things that aren't en vogue like marijuana. Taxes should be raised to fund the courts and other vital services. But everyone hates taxes so I doubt that will happen either. I'd really like to avoid the Judge Dredd style enforcement that we seem to be slowly approaching.


Good point. Maybe if we made fewer things illegal we wouldn't have more people incarcerated per capita than any other country ever.


Trials are actually not that expensive. What's expensive is risking sending someone to prison for 30+ years.

We simply can't enforce the laws as written, but it's considered easier to avoid enforcing them than to come up with reasonable laws.


Misdemeanor trials cost $20,000 in an exemplar US county [0]. And that's only for the prosecution... take into account the salaries of court employees (judge, steganographer, etc) and utilities and things add up. Whether that is cheap or expensive depends on what you're comparing it to.

Cost of pleading? Maybe a couple hundred dollars.

Cost of ruining someone's life over a drug charge? Maybe worth tenz of thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars.

[0] https://www.news-journal.com/news/2011/nov/01/court-costs-ov...


These prices are very regional. New York State spends ~60,000$ per prisoner per year. So, a teen spending 60 years in prison (ignoring inflation) = 3.6 million directly + plus lost wages.


If you can't afford to deal with the consequences of laws you either need less laws or put more money into the system.

Also, sending innocent people to prison because of please bargains costs a lot of money. It's very possible that having real trials and not sending innocent people to jail is cheaper overall.


I don't know, taxes? Fair and speedy trials are enshrined in the Constitution. Presumably it's in the public interest to actually provide them...


> the courts cannot afford

Most countries in the world manage to have due process. Also the US is one of the wealthiest countries.


Of the 200 or so countries in the world, most of them do not have an effective, fair justice system, available to all. Without that as a minimum, have a defined process is largely meaningless.


You get rid of all those pointless laws.


Yup. And when this happened to me with a bogus possession case, I fought the law and the law won. Sentenced with maximum jail-time and fines :)


Our legal system is a giant pile of shit, and anyone who thinks otherwise is either woefully misinformed or trying to line their own interests.


The proper way to use it is to be rich. The justice lady might be blind but she can hear the sound of money. /s


This should be downvoted, because one can trivially disagree with your premise, without being misinformed nor with any conflict of interest.


So is our medical system. We revere both of these professions.


Did I mention that the US is no longer a country where the rule of law applies?


In the long term I believe it will make sense to treat criminal prosecutions and trials as a classification problem. Given these facts and this evidence, is person X innocent or guilty of the crime?

It seems tools are being developed right now to assess the effectiveness of the current system, innocence projects, etc. So there should also now be a possibility of developing a new and better algorithm for trial. A machine learning algorithm that's better than all this human complexity at determining who did it, and can explain why it came to its conclusions.

Computational law.


A system that doesn't honestly and unbiased-ly make its best effort to seek the truth, is not justice.


just remember this when watching investigations as well, those tend to only be news worthy when high profile figures are involved but the rules are the same. you don't have to be guilty, just not rich enough to defend yourself.


Did the page receive a HN hug of death? I can't access it


Google cache, as I'm getting a "503 first byte timeout":

https://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:kM07g3...




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