Clients are often frustrated by how unfair they believe the criminal justice system is when faced with it for the first time. Americans grow up thinking the criminal system is fair, that only guilty people are prosecuted and convicted, and law enforcement and prosecutors play by the rules. Those notions are often shattered when they face the legal system, particularly the federal legal system and they learn that law enforcement lies, hiding evidence is common place and indeed, often sanctioned by federal law. Prosecutors indict the cases they want and pick the charges. Judges have little to no power to influence what crimes prosecutors charge thereby defining what the possible scope of sentences. The only way to test the charges is to go to trial – an option that is both expensive and risky.
There was a recent article in the Huffington Post summarizing the problems with the federal criminal justice system. It’s a good read. It ends with the right conclusion – if society’s goal is faster and more efficient court processes then we’re getting it….of course we’re gaining that efficiency at the price of individual liberty and truth. If instead the goal is a fair and just system then perhaps its time to talk about real protections for people accused of crimes, protections that includes increased judicial involvement in the process.