Archive for the ‘Courts’ Category

PostHeaderIcon California Death Penalty Ruled Unconstitutional

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Federal Judge Cormac J. Carney ruled that California’s death penalty is unconstitutional, dysfunctional, and beyond repair. In his ruling, the judge said California’s system is so broken that inmates are left wondering about their fates for decades, or more. In other words, death sentences in the Golden State have been transformed into life sentences with a slight chance that they’ll end in the inmate’s death. More than likely, though, that death would be due to natural causes, not by the hand of an executioner.

The death penalty in California basically serves no purpose. That’s no shock to anyone who’s ever followed one of their death penalty cases (Scott Peterson comes to mind). But how does it compare to the rest of the country? Does the sentencing phase of a death penalty case in California stand on equal ground with other areas of the country? Of course not. California jurors don’t face the same pressures as do their counterparts in…well, let’s say Texas. Texas jurors, when they sentence someone to die you’d better believe they know that within a reasonable amount of time (if you can believe that 10 years, or so, is reasonable) the state is going to kill that prisoner. California…not so much. In fact, the last inmate executed in California, Clarence Ray Allen, spent 26 long years on death row.

Terri Lynn Winchell, a 17-year old Lodi, Ca. girl, was murdered 34 years ago. Her killer, Michael Morales, was sentenced to death for the murder. As his execution date finally rolled around, in 2006, a federal judge ordered a hold on all death penalty cases due to a court challenge of the state’s lethal injection process. The hold is still in place because the state has yet to submit a suitable method of lethal injection for the courts to review.

It will most likely be many years before this mess is sorted out. Until then, nearly 800 men and women sit on California’s death row, mocking a system that spins its wheels while costing taxpayers staggering amounts of money. For starters, the cost of a death penalty trial and one appeal (attorneys, experts, etc.) can exceed a standard criminal trial by $1.5 million, or more.

To put the numbers in perspective, it costs California approximately $137 million annually to house death row inmates. In comparison, the cost to house non death penalty inmates, including those serving life without the possibility of parole (which is basically the same sentenced served by death row inmates in California) is over $11.5 million.

Let’s not stop there, though. Let’s dig a bit deeper into the costs associated with California death penalty cases.

- The Supreme Court automatically considers all capital cases if a sentence of death is handed down – the Court’s budget for hearing these cases is well over $15 million.

- The budget for the State Public Defender’s Office (for death penalty cases) exceeds $12 million.

Shall I go on? Okay, one more, out of many. The state funded Habeas Corpus Resource Center has a budget of over $13 million to assist indigent inmates with their appeals.

Is it truly worthwhile to spend the extra bazillion dollars just to see the words “condemned to death” on a piece of paper? After all, in most California death penalty cases, those two words mean about as much as the cost of the paper on which they’re printed…not much.

Why not convert all death penalty cases to life in prison without parole and call it a day. The state could then put those savings toward desalination plants or other means to ease the drought. By the way, I saw where California just passed water restriction regulations that include a fine of $500 per day to residents who waste water (hosing off your driveway, washing a car without a nozzle, etc.). Yet, a city-owned park near our new home ran mega-giant sprinklers 24 hours per day for a week to water a soccer field that hasn’t been used in months. Well, let me back up a bit. The field hasn’t been entirely vacant. A couple of homeless guys have been sleeping near the fence beneath the shade of two large eucalyptus trees.

After a couple of days of non-stop watering, there was so much standing H2O that birds and other wildlife played in it for days, splashing and bathing and sliding around. I’m sure the two homeless men enjoyed the entertainment.

I wonder if the same people in charge of water conservation also control collected tax money and corrections budgets? For some reason, when I close my eyes and picture them, this is what comes to mind…

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 *Also in Judge Carney’s Wednesday ruling was the stay of execution for Ernest Dewayne Jones, who’s been on death row for almost 20 years for the rape and murder of a Southern California accountant.

 

PostHeaderIcon Buying Justice: Myth Or Reality?

Who stands a better chance at walking out of a courtroom free and clear of all criminal charges? Is it the rich businessman and his team of high-priced attorneys? Or, is it the average Joe, a hardworking ditch-digger who barely gets by earning minimum wage and is represented by an overworked, underpaid court-appointed attorney who’s fresh out of law school?

I think it’s safe to say the answer to that question is, well…it goes without saying.

I’m sure you’ve all heard of the latest high-profile case where a young man of more than substantial means, while driving drunk, crashed and killed four people. His family hired a couple of “big name” attorneys, and when the dust settled the defendant skated out of the courtroom with a sentence of probation. His defense had been that he was raised in the midst of extreme wealth and riches and had never been disciplined for doing wrong. As a result of living in those “horrible” conditions he suffered from affluenza, meaning that he couldn’t/didn’t know any better. Apparently, affluenza renders rich people totally and utterly stupid beyond all definitions of the word.

At least, though, the young man’s attorneys managed to come up with a defense that has a name attached to it. But what about the wealthy one-percenters who never seem to serve any real time for their crimes? How do they manage to avoid the orange jump suits and sharing a 6×9 concrete and steel room with roaches and rats? Has it always been this way, where the well-connected enjoy a different standard of justice than do folks of meager means?

Let’s begin our exploration on a small scale—the wannabe big fish in a tiny pond. You know, the upper crust of small town U.S.A.

There was a deputy who’d decided to come in off patrol to catch up on a bit of paperwork. He parked in front of the jail and, after that unseen person buzzed him through the gates, he headed upstairs to a private room where several deputies shared a bank of desks and a few typewriters.

As he made his way up the steps he heard someone clacking away at one of the old Royals. He thought it was odd to hear someone hard at work in the office because he hadn’t seen any other patrol cars parked outside. When he turned the doorknob and pushed the door open, he was quite surprised to see a young man, a non-employee civilian, sitting behind one of the army-green metal desks. The stranger looked up from his typing and, without so much as a “kiss my tail feathers,” he went back to pecking the keys.

The deputy placed his folders and other do-dads on one of the other desks, and said, “Excuse me.”

The interloper stopped typing and looked up. He was obviously irritated that the lowly deputy had the gall to bother him.

The deputy continued. “Did someone give you permission to be in here?” The deputy was concerned because their lockers, which contained evidence, firearms, chemical sprays, and other police goodies, were also in the room.

The little snob said, “Yeah…they did.” He went back to work.

“Who?” the deputy asked.

“Who, what?” was the kid’s snotty reply to him, without bothering to stop punching the keys and dinging the bell.

The officer had heard and seen enough, so he placed his hand over the typebars and said, “Who gave you permission to be in this room using our typewriters?”

“My daddy told the sheriff to let me do my homework in here, and he TOLD the sheriff I was not to be interrupted.”

“And your daddy is…?”

“Judge So and So. You may have heard of him.”

Well, after checking his story, it turned out that Mr. Typewriter was indeed the judge’s son, and the little darlin’ had been convicted of manslaughter in another jurisdiction (driving drunk and crashed into a car, killing the elderly couple inside).

His father, the judge, pulled some strings and arranged it so that his baby boy could serve his sentence in this particular jail. The judge had also worked a deal with the sheriff to allow the kid to remain outside of the cell blocks until lights out. He was also to be allowed to hang out in the employee break room, watch TV, enjoy meals delivered to him from the outside, wear street clothes, and to use the desks and typewriters normally reserved for deputies, to complete his papers and other projects for the college he attended (assignments and notes were also delivered to him). Deputies were not to disturb the judge’s son while he was using their typewriters and their desks.

In another instance, a wealthy businessman was arrested for his 4th DUI, and he was sentenced to a whopping 30 days in the county jail. This man was one of the county sheriff’s golfing and drinking buddies. You can imagine how this went. During the duration of his incarceration, the man was allowed to wear his street clothes. He was also allowed to wear his gold bracelet, watch, and a gold chain around his neck that was nearly large enough to use as an anchor chain on a battleship. It didn’t stop there.

Jailers were instructed that this man’s cell door was to remain unlocked and open at all times. Jail cooks had to prepare made-to-order meals for him (he sent his orders to the kitchen via the on-duty jailers). He received a daily newspaper. He used the phone anytime day or night. He received visitors anytime day or night. He was allowed to run his business from the jail. He roamed the halls and corridors normally patrolled by jail staff. And, he was even allowed to use the conference room for business meetings!

A first time offender was arrested by an FBI agent for possessing less than $100 worth of crack cocaine. Thousands upon thousands upon thousands of dollars were poured into the investigation—search warrants, canines, dozens of officers, agents, state police, prosecution team, etc. All for less than $100 worth of crack cocaine. That’s it. That’s all they found and that was the defendant’s only charge.

The FBI and federal prosecutors threatened to lock up the man’s family (as accomplices – they weren’t). Officials threatened the man with a sentence of 10 years or more. And they threatened to seize his home and all of his possessions, leaving his family with absolutely nothing.

However, the officials offered a five year sentence if the man pleaded guilty.

The defendant hired a very prominent attorney to represent him…for a base fee of $25,000. Shortly after, the attorney came to the man (who was in jail under NO BOND) and said the plea deal he’d negotiated was for just over three years in federal prison. The attorney, by the way, placed a lien on his client’s home for the $25,000, and he’d done so the moment he was retained. The defendant had no access to any funds other than the equity in his home.

The attorney, in the same conversation, said he could probably have the sentence reduced to probation or home confinement if the defendant could somehow find another $25,000.

Remember, this was between the attorney and his client. We have no way of knowing if it went any further, or, if anyone else had any knowledge of the “negotiation fee”.

So, what are your thoughts? Is there a special justice system for the wealthy/”one-percenters”? Are harsher sentences handed down to the average Joe’s and Jane’s in this country? How about the poor? Do they stand a chance against the courts and powerful prosecutors? Do some prosecutors routinely step on the “little people,” chalking up big conviction numbers to further their personal career goals—like an appointment as the head of the CIA, FBI, etc.?

Can money truly buy freedom?

 

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