back to Stopdown, home page, click here
Murder conviction overturned. Prosecutors induced witnesses to lie and never told the defendant's lawyer that leverage had been applied, resulting in a murder sentence for Jabber Collins. Collins worked for fifteen years to bring out the truth and obtain his release. For Wall Street Journal article click here. Bribing witnesses is standard U.S. practice, a police state practice that does not belong in a democracy.
Monsanto has been suing farmers whose crops have been contaminated, via wind-blown pollen, with Monsanto's modified DNA. Amazingly Monsanto has won judgments in which Canadian and U.S. courts have ruled that the farmers are in adverse possession of Monsanto's property.For an outline of this issue with several links click here
The War on Drugs.... onward and downward:The federal government sends a lot of money to local police to make drug busts, inducing a lot of corrupt police behavior and dubious spending on the part of local departments. For a Wall Street Journal article on federal money that must go to dig up marijuana plants in California, whose police departments are cutting more important services because of budget shortfalls, click here. For a drugwar.org web commentary on Byrne grants, federal cash handouts to police causing a lot of phony drug busts, click here. For an excerpt from Michelle Alexander's book, "The New Jim Crow," which recounts a litany of legal abuses of the black community in the U.S., especially drug law miscarriages, click here. The author notes that between 1980 and 2000 the number of people in jail and prison in the U.S. has jumped from 300,000 to over 2 million, largely a result of arresting non-violent people on possession charges. Much of this activity means federal money for police departments, even though big dealers seem to almost never get caught.
Lawyers are exploiting California state environmental law to shake down businesses for settlements, while sharing in penalties levied for technical violations (getting a whistle-blower type cut of penalty), as part of a trend that seems to have little to do with protecting the environment. The violations are often non-existent or very minor, but these lawyers, a sort of pack of pseudo-green jackals, have learned how to jack up businesses with threats of a costly lawsuit. Their bread and butter is not going to court but settlements. (Lost this New York Times article, please e-mail us citation if you have it.)
Recent article: The Supreme Court has ruled (June 12, '06) that new evidence, including DNA test results, warrants a new hearing on the murder conviction of Paul House, on death row for 20 years. What is hard to believe is that Chief Justice Roberts and two other justices disagreed with that finding, deferring the the federal district court which rejected the claim of innocence in 1996, which was also amazing when you consider the new evidence outlined in the article. Besides DNA testing showing House did not rape the victim, as the prosecution had claimed in asserting a rape-murder scenario, Mr. House presented two witnesses claiming they heard the victim's husband make a drunken confession to the murder, and another witness claiming she saw the husband hit the victim the night of the murder. click here
A military defense lawyer for a Guantanamo detainee challenged the tribunal system, saying it "is designed to get criminal convictions" with "no real evidence," and that prosecutors "launder evidence derived from torture." The lawyer is a political conservative and devout Christian who says his Christian principles motivate his pursuit of fairness. For article click here.
|Billy Ray Johnson, a mentally disabled, now 44 year old black man from Linden, Texas, was used by a group of whites for entertainment on a night in September, 2003, forced to dance around a bonfire at a "pasture party", ridiculed, struck blows to his head, and left on a remote road. He suffered brain damage such that he must remain in a nursing home. The hospital that received him did nothing for him, and Cass County juries have handed down minimal or suspended sentences to the four whites charged. For an article by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which is now bringing civil charges in the case click here. For an article posted by Black Press USA click here. (The Justice Department has shown no interest in the case.)|
Item: Thomas Coleman, the Tulia, Texas policeman who put one tenth of the town's African-American population in jail on phony drug charges, received the "Lawman of the Year award" from the state of Texas not long after he made the arrests.
We are seeking commentary about how to make the legal system admit when it is violating its own presumed and stated principles, such as that the law should be fair, or that people who are shown to be innocent should go free. What the law tends to do is pretend with flimsy legal arguments that a practice is justified, rather than say, "Yes it's wrong, but we have to do it for x,y,z reason." For instance with respect to granting a lighter sentence to a defendant who testifies against his partners in crime, it is clear that the witness is accepting a bribe from the prosecutors, which is clearly not fair to the defendants so impugned, and in terms of the law, is against laws on bribing a witness. Furthermore, this form of witness bribing is used routinely, when there is no reason, much less a compelling reason, to do so. On this page there is a review of how legal scholars talk about efforts to prohibit this form of witness bribing. They are unable to acknowledge that legal principles and statute cannot justify such practices, citing the long history of such bribery as if that makes it legally sound. ......Prosecutors are not supposed to convict an innocent person just to get a conviction, but they do it all the time. When a convict is proven innocent there is an arrogant inertia around obtaining their release. ....Law students will laugh if you ask them, "Have you already lost your sense of right and wrong, or do you have to get into clinical practice before that happens?" But the loss of ethical perspective is no joke, it is a disease of many aspects of legal affairs. Practicing lawyers routinely do shabby work and charge outrageous fees, as if the free market did not exist. Lawyers protect each other by serving on review/arbitration boards that shield lawyers from the grievances of fleeced clients. The Law is a racket, like medicine, where a few stitches at the E.R. routinely costs hundreds and can run over a thousand if there is the slightest complication -- and anyway primary care should be available instead of costly E.R. It is crazy. The law is the same way. A simple document can get farmed out to someone who writes idiotic prose that misses the point, or boilerplate documents spell your name wrong and have other errors -- at a cost of hundreds or more than a thousand dollars. It is a sick joke, and we should fight to change it. Although how I'm not sure. Perhaps a guild of honest lawyers with an internal policing board to field complaints and enforce sane standards. Don't laugh. People would go to such a group. The bar does not qualify, although it has its moments............If the Supreme court had honored the law in the 2000 election they would have sent the recount issue back to state of Florida, and let the Republican-controlled legislature and Democratic-controlled state supreme court fight over who had jurisdiction. This was (until such time as the state court and state legislature showed they could not agree on who had jurisdiction, which would have sent the issue to the U.S. Congress to decide) a state decision, not a federal one. We seek comment on this and whether the Florida Legislature or State Supreme Court had jurisdiction, according to state law. Because the answer to that question tells us who would have won the 2004 election if the law had been honored.....The prosecutions of priests for molesting children has not been accompanied by the prosecution of priests, bishops and other church officials who protected the molesters, shielding them from the law, deflecting accusations of parents, and ushering the molesters to new parishes where they proceeded to molest some more children. The catholic bishop of Los Angeles has felt a little heat, but these obstructers of justice belong in jail along with the molesters -- but of course, they are high church officials so it wouldn't be right to treat them like common criminals, would it?
For comment page click here
Articles Pertaining to the Law
Article: Gunmaker with history of restarting companies that have been sent to bankruptcy by lawsuits over badly made guns is facing challenge. click here
For an article on the insane state of patent law -- such as Amazon claiming exclusive rights to one-click ordering -- click here
Article: Intel Corporation has been trying to stop Yoga Inside, a group that teaches yoga in prisons, from using that name because Intel puts stickers on computers that say "Intel Inside". Any business name that goes "---- Inside", is a target for Intel, which sees this as an infringement of its trademark. A cooperative arts and crafts gallery called Art Inside is also under attack. An Intel spokesman claims that they can lose the trademark if they don't actively defend it in this way. click here
Article: Teenagers under 18 are being given life sentences for murders that they were involved in but not plan or commit. In one case a fourteen year old entered a house with two older boys who committed murder. He was given a "felony murder" rap by the jury, a statute that convicts a participant in a felony of murder if a death results from the commission of the crime. This child was given the same sentence as might be expected for the driver of a getaway car where a bank robbery led to a murder. click here
Article: South Dakota congressman Bill Janklow was cited for speeding many times over many years, but the law on losing one's driver's license was changed in 1989, when Janklow was governor, removing speeding from the list of offenses that result in "points" toward license suspension. Janklow killed a motorcyclist while speeding and running a stop sign, but the homicide was treated as a simple accident. click here
Article: Democrats in Congress say they want want to bring criminal prosecution against employers whose willful negligence causes worker death. click here. (But we can count on the Democrats to back down.)
Article: The Supreme Court has ruled (June 12, '06) that new evidence, including DNA test results, warrants a new hearing on the murder conviction of Paul House, on death row for 20 years. What is amazing is that Chief Justice Roberts and two other justices disagreed with that finding, deferring the the federal district court which rejected the claim of innocence in 1996, which was also amazing when you consider the new evidence outlined in the article. Besides DNA testing showing House did not rape the victim, as the prosecution had claimed in asserting a rape-murder scenario, Mr. House presented two witnesses claiming they heard the victim's husband make a drunken confession to the murder, and another witness claiming she saw the husband hit the victim the night of the murder. click here
Article: Prosecutors seek execution of a retarded man who hasn't made up his mind yet about Santa Claus. click here
Article: Wrongful conviction based on jail house informer's testimony. click here
Article: Wrongful murder conviction based on paid informer who was a crack addict. click here (Drug addicts are popular informers with police and prosecutors, they will say anything for a fix. This is not a joke, it is common, in some venues routine prosecutorial method. Sometimes these informers have long criminal arrest records for crimes like assault and drug sales, but the police through the prosecutors arrange to have the charges dropped so they can use them to convict others of similar crimes. It is important to note that the public defenders in many of these cases seem to be incompetent or going along with the prosecution.)
Article: California parole system: while many on parole are pointlessly reimprisoned for minor technical violations, murder, rape and assault are also treated as technical violations. Parolees who commit such crimes are often sent back to prison for short stints and not even tried for the crimes. click here
Article: "Re-entry" programs for released prisoners, helping them to find housing and jobs, are gaining favor with conservative as well as liberal lawmakers. click here.
Letter: The last of the three Amirault family members wrongly convicted of child molestation is released after 18 years. The district attorney cannot bring herself to admit to the great injustice that has been done in this case. click here
Law.....when the law as practiced is plainly violating principles of fairness, violating the rights of citizens and enterprises, and often violating the law as it is written.
Below are some examples of law in action where right and wrong don't seem to matter. We think Americans are in agreement that these practices are wrong and should be stopped.
Constraints of rights via patent and copyright law include Intel's obtaining an injunction against a group called Yoga Inside, which works in prisons, from using that name because Intel puts "Intel Inside" on computers using its chips. Therefore, Intel argues, no one can use a business name that uses the word "inside" after another word in a two word name. ........ Monsanto has sued dairies that attempt to label their milk as free of the Monsanto chemical which increases milk output.......In April the U.S. Department of Agriculture denied a cattle farm the right to test all its animals for Mad Cow, arguing that such testing "implied a consumer safety aspect that is not scientifically warranted." The department's authority in this respect stems from the Virus Serum Toxin Act of 1913. .....California's proposition 13 has skewed taxes so that a multi-million dollar mansion will be assessed a lower property tax than a small house nearby. Properties can only receive a new assessment when they are sold, so long term ownership is rewarded and new buyers take a bath, which, besides being unfair taxation, distorts the real estate market by discouraging sales. The U.S. Supreme Court said Prop. 13 was wrong but sent the matter back to California to remedy. There has been no remedy. For some reason the real estate companies don't care. ....ERISA, a law that pertains mainly to pensions, has been invoked to prohibit patients from suing HMOS for medical malpractice, and for years articles have mentioned this fact without citing the pertinent ERISA clause. Although the the courts and lawmakers have moved to enable such suits despite ERISA, we would still like to hear about how ERISA is read to apply in this way. Is the law intended to exert this constraint, or was it opportunistically reinterpreted to the benefit of HMO's?......Eyewitnesses, as mock-up crime studies have shown, are tremendously unreliable, and yet our criminal justice system routinely makes convictions based on one witness's testimony. DNA tests are exposing the extent of this legal travesty........Paid informers for the prosecution, are used over and over to make convictions even as they commit crimes like assault and robbery in their private lives. Charges against such informers are often dropped at the behest of prosecutors, so the prosecutors can use them to tell more lies in court. There was a horrendous article in the Washington Post about seven years ago describing the career of one such witness who made hundreds of thousands of dollars, over a number of years, in commissions on the value of the drugs recovered in a sting. We would like to receive the citation or article. ...... "Jail house" informers, or co-defendants bribed with offers of leniency in their own legal case, are the basis of many wrongful convictions. ..... Plea bargaining -- threatening a defendant with a harsher sentence if he/she does not plead guilty, is a tactic that is used all over the place without any compelling reason, even though it is against the principle that the court should not exercise a bias against a defendant. ......... The war on drugs causes the violence around drugs, and it is ignoring the fact that treatment works much better than jail, and jail is unfair because alcohol is a drug. President Nixon started a nation-wide program of treatment instead of jail that was bringing down crime rates, but he got scared of being called soft on drugs as the '72 election approached and scuttled the program...... Property seizures, from people who have no clue a drug transaction was occurring on their premises, are defended by Chief Justice Rehnquist as making people be "mindful of with whom they associate." We would like to present accounts of such seizures where innocent people have been robbed in this way by the government -- despite the 4th amendment.... Joe Louis, the great heavyweight champion, gave his boxing earnings to the war effort during World War II. After the War, when Louis was no longer rich, the government ruined him by demanding taxes on those donations.....In the 1920's, when socialist Italians Sacco and Vanzetti were executed for a murder they did not commit, the members of the Supreme court managed to disappear, duck or otherwise recuse themselves from the case. We would like to review these acts of cowardice individually.........The constitution gives authority over elections for federal office to the states, because the "founders" were leery that one-man-one-vote might be invoked by a federal administration. At the time one-man-one-vote was considered political insanity by almost everyone in government -- only white men with property were deemed worthy to vote. Thus, if the law had been followed the U.S. Supreme court would have sent the issue back to the state, where the legislature (Republican majority), and the Florida Supreme Court (majority Democrats), would have jousted over who had jurisdiction over the recount issue. But the Supreme Court, although usually a defender of states rights, could not restrain itself. It improperly took authority over the recount like a dog dragging a piece of meat off the table. (If the Florida high court and legislature could not agree on who should decide on the recount, then the decision would have been put in the hands of the U.S. Congress).......Is not the right to be free from "unreasonable searches" a right to privacy? The fact that the word "privacy" is not used in the fourth amendment causes many legal scholars (e.g. Bork) to conclude that the principle of privacy is not explicitly stated. Is the principle of a right to privacy not expressed clearly in the words of the fourth amendment? Explicit does not mean the use of a certain word, it means the clear conveyance of an idea. Exactly where those search boundaries lie is a different matter -- freedom of speech, sexual practices, abortion, gun possession, drug use and child welfare are examples of issues where the public and legal scholars would disagree on whether the government has a right to exert control, or the right to privacy should prevail. But clearly there is a right to privacy asserted in the fourth amendment, just a surely as property rights are upheld by the statement that individuals should be free from "unreasonable seizures" by the government. ....Workplace death and injury has long been treated as a bureaucratic area of the law. Fines are issued to willfully negligent employers whose greed made them cut corners resulting in death or injury. Prison sentences are limited to six months. Why should employers who cause death or injury be treated differently from anyone else? The answer is that government serves the wealthy first, the rest of us later....Another example of this principle is that a company with a legal staff or lawyers it regularly works with with can walk on you and if you can't afford a lawyer you're out of luck. The equivalent of public defenders in civil cases is an idea that is gaining support.
Below are some of the same issues outlined above, described in a few more words. This site seeks comments from readers, personal experience, citations etc. having to do with the law in any respect.
Criminal Courts: Plea bargaining, paid informants, etc.
On the issue of bribing witnesses, an appellate court recently voided a decision that testimony against a defendant was invalid because it was purchased by an offer of leniency to a "jailhouse informer." For an amicus brief on behalf of the defendant, click here. For the prosecutor's brief, click here. The prosecutor notes that drug cases and organized crime cases could not be made without leniency for witnesses, and cites legal precedent and legislative endorsement going back to colonial times. The amicus brief noted that with respect to the decision by the three judge panel:
"...it simply makes clear that parties may not include in those dispositions a term that buys a defendant’s testimony against another accused. In the language of contract, such a term is contrary to public policy: if testimony is what the government is after, the government cannot barter for it."
What seems clear is that it is wrong and illegal to bribe a witness, no matter that the practice goes back to colonial times, and no matter that the courts would be much burdened without the right to bribe witnesses. The court which overturned the challenge to bribery stated that the bribery statute did not apply to the government, only to private individuals. But there should be a compelling reason to put the government above the law. In this case there only the issue of convenience, which is not sufficient reason to permit such acts. A prosecutor once said, in private interview, "We only do it when we know we're right." By that reasoning prosecutors should simply be able to dictate the outcome of a criminal case, when they know they're right.
For an article about a case involving an informant whose testimony, purchased with offers of immunity, resulted in a wrongful in a murder conviction, click here.
A similar issue is plea bargaining. To say to a defendant, "Plead guilty and we'll give you a light sentence, plead not guilty and, if you're convicted, we'll give you a long sentence" is an absolute miscarriage of justice. There is no legal excuse for leveraging a defendant's plea with threats, and the practice routinely compels people to plead guilty to crimes they did not commit. Suppose you are picked up at a murder scene, incorrectly identified by a witness. (Eyewitnesses are fantastically unreliable, according to mock-up crime studies and a growing body of evidence.) The prosecutors tell you plead guilty to manslaughter and you'll get 7 years, parole at 5 years. But plead not guilty and, if convicted you will get life or execution. What do you do? We would like to review court decisions where plea bargaining has been challenged. It would seem that the prosecutors should limit the use of these tactics to cases where there is a compelling argument that supports their use. Instead, prosecutors are constantly playing plea bargain games -- they just do it without even thinking, when there is no reason at all to do it, much less a compelling reason. Consider the case of two teenagers who killed their illegitimate infant baby a few years ago. They admitted to the crime, and neither one would testify against the other, choosing to jointly accept guilt. But the prosecutors, as if they were trying to get one drug dealer turn against his partners and testify against them, kept pressing to get one of the defendants to testify against the other, even though such testimony would have no bearing on the case. In the end the boy turned against the girl and got a shorter sentence. This is not about rational legal practice, it is about prosecutors manipulating defendants whenever they feel like it, enjoying their power trip. In this case they just wanted to prove they could break one of the two defendants, as if it werea sport.
Suppression of evidence and gag orders.
The constant suppression of evidence by judges is another example of the state manipulating where it should not be manipulating. Litigants are supposed to be able to make their case in court. If there is some compelling reason for a judge to suppress information so be it, such as evidence obtained without a warrant, or testimony taken without the Miranda warning. What judges are often doing is dictating the outcome of a case to their liking by excluding crucial evidence or testimony. We would like to receive accounts of judges exercising erroneous authority in this way so we can create a page of examples of this abuse.
Similarly, judges are constantly putting court minutes under protective seal, a "gag order". There is no reason given in most cases. This is wrong. Our court proceedings are supposed to be public record. In almost every corporate crime case, such as toxic dumping or defrauding clients, and in civil judgments against corporations, there is "no admission of wrongdoing" as they pay out tens of millions in a settlement, and what they did is conveniently hidden from the public, which therefore cannot come to its own conclusion about whether there has been any wrongdoing.
The Supreme Court has made a few twisted decisions. Berea College vs. Kentucky is among the more amusing.
In legal history a famous case of unfairness is Berea College vs. the State of Kentucky, in which the state had outlawed the right of a college to have blacks and whites at the same campus. The case went to the Supreme Court around 1900. Can you guess by what argument the Supreme Court upheld the state's position? ...........................It was that the state was not limiting the privileges or rights of individuals, which they said would be illegal, but the privileges of institutions. (A close cousin to this case is Plessey vs. Fergusson, in which the right of railroads to have segregated cars was upheld, under the argument that "separate but equal" facilities were legal. Plessey vs. Fergusson upholds the right to segregate by race, whereas Berea College vs. Kentucky upholds a prohibition on integration.)
The War on Drugs
The War on Drugs is unfair because alcohol is a drug, and while there may be grounds to control some substances more than alcohol, there is no excuse for a harsh punishment policy against drug users unless we do the same to alcohol users. Legalizing drugs is not going to happen in the U.S., but rehabilitation instead of jail can happen. Twenty years ago Americans, when asked about this issue, did not make a distinction between legalization and decriminalization. Decriminalization is another way of saying rehab instead of jail. Now they do know the difference and many more Americans now see that punishing users and small time sellers is not working..........Punishing people for being drug addicts and selling small amounts of drugs is crazy. It causes the violence in poor neighborhoods. It is not the drugs but the war on drugs that causes the violence. If drugs were legal there would be no violence, at least nothing like the mayhem we now witness that is like mobster violence during prohibition (of alcohol) in the 1920's.
The only prevalent recreational drugs that cause violence by taking them are alcohol and, to a lesser extent methamphetamine. If drugs were legal there would be almost no drug-related violence, except for alcohol and, to a lesser degree, methamphetamine. Or if drugs stay illegal, but a non-punishment, rehabilitative policy is put in place, there will be much, much less drug-related violence. One advantage of rehab, if you think it is right to break addicts of the habit, is that unlike jail or legalization, in rehab addicts are tested and obliged to stay drug-free. ...... If people come out of rehab and relapse, well then we give them another vacation from the vacation. We should try to get them better, not destroy them with a punishment policy. We have destroyed the family structure of the urban poor, especially African Americans, because of a punishment policy for non-violent infractions. And the law is unfair so long as alcohol is illegal......Richard Nixon started a policy of rehab instead of jail for drugs in his first term. Crime rates began to drop in cities around the U.S. But when the '72 election began to approach Nixon got scared of being called weak on drugs and scrapped the program. He went back to the jail for drugs policy.
The 2000 election...
That states administer the process for federal elections is a throwback to the founding fathers of the Constitution, who considered the one-man-one-vote idea a kind of political insanity -- despite the rhetoric of the Declaration of Independence -- and never would have ratified a document espousing that principle. Only men of property were expected to vote in those days, otherwise the poor, the majority, could take property away from the rich, and, anyway, the poor were uneducated and thus deemed unfit to vote. The Supreme Court's decision to hijack the 2000 presidential election was an answer to the attempt by the Florida State Supreme Court to take into their hands what, according to how some read Florida law, should have been resolved in the state legislature. Others argue the State Supreme Court had jurisdiction over this decision. The state high court had a Democratic majority, the legislature Republican. Either way, there is no constitutional argument that this decision belonged in federal hands, unless the state court and legislature failed to agree and sent separate slates to Washington. If that happens Congress decides -- not the Supreme court -- according to the Constitution. What the Supreme court should have done is send the matter of the recount back to the state of Florida. Just because a sort of anarchy might be the result, with the state court and legislature both claiming jurisdiction, is no excuse for the Supreme Court usurping what was clearly not in their jurisdiction. It may be noted that, Congress being then controlled by Republicans, Bush would have been elected.
We would like to point out that people who say Bush was illegally given the election are right. The Supreme court had no basis to decide the election. But if the law had been followed, unless the Florida legislature let the Florida court have its way, which is very unlikely, an impasse would have been the result and Congress (federal) would have elected Bush. So if the law had been followed, Bush would still be president. Of course this does not take into account the removal of blacks from voter rolls by Republican operatives and government officials by means such as "caging," in which a certified letter sent to an address, if not returned, resulted in voters losing their right to vote on election day -- the argument being these individuals could not be accounted for. This scam by Republicans removed many more votes from heavily black and Democratic neighborhoods than the margin of votes in Bush's favor. Another scam Republicans employed was removing voters from rolls just by claiming they were felons. Some of these ruses were used in 2004, others in 2004, with Ohio and Florida the states with the most Republican subterfuge, according to several documentary films. The mainstream media have not allowed this issue to surface beyond a few glimpses, and so this nation is not debating what has probably been the theft of two elections. One lingering question is why Kerry so blithely gave up the option of an investigation in Ohio after the results came in. He had claimed he would challenge the vote in that state if it appeared there was fraud, and then he just quietly let it go. Why? Among other irregularities the chief of the company which ran the voting machines in Ohio said he would do his best to deliver the election to Bush, according to reports whose authenticity is not in doubt.
back to Stopdown, home page, click here