Former New York state Chief Judge Sol Wachtler famously remarked that a prosecutor could persuade a grand jury to “indict a ham sandwich.” The data suggests he was barely exaggerating: According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. attorneys prosecuted 162,000 federal cases in 2010, the most recent year for which we have data. Grand juries declined to return an indictment in 11 of them…
“If the prosecutor wants an indictment and doesn’t get one, something has gone horribly wrong,” said Andrew D. Leipold, a University of Illinois law professor who has written critically about grand juries. “It just doesn’t happen.”
Cases involving police shootings, however, appear to be an exception. As my colleague Reuben Fischer-Baum has written, we don’t have good data on officer-involved killings. But newspaper accounts suggest, grand juries frequently decline to indict law-enforcement officials. A recent Houston Chronicle investigation found that “police have been nearly immune from criminal charges in shootings” in Houston and other large cities in recent years. In Harris County, Texas, for example, grand juries haven’t indicted a Houston police officer since 2004; in Dallas, grand juries reviewed 81 shootings between 2008 and 2012 and returned just one indictment.
I was called to jury duty this week in the Circuit Court of the City of St. Louis. This happens every 2 years for me; this was my fifth or sixth time. Although I’ve sat through voir dire several times, I’ve never been chosen. This probably has to do with the fact that I’m a lawyer. Today’s case was a criminal case, and I come with special baggage, since I was a prosecutor for the state of Missouri for four years, after working for the state juvenile court two years before that. This is the kind of background a defense attorney would rather not deal with, so I was not chosen to hear the case.
In today’s proceeding, the defendant was charged with the sexual assault of several teenage girls, while using a gun. These were very serious charges, indeed.
The reason I’m writing this post is that I was overwhelmed with the amount of serious crime that has touched the lives of the 75 people on the jury panel. Ubiquitous crime appears to be the new normal.
We were only asked about two types of crimes, gun violence and sexual offenses, but it seemed as though most of the prospective jurors were victims or at least their close friends and families were victims of these types of crimes. About 20 jurors discussed their encounters with sexual predators. About half of the 20 approached the judge to discuss their experiences in private—you could tell from their faces that these were, and still are, emotionally wrenching experiences. Many of the jurors openly discussed their experiences in front of the full courtroom. The victims includes young and old, men and women. Two men on the panel stated that when they were children they had been sexually violated by babysitters. Several of the jurors had difficulty speaking of the incidents, because they were overcome by emotion. More than a few prospective jurors stated that they would be unable to sit in judgment of today’s defendant because of the continuing emotional impact based on their own history.
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The U.S. Supreme Court decision to refuse to hear our case concerning Section 1021(b)(2) of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which permits the military to seize U.S. citizens and hold them indefinitely in military detention centers without due process, means that this provision will continue to be law. It means the nation has entered a post-constitutional era. It means that extraordinary rendition of U.S. citizens on U.S. soil by our government is legal. It means that the courts, like the legislative and executive branches of government, exclusively serve corporate power—one of the core definitions of fascism. It means that the internal mechanisms of state are so corrupted and subservient to corporate power that there is no hope of reform or protection for citizens under our most basic constitutional rights. It means that the consent of the governed—a poll by OpenCongress.com showed that this provision had a 98 percent disapproval rating—is a cruel joke. And it means that if we do not rapidly build militant mass movements to overthrow corporate tyranny, including breaking the back of the two-party duopoly that is the mask of corporate power, we will lose our liberty.
Lee Camp hits a homerun in this Moment of Clarity. There IS a shocking truth about black people that we urgently need to discuss.
Speaking of Lee Camp, he’s on a roll:
Amazing footage from Brazil, where the police where gearing up to confront protesters:
Now we have a powerful new industry, full of wealth, ready to buy politicians, in order to convince them to keep the prisons filled with non-violent drug offenders. The numbers presented by AlterNet are shocking:
From 1999-2010, the total U.S. prison population rose 18 percent, an increase largely reflected by the “drug war” and stringent sentencing guidelines, such as three strikes laws and mandatory minimum sentences.
However, total private prison populations exploded fivefold during this same time period, with federal private prison populations rising by 784 percent (as seen in the chart below complied by The Sentencing Project).