Friday, July 27, 2007
Mark Steyn offers half a dozen reforms to improve the US justice system and rein in the stupendous powers of prosecutors - powers that are now all too easily abused:
1) An end to the near universal reliance on plea bargains
2) An end to the reliance on technical charges such as "mail fraud" and "wire fraud", whereby you're convicted not for the crime itself but for sending a letter or authorizing a bank transfer in the course of said crime.
3) An end to the process advantages American prosecutors have accumulated over the years - such as the ability to seize a defendant's funds and assets and deprive him of the means to hire good lawyers and rebut the charges. Or to take another example: Unlike the Crown in Commonwealth countries, in closing arguments to the jury the US government gets to go first and - after a response from the defence - last. This is an offence against the presumptions of English law: The prosecutor makes his accusation, the accused answers them. Every civilized legal system allows the defendant the last word.
4) An end to countless counts.
5) An end to statute creep. One of the ugliest features of American justice is the way that laws designed to address very particular situations are allowed to metastasize and be applied to anything a prosecutor fancies.
6) An end to de facto double jeopardy.
Without some such reforms, there is very little to protect anyone against the malice of a D.A Nifong, or the self-righteous excess of a Patrick Fitzgerald or an Eliot Spitzer.
As Steyn says, "this system is blind drunk on its own power".
Read the whole thing.