Will The American Justice System Ever Be Just?
George Floyd. He was a truck driver in Minnesota and was recently murdered. He wasn’t killed by a robber. Not even by a gang banger. He was killed by a police officer that choked him to death with his knee. George was not resisting arrest and wasn’t violent, yet he was treated with force by the arresting officers. Why? And what’s more puzzling is that these officers have yet to be arrested for murder.
Americans are sick and tired of seeing police officers abuse their power and get away with it. While the officers were immediately fired, that’s simply not enough. Murder is murder and it shouldn’t matter whether someone is wearing a police uniform. American citizens pay these officers’ salaries and wages, yet we are losing our voices in how these officers should enforce the law.
There are ways that we can get our voices back and more importantly, get our voices heard. It will take major change and it won’t happen overnight, but we can make the criminal justice system fair for all. Here’s how we start now:
1. Elect court officials with a progressive agenda in mind
One of the issues with the judicial system is that many Americans do not pay attention to their local and state elections, specifically those for Attorneys General, State Attorneys, Circuit Court judges and State Supreme Court judges. This group of people is the center of the justice system. For example, a state’s Attorney General is responsible for enforcing state and local laws, as well as being the head of the state’s law enforcement.
Since this is a position with a lot of power over law enforcement, citizens should elect candidates that express their goal to hold crooked and abusive police officers accountable for peril actions. We should also elect attorneys general that will ensure that oversight over police officers is performed on a regular basis.
Besides the attorney general, a state’s Circuit Court and Supreme Court judges are important to justice reform as well. Circuit courts handle cases where a party argues that a district court judge mishandled their case in some way. A Circuit Court judge reviews the briefs of these cases, meaning that they decide whether or not it has been proven that a district court judge has mishandled a case. If this Circuit Court judge has integrity and a progressive vision then they should definitely be elected.
When choosing state court officials, we should pay attention to the agendas and vision they have for the judicial system. There should also be a due diligence performed on their previous cases, convictions, votes and any clues of racial bias. There are limitations on what information that can be provided to the general public because of client/attorney privileges, but any official running for office should want to disclose their win/lose record. These candidates should also reveal whether or not they support a progressive movement in the judicial system or do they prefer to stick with the old ways of doing things. If the candidate does not have a goal to reform the judicial system by holding shady attorneys accountable then they should not be elected.
2. The bail bond system should be completely eliminated
The cash bail payment system is a large obstacle for criminal justice reform, mainly because many of the bail bondsmen' clients are people that cannot afford to pay for bail. There are some instances where prisoners that can’t pay for bail end up staying in jail for months, if not years. This system has caused poor people of all backgrounds to be disproportionately imprisoned.
Unfortunately, Wisconsin, Illinois, Kentucky and Oregon are the only states that have outlawed bail bondsmen. However, this system should be banned in all 50 states.
3. All plea deals should have a “second-hand” review by an elected committee of state and local attorneys
Many arrested citizens negotiate plea deals to avoid a long prison sentence. A large portion of the individuals that accept these deals are poor and cannot afford good legal representation. This has formed a 2-tier justice system where the poor are more at risk for having a criminal record.
Due to the decades of America having this type of system, many poor Americans of all backgrounds will continue to have fewer opportunities to obtain jobs and housing.
There are over 400,000 Americans sitting in jail and these individuals have not even been found guilty of any crime. The reason most of them are in prison is because they could not afford to pay bail. Some people stay in jail for years.
The American Bar Association should fight for injustice as well, similar to the Innocence Project. This group consists of volunteers that review cases of convicted felons and look for possible faulty evidence or material that can exonerate an inmate. To date, the Innocence Project has exonerated 367 innocent prisoners. Thanks to groups like these, there is some hope for justice system reform. However, the fact that the association that is supposed to ensure that attorneys hold a high moral and ethical standard for their clients rarely perform oversight.
4. The American Bar Association should have a large watchdog presence
Over the past decades, there have been so many attorneys that have been unethical, greedy, racist and immoral. These are all traits that have caused so many innocent people to serve time in jail. For the most part, many of these attorneys do not get punished in any way. All lawyers that are found to possess any of these traits shouldn't be allowed to make a living representing people’s futures. When individuals serve time in prison, it hurts both the prisoner and their families. Inmates are also effected if they are paroled into the world. Most parolees do not have money, employment, housing and/or family support. With this being said, lawyers should be held to the highest standards since they hold futures in their hands.
Since attorneys have so much power over citizens’ path of life, I think that the American Bar Association should have much more of a watchdog presence than they currently do. American rarely see an attorney get punished for deliberately holding important evidence in trials, lying in public, altering evidence, or scheming with medical professionals. Besides Michael Avenatti, I have yet to see an attorney be held accountable for any of these actions. For example, there was a recent incident where a district attorney withheld important video evidence of a crime that was committed against an innocent African-American man. The man was jogging on a Georgia road when two men ambushed him, resulting in the jogger receiving three bullets to his body. Will this lawyer be disbarred? Will be jailed? If there is no punishment for this lawyer, what will that say to future lawyers that will want to withhold evidence too?
The American Bar Association needs to restructure their business model. First, they need to have an efficient process that accepts and enforces proven complaints against lawyers. There is not currently a streamlined process for “non-lawyers” to file a complaint or sue a lawyer. Most of the individuals that need a lawyer are the ones that can’t afford one. So, how does a poor person with no power and money sue a prominent lawyer? This in and of itself is what has been the cause of the two-tier justice system that we have in the U.S. When the American Bar Association receives complaints about lawyers, they should take immediate action and disbar the lawyer, period. There should be no room for gray areas or game playing when it comes to an incompetent or shady lawyer being responsible for someone’s fate.
5. More criminal attorneys should be proactive in civilly and criminally prosecuting police officers that abuse their authority
Police officers take an oath to withhold the law but unfortunately, there are officers that violate this oath. There have been so many cases where a police officer misuses their authority and abuse citizens. Some of these officers only receive short-term suspension as punishment and sometimes it is with pay. Even when a police officer’s brutal actions result in death, as in the case of Eric Gardner, they literally get away with murder.
Though these cases may not result in jail time, it is still action being taken against a police officer that was in the wrong. However, there should be more criminal attorneys available to charge officers with wrongdoing. If the offending officer does not receive jail time, they should automatically be sued civilly by the victims’ families. This will make an impression and example of officers, letting them know through action that they will be held accountable for police brutality.
The criminal justice system has been unequal based on race and social class for decades. This has eroded our democracy and some Americans have become numb to it. This should not be the case and all citizens should be invested in making a positive difference with criminal justice reform. You don’t have to be neither wealthy nor intelligent to advocate for judicial fairness. The only thing that you need to possess is your love of this country!