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Gideon's Trumpet
March 18, 2012 2:39 PM   Subscribe

On June 3, 1961, a poor drifter named Clarence Gideon was seen getting into a cab with a bottle of wine, some smokes, and some cash in his pockets as he left the Bay Harbor Pool Room. Police had been called to investigate a broken cigarette machine and promptly found and arrested Gideon. Unable to afford an attorney and forced by the trial judge to represent himself, he was convicted and sentenced to five years in prison. After having his petition for a writ of Habeus Corpus denied by the Florida Supreme Court, he petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court. 49 years ago today, the court ruled unanimously in his favor, setting a lasting, fundamental precedent. His case was sent back down to Florida, and with proper representation, he was acquitted.
posted by disillusioned (51 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
"Gideon's Trumpet."
posted by MonkeyToes at 2:46 PM on March 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


The Gideon precedent, while unarguably correct, has put the states in something of a bind. Because criminal defendants may not be tried without representation, in many cases the state is required to pay for both prosecution and defense. This has led to public defenders' offices across the country being utterly swamped with cases. The voting public hasn't really caught on to the idea that the criminal justice system requires funding on both sides of the issue. And while prosecutors offices are also woefully understaffed in comparison to the task set before them, public defenders offices are in an even worse position.

Recently, there was a discussion about criminal defendants "crashing" the justice system by demanding to go to trial rather than pleading out. I think that's a bad idea--a huge percentage of criminal defendants are guilty of something, and a jury that perceives this will send such defendants to jail for longer than they'd likely go if they pled out--but I also think that that tactic will prove unnecessary. Public defenders' offices have already started to turn away cases under the theory that accepting any further cases would impair the attorneys' ability to represent current clients. As a public defender may well have an order of magnitude more cases than a private criminal defense attorney, this is not implausible. I think the time is not far off when some county prosecutor's office finds that it simply can't bring any more cases until it closes a few files, because the public defender is at capacity and the county can't afford to hire a private attorney to defend the case. That's when the system starts to crash.

The situation is somewhat different in federal court. The Federal Public Defender is much better funded and organized than the various state systems.
posted by valkyryn at 3:11 PM on March 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


a huge percentage of criminal defendants are guilty of something, and a jury that perceives this will send such defendants to jail for longer than they'd likely go if they pled out

That whole "innocent until proven guilty" just wastes the jury's time. Who can blame them if they take out their frustrations on the occasional defendant?
posted by Doktor Zed at 3:18 PM on March 18, 2012 [16 favorites]


a huge percentage of criminal defendants are guilty of something

what the what
posted by incessant at 3:20 PM on March 18, 2012 [14 favorites]


Maybe if the majority of cases weren't a result of the War On Drugs the system wouldn't be so overwhelmed.
posted by Mick at 3:21 PM on March 18, 2012 [6 favorites]


The Gideon precedent, while unarguably correct, has put the states in something of a bind.

I'm still trying to wrap my head around the idea that adhering to the Constitution qualifies as 'something of a bind.' No -- adhering to the Constitution in this case requires spending money or not prosecuting people. PICK ONE.
posted by incessant at 3:24 PM on March 18, 2012 [14 favorites]


a huge percentage of criminal defendants are guilty of something

what the what


My sentiments exactly.
posted by Blue_Villain at 3:28 PM on March 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


a huge percentage of criminal defendants are guilty of something

what the what


The original statement is right for two reasons. First, of course our justice system is imperfect and some innocent people are charged and even convicted of crimes. However, I don't think even the most radical attackers of the US justice system claim that the majority of criminally charged persons are innocent. Second, we have so many laws that interact in so many complex ways that pretty much everyone is guilty of something at any given moment.

Try not to read normative judgments into descriptive statements.
posted by prefpara at 3:31 PM on March 18, 2012 [14 favorites]


>a huge percentage of criminal defendants are guilty of something

what the what


Look, it's just true. I didn't say everyone, just a lot of them. As any criminal defense attorney. They'll tell you the same thing.

The concern in defending criminal cases isn't so much that the defendant is completely innocent--though it does indeed happen and this is one of the most important reasons we have defense attorneys--but that the state may not have the evidence it needs to bring about a conviction. Many juries that hand down acquittals say after the fact that they thought the defendant was guilty as sin, but that the prosecution hadn't made its case. That's the way the system is supposed to work. But the fact remains that even most acquitted people probably did what they were charged with, even if the state can't prove it.

Prosecutors offices are frequently just as swamped as public defenders, and if the prosecutor doesn't think he has a good case against someone, he's likely to move on to a case where he does. They aren't so desperate for convictions that they're just scraping the bottom of the barrel trying to come up with defendants. They've got more defendants than they could possibly deal with, and the vast majority of them are for misdemeanors or routine felonies like DWI. Homicide makes up a tiny, tiny fraction of criminal prosecutions.

Yes, police do gin up evidence, but they're dealing with the same sort of situation. There are just so damn many guilty people out there--and so many other non-criminal situations that they have to deal with--that it's a lot easier to go after the obviously guilty ones than to spend time trying to make up something to get an innocent person.

The main problem with the justice system is not that there are too many innocent people in jail. There are, and that's a problem, but that's not what's going to bring the system down. The problem is that there are too many guilty people for the system to handle. Which means we need to send fewer people to jail. This, in turn, means one of two things. Either we need to stop enforcing the laws--which seems like a bad idea--or we need to decriminalize a lot of stuff. I'm for the latter.
posted by valkyryn at 3:42 PM on March 18, 2012 [21 favorites]


Laws are a tax on society. We decide to implement and prosecute particular laws because we feel that a society with those laws will be better (more fair, safe, etc) than one without them. But making a law does not come without cost. That cost is the cost of trying a person fairly in a court of law. That cost is almost never accounted for when laws are designed and it seems unmonitored in practice. But it is a real cost, and is growing ever more important as public defenders become more and more overwhelmed.

I am glad that this case made explicit that justice on the cheap isn't justice at all.
posted by pmb at 3:53 PM on March 18, 2012 [7 favorites]


The voting public hasn't really caught on to the idea that the criminal justice system requires funding on both sides of the issue.

Not that the voting public doesn't have a ton of responsibility in this (because we're far too willing to buy what they're selling), but we've also just been flat-out lied to for decades about OMG CRIMINALS IN YOUR COMMUNITIES DRUGS HELP and all we get is a race to the bottom as every politician (often including DAs running for office) swears how tough on crime! they're going to be. Not to mention an inhumanely overcrowded prison system an underfunding of public education, and a growing underclass of people who can't access public services because they're convicts and who can't get any but the lowest-paying and shadiest jobs because they're convicts and can't even vote because they're convicts.
posted by rtha at 4:15 PM on March 18, 2012 [5 favorites]


valkyryn: a huge percentage of criminal defendants are guilty of something

incessant: what the what

He's right. He didn't say "... so let's all assume they're guilty!!!ELEVENTY!DEATHPENALTEEZ FOR ALL BROWN PEEPLEZ!"

If he's wrong, our police system is fucked up beyond any hope of repair. I certainly fucking hope that at least 51% of all people arrested for crimes are guilty of them.

That is not the same as claiming 100% are guilty. Get over it.
posted by IAmBroom at 4:22 PM on March 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


I certainly fucking hope that at least 51% of all people arrested for crimes are guilty of them.

And how would you know if they weren't.
posted by effugas at 4:40 PM on March 18, 2012


One thing to remember: Here are three police officers, hard at work catching criminals.

Most defendants are caught because someone dropped a dime on them, and not thanks to "scientific" detective work.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 4:50 PM on March 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


valkyryn: a huge percentage of criminal defendants are guilty of something
incessant: what the what
He's right.


??? Are we really going to have this conversation on the blue? Fine, let's have at it. /sigh

By definition, he's not. Not in the US at least. Nobody is "guilty" until they've either gone through the trial process or admitted guilt and that admission has been accepted by both the prosecution and the party governing the trial. Waiting in line to do one of those two means that, by definition of the word, nobody is "guilty".

The fact that people still seem to equate "facts" with the concept of "guilty/not guilty" just means that those individuals neither understand why the legal system is the way it is nor the concept of completing every step in a process and not skipping to the end.
posted by Blue_Villain at 5:13 PM on March 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


Blue_villain, that would be a valid argument IF most people who are arrested have never gone through the trial process and been convicted.

However, we live in the present time, where most people who have been arrested in the history of the United States of America have already had a trial, and/or pled guilty.
posted by IAmBroom at 5:15 PM on March 18, 2012


I think the time is not far off when some county prosecutor's office finds that it simply can't bring any more cases until it closes a few files, because the public defender is at capacity and the county can't afford to hire a private attorney to defend the case. That's when the system starts to crash.

I was reading last year that in areas of WA, known crime wasn't being prosecuted due to lack of funds. Police could catch someone red-handed and they wouldn't be prosecuted, so police were pretty much ignoring certain property crimes, not just the ones you'd think should be ignored.
posted by -harlequin- at 5:20 PM on March 18, 2012


I'm not even sure I understand your straw man logic. Cognitive dissonance for the win then.

Can't argue logic with people who refuse to use the actual definitions of words.
posted by Blue_Villain at 5:23 PM on March 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


a huge percentage of criminal defendants are guilty of something

That's hardly restricted to criminal defendants, though. A huge percentage of the general population is guilty of something, maybe we don't know what it is or have a law against it, but odds are they're guilty. Wouldn't it be much more efficient to eliminate the courts, which as we can see are deeply flawed, and just randomly select 1% of the population and put them in jail? That way, everyone (who wasn't in jail) would feel good that something was being done about crime, and we wouldn't have to spend all this time messing around with judges, laws, and stuff.
posted by hattifattener at 5:25 PM on March 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


Most defendants are caught because someone dropped a dime on them, and not thanks to "scientific" detective work.

Wrong. Most criminals aren't caught due to scientific detective work, it's true. Most are busted on the scene. Check your local sheriff's blotter. More than half of their activity logs are going to be traffic stops.
posted by valkyryn at 5:26 PM on March 18, 2012


Stop prosecuting pot and treat dangerous drugs as an addiction instead of a chance to fatten up your conviction rate and there would be a lot more money for both sides.
posted by UseyurBrain at 5:26 PM on March 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Waiting in line to do one of those two means that, by definition of the word, nobody is "guilty".

Pedantry FTW!

You know damn well what I mean here, and you're totally ignoring the thrust of my argument.
posted by valkyryn at 5:27 PM on March 18, 2012 [6 favorites]


This has led to public defenders' offices across the country being utterly swamped with cases.

I think you forgot the word "underfunded" in there. Cynically I would say intentionally so, since that improves the odds that a person on trial can be convicted. As for what the public supports, I don't recall even in the large American city, county and state I live and work in that the PD office has ever been a topic of budgetary concern. It's like a secret shame, but I'm sure the counterpoint would be that most people on trial are guilty so what's the big deal.
posted by rhizome at 5:35 PM on March 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Clevinger was guilty, of course, or he would not have been accused, and since the only way to prove it was to find him guilty, it was their patriotic duty to do so. ...
Catch 22
Joseph Heller
posted by dancestoblue at 5:39 PM on March 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


You know damn well what I mean here.

Yes, I know that you don't understand the definition of guilty as it relates to the American legal system. Your definition of guilt/innocence as being applicable to facts exist in a made-up-fantasy world that you, and so many other Americans now accept as being the "real" world that it's starting to be actually offensive.

Like, I want to physically hurt someone for it and then call it self defense. Because I figure that if I can get a judge to use your logic then I might have a pretty good shot at being "not guilty".

You're upset at someone for being pedantic, with relation the the American legal system. I want you to sit and think about that for a second. Or maybe I can just argue the definition of the word "the" for a while.
posted by Blue_Villain at 5:44 PM on March 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


Yes, I know that you don't understand the definition of guilty as it relates to the American legal system.

I'm a lawyer. I know quite well what you mean. You're equivocating.
posted by valkyryn at 5:50 PM on March 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


This same topic (guilt and what portion of people charged with crimes are guilty) was addressed in the Crash the Justice System thread that Valkyryn linked to.

There are lots of different interpretations of the word "guilty": "he did something wrong," "he did do what he was specifically charged with," and the legal definition that we associate with an actual conviction. And this is the second thread in a week where a commenter uses the word "guilty," and a significant portion of the comments after are devoted to arguing about (1) which interpretation the commenter meant, and (2) which interpretation is the right one.
posted by hypotheticole at 5:55 PM on March 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


…nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty or property, without due process of law
Perhaps it was to save the judicial system from failure due to congestion that Holder (or his Constitutional Law professor boss) recently clarified the meaning of "due process" -- pointing out that the judicial system need not necessarily be involved in determinations of guilt. Was that only for terrorists?
posted by fredludd at 5:57 PM on March 18, 2012


incessant: I'm still trying to wrap my head around the idea that adhering to the Constitution qualifies as 'something of a bind.' No -- adhering to the Constitution in this case requires spending money or not prosecuting people. PICK ONE.

This brings me back to my comment in the Crash the Justice System thread. (It's a long comment and I don't want to rehash the whole thing, so this is my boiled-down summary.) The courts don't have any money to spend. In my state, courts are literally being closed down because the state can't afford to keep them open. Both our prosecutors and public defenders are appallingly underfunded. They are overworked, underpaid, and still, we don't have enough of either one.

Here are the facts:
(1) Everybody wants justice: a fair and speedy trial, and representation by a good attorney who has the time to give their case the attention it needs.
(2) Justice is very, very expensive.
(3) The courts doesn't have enough money right now.
^^ Those three facts don't mesh well together.

(... And no, I don't have an easy answer.)
posted by hypotheticole at 6:20 PM on March 18, 2012


I'm a lawyer.

No wonder our legal system is what it is. The people actively involved in our legal system are just making up definitions for words as they go along.
posted by Blue_Villain at 6:20 PM on March 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Blue_Villain, please take a moment to interpret valkyryn's words with some benefit of the doubt.

At no point did he say that the majority of defendants have been found guilty of a crime according to "the definition of guilty as it relates to the American legal system". It's specious to assume he meant exactly that limited definition of the word "guilty", when it's so obvious that it doesn't apply to his argument.

Instead, it's pretty clear he meant that a huge percentage of defendants either committed the crime with which they have been charged, or some greater or lesser crime related to it. Feel encouraged to debate whether or not this is true, if you disagree with it. But nitpicking about the word "guilty" makes it seem like you're unwilling to have a good-faith discussion.
posted by Riki tiki at 6:34 PM on March 18, 2012 [20 favorites]


The easy answer is to decriminalize mary jane. I don't know how often Walking While Black gets a man/woman in the courtroom but regardless, that could certainly go the way of the dodo too.
posted by Slackermagee at 6:42 PM on March 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


The easy answer is to decriminalize mary jane.

That's part of it sure. And ending the War on Drugs would free up an enormous amount of resources, both directly and indirectly, as people would probably commit fewer drug-related crimes if drugs themselves were legal.

But I'm not sure it would fix things. It would help, sure, but, recent statistics suggest that something like 17-18% of all defendants are charged with drug or drug-related offenses. Eliminating those offenses entirely wouldn't do a thing about drunken disorderlies, DWIs, disturbing the peace, resisting arrest, domestic violence, reckless driving, or the host of more mundane offenses that are currently clogging the criminal justice system. So changing our approach to drugs is probably a necessary but not a sufficient condition for fixing this problem.

Honestly? I think we need to completely change our approach to sentencing. We need options other than incarceration, which 1) doesn't do anyone a lick of good aside from just keeping people off the streets, and 2) is enormously expensive. It costs tens and tens of thousands of dollars to incarcerate a single prisoner for a year. Frequently more than the prisoner could have earned in a year, sometimes twice as much. Indiana, my current state, spends about $726 million on its Department of Corrections. The entire judiciary gets maybe a quarter of that, and half goes to the Supreme Court, which is responsible for a wide variety of judicial services beyond the actual Court. But Allen County? The second-most populous county in the state? Courts get a total of about $7 million, the prosecutor gets $4 million, and the public defender $2 million. Other counties spend far less. Shaving $100 million off the prison budget would equal over $1 million for every county in the state. That's 50% of the public defender budget in Allen County, and likely 100% in some of the smaller ones.
posted by valkyryn at 7:10 PM on March 18, 2012 [6 favorites]


[Dear lawyers, take sidebars offline and please don't derail this thread, thank you]
posted by jessamyn at 8:49 PM on March 18, 2012


I've posted this before, and I'll probably post it again....

It is more important that innocence be protected than it is that guilt be punished, for guilt and crimes are so frequent in this world that they cannot all be punished. But if innocence itself is brought to the bar and condemned, perhaps to die, then the citizen will say, "whether I do good or whether I do evil is immaterial, for innocence itself is no protection," and if such an idea as that were to take hold in the mind of the citizen that would be the end of security whatsoever.

John Adams
posted by Freen at 9:08 PM on March 18, 2012 [10 favorites]


valkyryn: “.. a huge percentage of criminal defendants are guilty of something, and a jury that perceives this will send such defendants to jail for longer than they'd likely go if they pled out...”

Doktor Zed: “That whole ‘innocent until proven guilty’ just wastes the jury's time. Who can blame them if they take out their frustrations on the occasional defendant?”

incessant: ““what the what”

Blue_Villain: “My sentiments exactly.”

Wow. I guess valkyryn said something in that comment that I totally didn't see there, since everybody else is reading something else into it.

Anyway, as I see it, he's right. Most people charged really are guilty of something. Hell, I'm guilty of something. If I went on trial, it is likely that the jury would perceive that. So they would probably give me more jail time than if I pled out.. And even if you aren't guilty of something, most people who find themselves facing a judge on criminal charges are disadvantaged in front of juries. The statistics on jury trials in this country are pretty flatly obvious on this point: black people and brown people and poor people are overwhelmingly convicted more often by juries.

Do you really want to dispute these facts?
posted by koeselitz at 9:31 PM on March 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


I guess the point is that everybody seems to think that valkyryn said:

“... a huge percentage of criminal defendants are guilty of something, so we should go ahead and punish all defendants just to be safe.”

... but that is emphatically not what he said. What he said was this:

“... a huge percentage of criminal defendants are guilty of something, and a jury that perceives this will send such defendants to jail for longer than they'd likely go if they pled out.”

... which seems pretty rational to me. Isn't it?
posted by koeselitz at 9:34 PM on March 18, 2012


I certainly fucking hope that at least 51% of all people arrested for crimes are guilty of them. That is not the same as claiming 100% are guilty.

True, but the real problem isn't this binary guilty/innocent thing. In real life, it's a sliding scale. I work on a neighborhood safety committee and deal with this stuff all the time, meeting with police and probation officers and so forth. I'm also a victim in a mugging case going through the system as we speak.

What happens in well over 90% of cases in the United States is that the criminal is offered a plea deal, which they take. The system then records that as their crime. The guy who mugged me, for example, could maybe plea down from forcible armed robbery to simple theft. This achieves the goal of putting him back in prison for a few more years (he has other stuff hanging over him, just so you know). It ends up being what he's "guilty" of. But I can tell you whatever he pleads to, that guy jumped me and wrestled my wallet out of my pants. Will he be "guilty" of the crime I know he committed? I can't tell. I hope so.

In other cases, many many cases, you have two people telling a he-said, she-said. Did Greedo shoot first? Or was it self-defense? Now, we know this Solo character -- an off-worlder -- was clearly violating Imperial gun laws with his unlicensed blaster, not to mention Tattooine's open-carry ordinance. We know that Greedo was dead; the coroner examined him and pronounced him a homicide. The question was whether Solo shooting Greedo was actually a crime. The blaster violations are just a "hold" charge (fortunately a Stormtrooper detail arrived just in time to prevent him escaping jurisdiction), but the case in the courts will depend on whether we can figure out all the confusing witness statements from the cantina, and on the veracity of the statement given investigators by Jabba the Hut, an esteemed merchant with ties to many prominent personages in Mos Eisely. He claims he did not know Greedo and had not had dealings with Solo in some time. At this point, it looks like unprovoked murder, perhaps some gambling grudge, and since the Imperial public defenders are overworked and underpaid (Solo's one significant asset, the spacecraft Millennium Falcon, was seized due to an outstanding smuggling warrant, and converted to militia orbital patrol, it being in such poor condition it was unsaleable), he'll just end up in the spice mines anyway, right? See, he's guilty of something. We just don't know what that is. Actually, we're pretty sure he's guilty of a lot of things. But they'll never come to trial.

You and I (viewers of the pristine, original, uh, untampered, cantina security camera footage) know that Han shot Greedo in self-defense. But we also freely admit that he's a criminal smuggler who will dodge any and all regulations in pursuit of a fee. He might not ever get prosecuted for those crimes, though -- he will, however, get the full force of the law in this Greedo case. That's the reality of the justice system. And that Imperial courts jury, knowing that Tattooine was recently the site of a skirmish between a rogue, rebel spacecraft evading a legal Imperial blockade, will take this criminal act very seriously indeed.
posted by dhartung at 11:05 PM on March 18, 2012 [5 favorites]


I'm surprised I couldn't find much modern conservative argument against this. The most was some snark from a former clerk of Scalia's and some concern trolling about the caseload of PDs allowing innocents to fall through the cracks (because if there were no PDs, they wouldn't?). Even Roberts seemed to be for a government-paid attorney to defend the accused. I would think this would be one of those "positive" rights conservative and libertarian types keep telling me I don't have.
posted by dirigibleman at 1:21 AM on March 19, 2012


...we have so many laws that interact in so many complex ways that pretty much everyone is guilty of something at any given moment.

Overly-broad copyright law has made USA a "nation of infringers"
posted by XMLicious at 2:44 AM on March 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


From the article:

What can we learn from Gideon’s experience? First, don’t give up; be persistent. Second, under our Constitution and system of justice, one person can make a difference. So if someone ever tells you at election time that your vote won’t make a difference, remember Clarence Earl Gideon. You – one person – can make a difference for all of us.

Funny, what I learned from Gideon's experience was that it's almost impossible for the powers that be not to criminalize someone who is poor and without connections, even though it costs time, effort and money to do so.

In lieu of any compelling evidence they could have let him be. But no.
posted by Summer at 3:16 AM on March 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


About an article that celebrates both the common man and the system working as it should, we can still argue that everything is screwed up and broken? Yes, the war on drugs and copyright law and overfilled courts and prisons but... can't we say this is pretty awesome?

Robert F Kennedy about this case: "If an obscure Florida convict named Clarence Earl Gideon had not sat down in prison with a pencil and paper to write a letter to the Supreme Court; and if the Supreme Court had not taken the trouble to look at the merits in that one crude petition among all the bundles of mail it must receive every day, the vast machinery of American law would have gone on functioning undisturbed. But Gideon did write that letter; the court did look into his case; he was re-tried with the help of competent defense counsel; found not guilty and released from prison after two years of punishment for a crime he did not commit. And the whole course of legal history has been changed."
posted by Houstonian at 4:35 AM on March 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


“... a huge percentage of criminal defendants are guilty of something, and a jury that perceives this will send such defendants to jail for longer than they'd likely go if they pled out.”

... which seems pretty rational to me. Isn't it?

It's the vagueness of the word "something" that offends. If valkyryn had written "guilty of the crime charged", it would be a lot less controversial. But "something" makes it sound like juries ought to be convicting people just because they look like the sort of people who would commit a crime (but not necessarily the crime they're accused of).
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 7:46 AM on March 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


The concept that's being woefully disregarded is that "guilt" can only be addressed by the court proceedings. You can actually commit crimes without being found guilty, and you can not commit crimes and still be found guilty.

Guilt or Innocence, as it is in the US system is a sentence handed down from the court, that essentially has very little bearing on whether or not a person (or company, I guess) has actually done/not done something.

To say that they are guilty before they've gone through the court process is like saying your dinner's burnt before you've even turned the stove on.
posted by Blue_Villain at 8:02 AM on March 19, 2012


To say that they are guilty before they've gone through the court process is like saying your dinner's burnt before you've even turned the stove on.

More nonsense, Blue_Villain. Guilt exists prior to the court process, except in the eyes of the law. This isn't Heisenberg's cat. A rapist is a rapist from the moment he rapes, not from the moment of conviction.

To make a far more accurate metaphor: It's like saying your dinner's burnt before you've even gotten home to check it.
posted by IAmBroom at 8:13 AM on March 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Star Wars gets dragged into a discussion about the Constitution? Internet, don't ever change.
posted by jonmc at 8:17 AM on March 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


But "something" makes it sound like juries ought to be convicting people just because they look like the sort of people who would commit a crime (but not necessarily the crime they're accused of).

I didn't say that juries ought to do that, only that they do, and it's less that they "look like the sort of people who would commit a crime" than they look like they actually did commit a crime, just maybe not the crime the prosecution thinks they did.

If the cops are getting involved in a situation, there's a really good chance that something sketchy is going on. If the cops show up at a situation, almost by definition there was something out of the ordinary going on. It may have been entirely legal, but it was still out of the ordinary. Maybe not enough for probable cause, but a jury is still going to get the impression that you were up to something. This impression may be wrong or unfair, but it's still there.

I'm not even talking about drug busts now, which, again, for all the press they get are involved in less than 20% of criminal cases. We all hear the horror stories about the cops busting down the wrong door, and that happens, but not nearly as often as they bust down the right door, and that not nearly as often as they don't have to bust down any doors because the defendant is right out there in the open doing something stupid. And while it isn't a crime to be stupid, a lot of juries seem to think it's a felony. "What the hell were you thinking?" is a question that can be asked of a vast majority of criminal defendants. Juries have little sympathy for shenanigans.
posted by valkyryn at 8:21 AM on March 19, 2012


Blue_Villain: “The concept that's being woefully disregarded is that "guilt" can only be addressed by the court proceedings. You can actually commit crimes without being found guilty, and you can not commit crimes and still be found guilty. Guilt or Innocence, as it is in the US system is a sentence handed down from the court, that essentially has very little bearing on whether or not a person (or company, I guess) has actually done/not done something. To say that they are guilty before they've gone through the court process is like saying your dinner's burnt before you've even turned the stove on.”

But that doesn't make sense at all. Please remember (it has apparently been lost completely) that we're talking specifically about the guilt that juries are called upon to determine in the course of a criminal trial. If the only kind of guilt is the result of a criminal conviction, then juries would have to find the defendant innocent in every single case, because the defendant hasn't been convicted yet. Clearly there must be some other kind of guilt.
posted by koeselitz at 8:25 AM on March 19, 2012 [5 favorites]


they look like they actually did commit a crime, just maybe not the crime the prosecution thinks they did.

Everyone looks guilty when they're sitting in a courtroom in an orange jumpsuit. I am not convinced that this is directly related to the fact that everyone is guilty of [jaywalking/copyright violation/speeding/etc].

Maybe not enough for probable cause, but a jury is still going to get the impression that you were up to something. This impression may be wrong or unfair, but it's still there.

See, it sounds to me like the problem you're pointing at is not so much one of laws or sentencing but the fact that "Innocent until proven guilty" is an idea which runs counter to human nature; you're saying that juries will tend to presume guilt even in a situation where there wouldn't even be probable cause. Changing the laws or sentencing just subjects fewer people to this problem (and/or makes the consequences of the problem less severe). Not that I have any idea how to really get juries to commit to the Innocent Until Proven Guilty concept myself, or that I don't favor decriminalizing a lot of things (I do) but it doesn't really seem to get to the heart of the problem you're describing.
posted by mstokes650 at 9:17 AM on March 19, 2012


[Hello it's me the mod again. Please have a conversation with everyone, or take sidebar weirdness to email or MeMail or MeTa and do not make the thread all about you or all about your interrogation of someone else. Thanks!]
posted by jessamyn at 12:43 PM on March 19, 2012


Not that I have any idea how to really get juries to commit to the Innocent Until Proven Guilty concept myself, or that I don't favor decriminalizing a lot of things (I do) but it doesn't really seem to get to the heart of the problem you're describing.

I can see the misunderstanding. I'm not saying that juries aren't adequately applying Innocent Until Proven Guilty. There are issues there, but criminal defendants who did do the things they were charged with walk free every day simply because juries do get that.

What I'm saying is that even if a particular criminal defendant didn't commit the crime with which he had been charged, e.g., murder, a jury might still convict him on a lesser or other offense, i.e., manslaughter. So the prosecution didn't get everything it was going for, but the jury still thought the guy was guilty of something. Or they may acquit him on the manslaughter charge but still send him up river on assault, robbery, and firearm counts. Some of which may actually lack an intent element.

And for repeat offenders, there may not even be right to a jury trial. If you're on parole and caught doing anything even remotely sketchy, you're almost certainly going straight back to jail. Doesn't even have to be illegal. If it's a violation of the terms of your parole, you're just done. No jury required.

But the overarching issue here is just that we're charging so many people with so many crimes that, issues with the merits of juries entirely aside, public defenders simply can't keep up with the load. We're either going to have to fund them better--which in this age of tight state budgets isn't likely to happen--or we're going to have to charge fewer people with crimes. Which, as I said above, either means enforcing fewer laws or reducing the number of cognizable crimes.
posted by valkyryn at 12:55 PM on March 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


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