George Zimmerman Shows Us Just How Messed Up the System Is.

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I am outraged.  Furious. Beside myself.

Despite my best efforts to explain this over several years, people didn’t listen. They still don’t.  The system is a joke. It’s broken.

It’s not a system of justice or fairness or truth.  It’s a system of convenience.  A system of machinery and process.  A system where prosecutors could be replaced by vending machines.  A system that needs to change. Now.

Nothing highlights this more than the Zimmerman trial– there’s a whole bunch going on here that’s just not fair.

Your average criminal defendant walks into court and pleads guilty.  Your average criminal defendant gets punished for his crime.  Hell, even a lot of innocent people end up being convicted for their non-crimes and get punished.  How are they getting hooked up and not George Zimmerman?

That’s what I’m talking about right there. It’s the process.  And the process is screwed because of your public outrage.

It’s a bad system.

Innocent people are convicted all the time. It happens in trials. It even happens in plea bargains.  Don’t think so?  You’d never plead guilty to something you didn’t do?  What if you got indicted for murder and were offered time served and immediate release from jail for copping to a low-level misdemeanor.  You’d take it.

I know you think it doesn’t happen. Even if you don’t buy that it doesn’t on that scale, you should get that it does happen on a smaller scale all the time.  Every day, as a matter of fact.

The system isn’t really about truth. It’s about incentive.  You’re in jail waiting for trial on that murder and you are “actually innocent” (even though the Supreme Court doesn’t care). Your lawyer tells you that he’s pretty sure you’re going to beat the case.  If you don’t, though, you’re looking at life in prison. You might even be looking at the death penalty.  And, even though you’re all confident, nothing is ever for sure. Especially not with this judge.

So you’ve got incentive to plead guilty- life on the outside with a minor misdemeanor conviction isn’t so bad.  Life behind bars isn’t so appealing. Especially since they’ve taken to running things like its Black Dolphin.

On the flip side, you’ve got a prosecutor who’s got this murder case against you.  He was able to indict you, so he knows he can at least prove probable cause.  He’s not completely sold on his case. He thinks he’s probably going to lose, but he’s got a shot.  Besides, he’s got the support of the community. He’s got public outrage and moral indignation on his side.

The prosecutor has a little incentive not to go to trial, too.  His job, either indirectly or otherwise, is a political job. If he’s not elected or appointed, his boss usually is.  And when you lose the support of the community, you might as well apply for unemployment.

Except you don’t lose the support of the community.  Or, if you do, it’s for a short time (typically so far before an election that it won’t matter).  Granted, there are some extreme cases- that knucklehead from the Duke University LaCrosse scandal comes to mind.  As does the… wait a minute. That’s really the only one.

Lose a case. Make millions. That’s not right.

This is never more apparent than the George Zimmerman trial.  Where’s the public outrage against the prosecutor?  Other than some public embarrassment, that office faced zero real incentive to not take that losing case to trial.  Sure, the talking heads can scorn and ridicule now.  You know where a lot of those talking head commentators came from?  They came from prosecutors offices where they worked on major media cases, and later went on to TV.

Remember Marcia Clark?  She was 50% of the prosecution team against O.J.  She lost.  She was lambasted by the public during and after the trial.  The public hated her.  We “blamed” her for the way the trial turned out. She later went on to a television career, and a $4 million book deal.  I guess we didn’t blame her too bad.  But we did blame her cohort Christopher Darden.  He’s also made millions in books and on television– but we’re so outraged at him that it’s smaller millions that Marcia Clark.

So, if George Zimmerman loses at trial, he’s potentially caged up for the rest of his meaningful life.  If the prosecutor loses at trial, there’s basically little meaningful downside.  Like I said, while the disparity might be more apparent in this case, it exists in some manner in every criminal case.

The incentive for a defendant to avoid consequences versus the lack of any real incentive for the prosecutors skews the system to no end.  And you get innocent people pleading guilty.  On the flip-side, you also get cases going to trial that shouldn’t.  Cases where a prosecutor says, “I’d rather lose this case than [insert any viable, less costly alternative here]”.

Why does it even matter?

So what?  I guess it doesn’t really matter. Unless you care about abstract concepts like truth and justice, anyway.  And if you’re pissed off that there’s no truth or justice for Trayvon, you should be just as outraged that there’s no truth or justice across the board whether it be for the accused or the victim. That includes criminal defendants charged with less serious offenses in your state and in your home town.  So, be outraged if you’d like. but when the TV cameras turn off and George Zimmerman isn’t the flavor of the day, your inability to hold people accountable is causing a lot of problems for the wrongfully accused.

The system doesn’t have to be like this, either.  You can be completely disinterested and we can still be better about “truth and justice.”  It wouldn’t take much to even the playing field and make things fair.  Maybe when the prosecution loses a case they should have to foot the defense bill? Or have their budget reduced by some amount.  Or even have to make some sort of community reparations themselves.

Am I saying that every case a prosecutor loses is one that shouldn’t go to trial? Absolutely not. There are cases- lots of cases- where the evidence could be viewed either way and a neutral judge or jury is the only way to settle the dispute.  Should prosecutors who take take one of those cases to trial be subject to the same sort of negative incentive as I’m talking about here?

Undoubtedly.  The criminally accused have a constitutional right to a trial that is undermined by this disparity in incentive- why should prosecutors be immune?

Seriously. Why?

Matt Haiduk is an uncooperative Criminal Defense Lawyer with offices in Kane County and McHenry County, Illinois.  Feel free to mock him on twitter or add him on Google+.

Author: matthaiduk

Matt Haiduk is an uncooperative Criminal Defense Lawyer with offices in Kane County and McHenry County, Illinois. When he's not picking on people on the internet, he's playing frisbee with his dog or watching his girlfriend race bikes. Feel free to mock him on twitter or add him on Google+.

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