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Time to Reform the Justice System?


Turn on the television and you are liable to see some trial or other. The airwaves are being flooded with examples of our justice system. And you are likely to ask yourself, “Is our system broken?”.


The pace of our legal system is a slow, sometimes painful process. And there is a definite disparity between the rich and the poor when it comes to justice. With tremendous financial resources at their disposal, and white collar crimes more difficult to prosecute, the well-heeled members of society can hide behind an army of lawyers and delay, obfuscate and appeal until they exhaust the legal system. Meanwhile, the poor are left to the mercy of public defenders and often are convinced to plead guilty to a lesser charge due to their limited resources.


Those lacking financial means are more likely to be convicted of crimes they did not commit because they lack proper legal representation. There are almost daily reports of someone being exonerated after years, and sometimes decades, behind bars.


When it comes to a trial, we are supposed to get “a jury of our peers”, yet lawyers often manipulate the make up of a jury to gain an advantage. The fact they can be swayed by the most minor detail shows us that the jury system is not the best form of justice.


But, what’s the alternative? Judges, who are supposed to be unbiased, are increasingly demonstrating their political leanings rather than the actual laws when handing down their decisions. The policies of one party are struck down when they are presented to a judge who was appointed by an opposing party, even if their ruling goes against legal precedent.


There are so many things wrong with our justice system. Yet, so few answers as to how to fix them.


Justice Delayed

It’s been almost a year since the January 6th insurrection, and while many of those who took part have had their day in court, most are getting off with a slap on the wrist. As many as 50 of those involved received penalties as light as community service or house arrest, leaving many to wonder if there will ever be accountability for one of the most dangerous uprisings since the Civil War.


Meanwhile, those who led the attempted coup are free, and even encouraging further violence. Even more dangerous, those who supported the Big Lie are positioning themselves to overturn future election results. The slow pace of the January 6th Committee has only emboldened those who planned the insurrection as they continue to drag out the process through seemingly endless lawsuits aimed at preventing the committee from obtaining records regarding their involvement in attempting to overturn the election results.


Donald Trump has made a career out of either filing or threatening to file various lawsuits. And he’s had as many that he’s filed as he has lawsuits filed against him. He’s lost far more than he’s won, yet he continues to use the courts to delay, or even avoid, punishment for his actions.


In the case of the insurrection, his game is to play out the clock until the 2022 midterms, when he hopes Republicans will retake the House of Representatives, who will then shut down any investigation into his role in the uprising.


Trump is just one of several well-heeled members of the upper class that has long avoided responsibility for their actions. Jeffrey Epstein, Harvey Weinstein and Robert Durst used their power and enormous financial means to avoid being held responsible for multiple vile acts.


On the other side of the coin there are those who lack the financial means to defend themselves. Unscrupulous prosecutors, biased juries and withheld evidence has resulted in as of yet uncounted numbers of Americans being imprisoned, some for decades, thanks to a faulty legal system. Thanks to the Innocence Project, those wrongly convicted are being given their rightful freedom.


And one final note on justice being delayed is the case of Ahmaud Arbery, who was executed for “jogging while Black”. Three men were ultimately convicted of his murder, but not before the initial prosecutor declined to press charges. She is now under indictment for obstructing justice for delaying the prosecution of the three who were convicted of murder.


Justice Denied

You would think that shooting someone and having a video of said shooting would be an open and shut case. There would be no need for a trial. The shooter would immediately be imprisoned and given the harshest sentence allowed. Viewing this, the country would be united in its outrage that such a crime was committed and the verdict would be unanimous.


Except..


There have been several high-profile cases where the shooter has been allowed to go free, and even lauded as a hero, in some cases. The case of Kyle Rittenhouse and the shootings of Philando Castle and Daunte Wright are prime examples where, despite overwhelming evidence, the shooter has been exonerated or, in the Daunte Wright case, where the officer involved has been allowed to defend their actions.


Apparently all it takes is a friendly jury or a biased judge to allow a murderer to go free. Of course, that is the goal of a defense attorney. Using the process of voir dire, the defense attempts to get a jury that is, if not sympathetic to their client, one that is willing to find reasonable doubt as to their client’s guilt or innocence.


In the case of O J Simpson, his team of lawyers was able to plant this seed of doubt to counter overwhelming evidence, and allow their client to go free. They were able to suggest that one of the arresting officers may have been a racist. They were able to hint at possible discrepancies in the timeline of the murders for which Simpson was accused to gain an acquittal.


This process, know as obfuscation, is meant to cloud the judgement of juries, create reasonable doubt, and provide an avenue for freedom to someone who otherwise would be made to pay for their crimes. It is also the main reason the process of trial by jury is under attack. The public is growing more wary of the ability of juries to properly determine guilt or innocence, creating yet another divisive issue for America.


The process of obfuscation isn’t just limited to the courtroom. When it comes to investigating the January 6th insurrection, Donald Trump and his cronies are using this to attempt to re-write the events of the day. They are suggesting that Antifa and the FBI, and not Trump supporters, were the actual perpetrators in inciting violence on that fateful day.


They are also stonewalling the investigation by refusing to cooperate and even making the ridiculous claim of Executive Privilege to assert that they are actually protecting the office of the president for future generations by failing to provide certain documents that could provide deeper insight into the involvement of the Trump White House in both the planning and participation in the attempt to prevent the certification of the 2020 election results.


The Solution?

In the movie Back to the Future Part 2, it was suggested that the legal system worked a lot better now that they’ve “abolished all lawyers”. Laws are written is such convoluted and archaic terms that only a lawyer can understand them. It’s called “legalese” and is as complicated as any foreign language. And like any foreign language, it is open to interpretation depending upon the circumstances.


As a result, lawyers are a self-perpetuating industry. They write the laws in a way that only they, with their specialized training, are able to interpret. Judges demand a decorum in their courtroom reminiscent of medieval barons, commanding those to rise in their presence and refer to them as “your honor”, as if they have some elevated status.


It’s long past time we demystify the legal process. Laws should be written in understandable terms. Allowing someone to escape punishment on a technicality should not happen. The practice of obfuscation to create reasonable doubt should be banned. Allowing lawyers to shape juries to their client’s benefit through the voir dire process should disappear so we don’t have a panel of “Bubbas” that unfairly favor one side over the other.


Perhaps then we can have a functioning justice system. There can truly be a “jury of our peers” who understand the laws because they don’t need them interpreted for them. And we can truly have justice for all.



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3 Comments


I have a close friend who is a recently retired homicide prosecutor in Maryland. She says that the legal system works most of the time but there are verdicts that have surprised her and not been what she had hoped for.

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Mark M. Bello
Mark M. Bello
Jan 18, 2022

CJ: Interesting article. Back to the Future's "Abolish the lawyers" was a take on Shakespeare's "First, let's kill all the lawyers." Everybody hates lawyers . . . until they need one. Who doesn't have a smarmy lawyer joke? However, I must disagree with your premise that what is wrong with the justice system is the fault of lawyers and/or the complex legal language in statutes. Judges, lawyers, and juries have a remarkable record of success in court cases, both civil and criminal. The system usually works and works well. Are mistakes made? Sure they are—they are significantly magnified by the publicity they generate. My opinion? The system is fine until politics get in its way—politics has infiltrated the halls o…

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C J Waldron
C J Waldron
Jan 18, 2022
Replying to

As a victim of teacher bashing for many years, I understand the fact certain professions get unfairly criticized. However, you have to admit, legalese makes being a lawyer a self-perpetuating profession. When you have a Kyle Rittenhouse getting off, it’s time to re-examine our system of justice.

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