A Witness To Shame

The other day I went to court to support a woman that I had never met. I am a firm believer that most people have no idea what goes on in our criminal justice system. Let me just tell you, when you become involved with it you are completely dumb founded. It is nothing like what you think. There is no “innocent until proven guilty”. There hasn't been for a very long time and something almost obscene has replaced it. This “system” is not interested in the truth of what happened and from what I've seen this is not justice taking place.

I was there to witness a man looking a life in prison for the theft of what most would consider to be, as theft goes pretty petty. It was theft of drill batteries and possibly a charger. Of course, there is more to it. He had prior felonies but here's the thing, as a taxpayer I don't care whether he had prior felonies. I don't understand how we could have a law on our books that allows for someone to have the possibility of spending life in prison for non-violent theft of drill batteries from an outbuilding. We're not talking theft to the proportion of Bernie Madoff or national secrets or anything of the like. I don't feel like taxpayers should have to support someone for possibly life over drill batteries. I believe the restitution amount for this crime was $640.

As shameful as it is to think that this is possible. It gets worse. I don't know what kind of person the prosecutor is, but it's pretty telling when knowing the crime in this case, you would recommend such a sentence. I wouldn't even be able to utter it, yet she did it with a smile on her face. Indeed the entire courtroom was filled with cavalier, almost jovial attitude amidst the crying of his family. I believe I heard his attorney exclaim in the hallway “This is so exciting, isn't it?” about ten times. Yet, he seemed almost apologetic to the judge for bringing up a defense for his client, a man who adamantly denies doing the crime. 

So, what was the public defender so excited about? Aside from the fact that this man's girlfriend had done as much as she could do to draw attention to the fact that he was looking at life for this, there were other factors. She called the media and talked to anyone that she thought would listen (like me), I believe his attorney's excitement stemmed from the fact that the witness against him had proved herself to be a liar since his client's conviction. The witness, whose home the property was found in had told several people including the accused that she had been threatened into testifying by the prosecution. She was recorded by the jail telephone service saying that the prosecutor had threatened to take her children if she didn't testify. Interesting enough, when the prosecutor found out about what had been said, she appeared angrier at the man whose life hung in the balance than at the witness who said it.

As I said though, this system has nothing to do with getting at the truth. If she admitted that she had lied during trial in order to keep her children, she would have been found to have perjured herself therefore, she testified during this hearing that she had lied to the accused and others but not during the trial. She certainly had plenty of reasons to lie during the trial as the goods were found in her home. From what I understand, the accused was not there when officers confiscated the belongings; she could have pointed to anyone really. Her word certainly carries more weight when put up against someone with priors though.

I am not saying this man didn't do what he is accused of though. I don't know. His plea with the judge would have been most certainly a convincing one, had he not had priors. As I said, he was adamant. He had turned down a plea deal. It's tough to turn down a plea deal though, even when you are innocent. Again, the system doesn't care about the the truth. Plea deals are not designed get at truth, they are designed to bend the will of the accused in order to save the cost of a trial and/or future possibility of appeal.

We listened to a victim in the case explain that they felt violated and that it was not a simple matter of the drill batteries. I'm sorry for the victims, really I am. We do not hold dear those things we keep in outbuildings. Not that those things we keep in our outbuildings should be available to anyone who wants them; but I wouldn't think the victim's violation was that of a rape, which carries a lesser sentence than life. People who steal shouldn't be sentenced to life; they should be sentenced to repaying their victims (whenever possible).

What I am saying is this, I simply don't care whether he is guilty or innocent. I don't care how many times he's been guilty either. This crime simply does not rise to the level of a life sentence, even if it's possible for him to parole in 15 years, because let me just tell you what's going to happen when he's up for parole and they read that he hasn't admitted to the crime. They are going to require that he admit to the crime in order to get parole. If he is in fact innocent and stands behind that, he will get life. That is the truth.

When it comes to crimes such as this, where the defendant's crime is sort of petty, they are very often assigned public defenders that are less experienced. Those with more experience are trying cases where conviction may lead to life or even the death penalty; however when it comes to recidivism laws even if you are facing life, you are likely still going to be represented by whoever you were assigned at trial and the recidivism doesn't come into play until sentencing. I think this also leaves defendants at a disadvantage.

So, do we wonder why we are the most incarcerated country in the world? We have people in crime labs, at public defender's offices, etc. claiming that their case loads are so bad that some of them simply give up. Can you imagine what goes in the mind of someone that has been forced to serve time when they are innocent? Imagine being forced to say you are guilty when you're not. You want them to get out grateful for the system working after they've served ten years or more? Do you wonder why people are running from at police or shooting at them? It's not disrespect for the police, it's disrespect for the laws that are designed not to serve the public, but to preserve an economy based on incarceration.

It's all shameful. This is of no service to our country. It demeans us as human beings. The law in this country was supposed to be merciful. The judge was reminded by the prosecutor that his hands were tied but in my opinion, anyone who takes part in this kind of thing should be ashamed of themselves. That includes the American people who allow this to go on.

The laws that bind the judge to sentences like this were designed to prevent non-proportional sentences due to racism. Here's an idea, let's just make sure judges are racists and if they turn out to be, file charges against them. Maybe that way the ones who are not racists will have the ability to show mercy when things like this come up. Something just needs to be done. There was no justice served here, at least not any justice I want to be a part of.

This article was written in response to the sentencing of Steve Funt in Morgan County, West Virginia.

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