Friday, June 08, 2007

Criminal justice: Paris Hilton case makes it clear how corrupt it is.

Paris Hilton was sentenced to 45 days in jail (since reduced to 30) for violating probation in her reckless driving case. Of course, probation by definition is a punishment that is given in lieu of jail time, so if you can't abide by probation you should go to jail.

But after only three days, she has been released (to house arrest-- in effect another form of probation) because of an unspecified 'medical condition.' I guess the oficial name for it is 'spoiled little princess.' But now after the outrage that ensued, Los Angeles county officials have hauled her back into court where a judge may send her back to finish out her sentence.

Jail isn't supposed to be fun. That's why people are supposed to want to avoid it (well, other than of course Timothy Bowers of Columbus Ohio, an unemployed 62 year old man who robbed a bank last year and then called the police and waited at the bank so he could be sentenced to two years until he qualified for Social Security-- that's how desperate some people are these days.)

In jail, many prisoners die of natural causes. They don't get to serve under 'house arrest' because of their 'medical condition.' And I guarantee you that when Paris' sentence is over in about a month she will be hitting the Hollywood party scene just as hard as she always has. If she has a medical condition it might be nausea at having to make her own bed in the morning.

But whatever the result of today's hearing is, the fact that it is happening at all only shows how spineless the officials are-- their first decision was obviously made due to pressure from Paris and her lawyers, but the reversal is due to pressure from the public-- the consistent point being that they buckle under pressure.

It also shows that I was right about something I wrote regarding the Duke rape case (in which justice was in fact finally served when three fairly wealthy guys who could afford good lawyers were able to endure the attempt by a politically motivated D.A. to railroad them).

It would be a mistake to suggest that the problems with the criminal justice system begin and end with the Durham county prosecutor's office. It is true that in even the best criminal justice system mistakes are bound to be made (one big reason I oppose the death penalty). But the criminal justice system we have in America is far, far from the best, and perhaps we should go through it from one end to the other and try to figure out what it will take to, as Joe Friday used to say, focus on 'just the facts.'

On the other end of things, we've seen people who did not have access to good attorneys who did get railroaded. In the Duke post, I linked to a story about a man who spent 22 years in prison for a series of rapes he did not commit, and who could have been allowed out sooner if he had been willing to confess to the crimes he was in fact innocent of. We've also seen cases like that of Anthony Porter, who was literally two hours away from execution in Illinois for a murder he did not commit (in fact he was saved by a class of Northwestern University law students who first, working on their own, uncovered enough evidence to cast doubt on the case and earn him a stay of execution, and then later tracked down the real murderer and proved that Porter was innocent.) In many of these cases, because the defendant was poor, he or she could not afford adequate legal representation and was shafted by the same system that is giving special privileges to Paris Hilton. Earlier this year I posted a story about a substitute teacher who is facing forty years in prison, frankly because the jury in the case was unaware of what a 'mousetrap' program is, something which has happened to me when I hit a link on a webpage and it started opening windows automatically which I did not have any interest in (in particular, pornographic windows.) I also posted a case of a man who was cleared of a rape by DNA after he paid for it himself-- after the police lab refused to carry out the test and instead chose to be lazy and not consider the possibility that he might not have done it (of course whoever did is still out there.)

There have been times when I've been complimentary towards the job the cops do but there are also times when they are either too lazy or too busy to adequately investigate cases, so they settle for the easiest explanation, whether they get it right or not. Of course this sort of attitude isn't unique to police and the criminal justice system, we've all seen it here and there in our daily lives, when we do business with someone who has a bad attitude about their job. But when people's lives are on the line, it is even more important to get it right.

And that's what is most troubling about the Paris Hilton case. Apparently someone didn't want to bother putting up with listening to her and her lawyers whine.

1 comment:

Chuck said...

That's a very good post Eli.

Of course its obvious that there's lots of problems with the (in)justice system, but flagrant disregard in a case that result in a wrong conviction are uncalled for and the "perpetrators" should face "justice" themselves. That part of the whole thing pisses me off as it should everyone who cares (the minority).