The Corruption Report: US Political Corruption at the Local, State & Federal Levels
“[We] are then talking about an estimated 20,000 persons, or more, who are in prison for crimes to which they pleaded guilty but did not in fact commit.”
- US Federal Court Judge Jed Rakoff, NY Review of Books (2014)
We don’t spend our days thinking about corruption in the United States, especially when so much mass media focuses our attention on corruption and threats to democracy elsewhere, in the lands of our perceived enemies. As of late, we have been attending to the allegedly unprecedented problematic actions of President Trump and his administration, with the subtext to such reporting focusing on the isolated if not humorous nature of any such oddities of Mr. Trump. The Trump administration’s corruption is by no means humorous or unprecedented. Corruption is an epidemic in the United States: all we need do is read to discover its nefarious layers.
This page is a resource on corruption in the US political system at various levels, including local, state, and federal government; among senior members of the judiciary, legislative, and executive branches of government; and among everyday judges, prosecutors, and State Bar administrators and staff.
As one example, you can see from various resources noted here (especially items 1, 5, 7, 8, 9, 18, and 19) that the levels of corruption in the State of California may be the highest in the nation, with notoriously high levels of perceived corruption at the executive, legislative, and judiciary level including among its federal and state court judges, criminal prosecutors, and most infamously the California State Bar itself. The California State Bar has repeatedly performed quite poorly in state audits and even had its CEO fired in 2014, who in turn immediately filed a major whistleblower lawsuit alleging grievous corruption in the California State Bar. Similarly extremely high levels of corruption are detailed about New York, Massachusetts, and Washington DC, as noted in these various reputable sources.
It is our civic duty to know what our government is doing. For many unfortunate people in our nation, such reading material is a too familiar synopsis of what hell they have personally experienced at the hands of biased, bullying, and corrupt government officials at all levels of government. Knowledge is power. With action at the voting booth, we can begin to make a difference. Speak out. Resist. We all deserve a true democracy — nothing less.
a. LA Times article 5/13/16: “Audit rips California’s state bar for shady finances and bloated salaries”. The California State Bar is “bedeviled by conflict & controversy” “inefficient & political” “shady finances & bloated salaries”.
“The agency charged with regulating California’s attorneys has failed to give a transparent view of its finances while its top tier of executives have enjoyed more generous salaries than the governor and attorney general, according to a scathing state audit released Thursday.” Id.
“The organization has long been bedeviled by conflict and controversy, with lawmakers publicly excoriating the agency for being inefficient and overly political. In recent years, internal strife has grabbed headlines beyond legal trade papers.” Id.
“The bar’s accounting practices were also criticized, with auditors knocking the bar for violating its own financial control policies and mis-classifying funds that have restrictions in how they are spent. Such errors distort how lawmakers and bureaucrats assess the organization’s financial status, the audit stated.” Id.
b. LA Times 4/27/17: “Big changes are needed at UC — starting with the Kool-Aid-drinking Board of Regents”
“Veteran State Auditor Elaine Howle essentially found that UC has been poor-mouthing and demanding more tax dollars while secretly hoarding many millions, paying extravagant executive salaries and smacking students with higher tuitions. She specifically targeted the office of UC President Janet Napolitano, the former U.S. Homeland Security chief and Arizona governor. Some excerpts from the stinging 167-page report released Tuesday:
- Napolitano’s office “accumulated more than $175 million in restricted and discretionary reserves that it failed to disclose to the [UC Board of] Regents and created undisclosed budgets to spend those reserve funds.”
- “It received significantly more funds than it needed” over a four-year period, “and asked for increases in future funding based on its previous years’ over-estimated budgets rather than actual costs.”
- “Its budgets were inconsistent and misleading … making it difficult to compare budgets from year to year.” The UC president’s office “compensated its executives and administrative staff significantly more than their public sector counterparts” in state government and at the Cal State University system.
- Napolitano’s execs “intentionally interfered” with the audit by “inappropriately” forcing revision of campuses’ statements about the president’s office. The statements were initially critical, but were rewritten to make them positive.
Napolitano played it cool. Like the experienced politician she is, the UC president welcomed the “constructive input.” But she denied there was anywhere near $175 million hidden away. It was mostly all committed to various programs, she said.”
SF Chronicle 5/3/17: “Emails raise questions about Napolitano’s testimony on audit”:
“The office of University of California President Janet Napolitano directed administrators at UC campuses to reveal their confidential responses to a state auditor’s survey, according to emails obtained Wednesday by The Chronicle that call into question the accuracy of Napolitano’s testimony to state lawmakers about why her office interfered with the probe.”
“But numerous emails between Napolitano’s staff and officials at several of UC’s 10 campuses show that the president’s office did far more than provide initial guidance. The emails show that campus officials arranged to show their responses to Napolitano’s staff “as requested.” They show her staff “checking in” with campuses to see when they could see their responses. And they show campus officials apologizing in cases where they sent their responses to the auditor before showing them to Napolitano’s staff. In one such case, UC Santa Cruz pulled its responses back from the auditor — apparently at Napolitano’s request.”
““Per your conversation with (campus) Chancellor earlier today, we have already started the recall process of the State Audit Survey,” Ashish Sahni, a UC Santa Cruz associate chancellor, told Napolitano in a November email copied to the president’s top staff members and to campus Chancellor George Blumenthal.”
c. Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice Aug. 2016: “Failure after Farrell: Violence and Inadequate Mental Health Care in California’s Division of Juvenile Justice”
“In 2003, after the media and juvenile justice advocates exposed decades of physical and sexual abuse, dangerous working conditions for staff, capitulation to gangs, and multiple youth suicides, the Prison Law Office (PLO) sued the CYA, which was renamed to the Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) in 2005 (CJCJ, 2013). This lawsuit, Farrell v. Kernan1 (“the Farrell lawsuit”), forced DJJ to improve conditions within its facilities. As a result of Farrell, in 2004, the Alameda County Superior Court of California issued a consent decree that required DJJ to implement six remedial plans2 overhauling its safety, health, mental health treatment, sex behavior treatment, disabilities services, and education systems. After twelve years of oversight, in February 2016, the court released DJJ from the lawsuit, stating that it had satisfied a majority of the consent decree’s mandates, though acknowledging two remedial plans had not yet been fully implemented.
Despite the dismissal, data show that DJJ is far from reformed: violence, gang culture, and poor mental health care are continuing problems. Analyses of court documents monitoring Farrell’s two remaining remedial plans — the Safety and Welfare Remedial Plan and the Mental Health Remedial Plan — reveal that DJJ continues to be a dangerous and traumatic place that fails to provide adequate mental health treatment, therapeutic services, and evidence-based programming for California’s young people.”
d. Slate 5/28/15: “You’re All Out: A defense attorney uncovers a brazen scheme to manipulate evidence, and prosecutors and police finally get caught.”:
“In 1989, in an infamous interview with 60 Minutes and an explosive piece in the Los Angeles Times, former jailhouse snitch Leslie Vernon White demonstrated how he fabricated the confessions of other inmates, then leveraged them for reduced sentences. The White revelations led to a grand jury investigation that revealed that jailhouse snitches often lied, and that police and prosecutors — knowing they were lying — used them anyhow. L.A. has since enacted significant reforms of its jailhouse informant policies. Not so Orange County. And both the scope and scale of the Orange County shenanigans are remarkable.”
“After further investigation [in the 2011 Dekraai case], Sanders claimed that a branch of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department called “special handling” would deliberately place jailhouse snitches in cells next to high-value inmates awaiting trials, with instructions to collect confessions, a practice that is unconstitutional.”
“Together with his law clerks, Sanders spent a year unearthing and then reconstructing a tranche of 60,000 pages of records indicating that the county sheriff’s office routinely used and coordinated with those informants to get around the constitutional prohibition on eliciting incriminating statements from defendants who had lawyered up and should not have been interrogated. The sheriff’s department has admitted that mistakes were made. The DA’s office claims there was nothing coordinated or systemic going on. But Judge Goethals disagreed, finding that the new revelations called into question the integrity of the entire Orange County District Attorney’s office.”
“In an explosive moment following a hearing last year, Sanders revealed that the Orange County Sheriff’s Department has maintained a massive, secret, 25-year-old computerized record-keeping system called TRED. These TRED documents were full of potentially exculpatory data, but the agency officials had systematically refused to turn any of them over, or even acknowledge their very existence, to defense counsel.”
“But evidently the Orange County informants were deliberately moved to be closer to high value targets, they taped their conversations, and the records of much of this conduct were then hidden. As Dean Erwin Chemerinsky explains, the Constitution limits the use of jailhouse informants to situations in which statements are made voluntarily to cellmates, not orchestrated and recorded by jailhouse officials, all of which makes the interaction too much like an interrogation. The 1964 Supreme Court case Massiah v. United States bars the government from eliciting incriminating statements from a defendant after the right to counsel has kicked in.”
a. PolitiFact 9/19/16: “Yes, New York has more corrupt officials than any other state”:
“From 2006–2015, the Missouri researchers identified 28 corruption cases dealing with state officials in New York. Include 2005, and that number rises to 30. That puts New York first for the number of public corruption cases, followed by Pennsylvania, where 24 cases have been filed over the past decade. New Jersey ranks third with 12 corruption cases. Look further back, and New York State has topped the list since at least 1986, Milyo said. “Historically, New York has struggled with corruption and continues to do so,” said Jennifer Rodgers, executive director of the Center for the Advancement of Public Integrity. “While measuring corruption is a challenge, I think it’s fair to say that New York remains one of the most corrupt states if not the most corrupt state.” The corruption in New York State is likely rooted in culture, Rodgers says.” Id.
b. “Albany was since the 19th Century, and continues to this day, a cesspool of corruption. You want to get anything done in New York State, you gotta pay somebody. You gotta pay some elected official, right, to get the go-ahead. That is how things are done in New York.” — Columbia University Professor and Author David Eisenbach speaking in Amazon.com 2017 documentary “American Playboy”, Season 1, Ep. 5., minutes 3 and 4.
c. New York Times 5/3/16: “The Many Faces of New York’s Political Scandals”: “In the past decade, more than 30 current or former state officeholders in New York have been convicted of crimes, sanctioned or otherwise accused of wrongdoing.”
a. Center for Public Integrity 11/9/15: “Massachusetts gets D+ grade in 2015 State Integrity Investigation”, including a “D” grade for “Ethics Enforcement Agencies”:
“Massachusetts’ lowest scores came in the public records, judicial accountability and lobbying categories — all F’s. It earned a D- in civil service and executive accountability, four additional Ds for legislative accountability, state budget process, pension transparency and ethics oversight.”
“Judges are appointed for life in Massachusetts. Currently, an 82-year-old is among those presiding over appellate cases, having been recalled to the bench from retirement. The public is legally barred from reviewing their performance reviews, expenses and correspondence. The vast majority of state judges aren’t required to issue written findings, a mandate reserved for the roughly two dozen appellate jurists in Massachusetts. The Judicial Conduct Commission, mandated to investigate errant judges, lacks any enforcement power. It reports directly to the final arbiter for discipline — the judges of the state’s highest court.”
b. WBUR news, Boston, MA, 4/19/17: “More Than 20,000 Drug Cases Compromised In Dookhan Scandal Are Dismissed”
More than 20,000 prior drug crime convictions are to be dismissed in Massachusetts due to a state lab chemist, Annie Dookhan, who tampered with drug lab results to concoct false convictions for the District Attorneys Offices statewide. Id.
“”Five years and millions of dollars have been spent, countless staff hours,” said Anthony Benedetti, chief counsel of the Committee for Public Counsel Services (CPCS), the state’s public defender agency. “But we’re here today because of the insistence and hard work of attorneys who would not give up, and quite frankly, would not accept what was being sold as a much smaller crisis.”” Id.
“When officials were first notified of a problem at the now-closed Hinton drug lab, they said it involved a single incident of bad testing. After state police took over the lab from the Department of Public Health, Dookhan admitted to falsifying thousands of drug tests and went to prison for three years.” Id.
“”Each time the DAs fought us tooth and nail,” said Benjamin Keehn with CPCS. “The question is, I think, why are we as a Commonwealth addicted to the criminalization of drug addiction?”” Id.
c. Slate 10/29/15: “Crime Lab Scandals Just Keep Getting Worse: How many people are in jail based on faked data?”:
“In Massachusetts it doesn’t even end there. Only a few months after Dookhan’s conviction, it was discovered that another Massachusetts crime lab worker, Sonja Farak, who was addicted to drugs, not only stole her supply from the evidence room but also tampered with samples and performed tests under the influence, thus tainting as many as 10,000 or more prosecutions. Records show Farak used cocaine, crack, or methamphetamines daily or almost daily while she was at work, as well as ketamine, MDMA, ecstasy, phentermine, amphetamines, LSD, and marijuana. Farak pleaded guilty and served 18 months behind bars.
But in April, Massachusetts’ highest court found that state law enforcement officials had never fully investigated the scope of Farak’s wrongdoing, retesting only 10 samples of her work. And based on new discoveries by defense lawyers, the extent of Farak’s drug abuse now appears far greater than was initially alleged. Officials at the time of Farak’s arrest claimed she had tampered with the drugs she tested beginning only in July 2012, and only after she had tested each sample. That is now in serious doubt.
Retired Superior Court Judge Peter A. Velis was appointed by Attorney General Maura Healey to examine the Farak case after the April ruling, and he is tasked with determining the real scope of wrongdoing from the Farak case. Among other things, Velis’ investigation is now looking into allegations by several defense lawyers that the attorney general’s office under then–Attorney General Martha Coakley deliberately withheld evidence that the Farak scandal was much worse than it let on.
Two defense attorneys, Luke Ryan and Rebecca Jacobstein, subpoenaed Farak’s medical records to see if their clients had been affected and found that her drug use and theft had extended all the way back to 2004, eight full years before the state claimed it began. They contend that this new evidence warrants a review of all 29,000 samples Farak claimed to have tested during her career. They also claim the government concealed this “smoking gun” evidence from defense attorneys. […]
Over the past decade, crime lab scandals have plagued at least 20 states, as well as the FBI. We know that one of the unintended consequences of the war on drugs has been a rush to prosecute and convict and that crime labs have not operated with sufficient independence from prosecutors’ offices in many instances. Their mistakes ruin lives. Years of deliberate falsification have ruined thousands of lives. We also know that there remains almost no reason for a prosecutor’s office to admit error and that the cost of fixing those errors can become prohibitive. So what do we do when a scandal infects hundreds or thousands of prosecutions? If Massachusetts is any indication, even three years later, we still don’t do all that much.”
District of Columbia:
a. Washington Post 6/9/12: “D.C.’s political corruption has deep roots”:
““What you have is serial criminality, bad judgment and stupidity,” said council member David A. Catania (I-At Large). “That is the trifecta that is undermining our government, and what’s sad is the instability of it all. These past few years, it’s one after another, and the collective gag reflexes of the population have been expired.””
b. Washington Post 10/26/16: “How do you ‘rebrand’ D.C. when the public thinks it’s ‘corrupt’ and ‘arrogant’?:
“Hatch said a survey found that when the public was asked what words it associated with people from Washington, the three top answers were “corrupt,” “educated” and “arrogant.””
20,000 Public & Private persons convicted in USA for Political Corruption in a Decade.
5. Harvard University Center for Ethics: “Measuring Illegal and Legal Corruption in American States: Some Results from the Corruption in America Survey” (2014):
“According to the Justice Department, in the last two decades more than 20,000 public officials and private individuals were convicted for crimes related to corruption and more than 5,000 are awaiting trial, the overwhelming majority of cases having originated in state and local governments.”
Based on Harvard University’s 2014 surveys of state news and investigative reporters, California executive government is thought to be among the most corrupt in the USA, the legislative government of CA even more corrupt, and the CA judiciary is thought to be the single most corrupt of all US states.
The Wikipedia Lists of Federal, State & Local Corruption:
6. Wikipedia: “List of federal political scandals in the United States”
7. Wikipedia: “List of American state and local politicians convicted of crimes”
8. Wikipedia: “List of United States state officials convicted of federal corruption offenses”
9. Wikipedia: “Impeachment investigations of United States federal judges”
The DNC Leak of 2016:
a. Rolling Stone 7/25/16: “DNC Leak Shows Mechanics of a Slanted Campaign”
“This was problematic at the very least because large sums of money were going to the DNC that came from donors who in many cases had already given the maximum amount to the DNC.” Id.
“What’s patently obvious from these emails is that there was virtually no distinction between DNC and Clinton campaign officials when it came to the handling of this media problem. They were all on the same team, working in tandem to try to talk down the likes of Vogel and Emery. Meanwhile, the Sanders campaign is treated as an enemy.” Id.
“As was the case with DNC officials teaming up to look for a negative “narrative” about how Bernie Sanders “never got his act together,” and pondering the possibility of a negative story about his religion, the DNC actively searched for a negative angle on the Sanders reaction to the Politico piece within hours after its release. They focused on the use of the term “money laundering.”” Id.
“[It] shows that the primary season was very far from a fair fight. The Sanders camp was forced to fund all of its own operations, while the Clinton campaign could essentially use the entire Democratic Party structure as adjunct staff. The DNC not only wasn’t neutral, but helped with oppo [sic] research against Sanders and media crisis management.” Id.
b. The Huffington Post 8/17/16: “Debbie Wasserman Schultz And The DNC Favored Hillary Clinton Over Bernie Sanders. Where’s The Outrage?”:
“If anything can be considered a “smoking gun” regarding these violations, it’s Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s new job. The former DNC chair’s new occupation is highlighted in a Fortune piece titled Wasserman Schultz to Have a New Role in Clinton Campaign:
Hillary Clinton is thanking her “longtime friend” Debbie Wasserman Schultz after the Florida congresswoman’s decision to step down as chair of the Democratic National Committee. Clinton says that Wasserman Schultz will serve as honorary chair of her campaign’s 50-state program to help elect Democrats around the country.
Facing a Congressional fight with Tim Canova this month, Schultz represents the epitome of establishment politics. The fact she was forced to resign from the DNC, and now works directly for Hillary’s campaign, speaks volumes.” Id.
Corrupt US Governors:
11. NPR 1/22/14: “From Statehouse To Big House: A Guide To Governors Gone Bad”
12. ABC News 1/31/13: 4 “Out of Previous 7 Illinois Governors Went to Prison”
Corrupt US Presidents:
13. The Atlantic 11/6/16: “From Whitewater to Benghazi: A Clinton-Scandal Primer”
14. Merry Jane 3/27/17: “A Brief History of Nepotism in the White House”
15. Insider Monkey 1/17/17: “10 Most Corrupt US Presidents in History”
16. US Courts (uscourts.gov) “2010–2012: Complaints Against Judges — Judicial Business 2012”
This internal audit by the US federal court system shows the following facts:
Between 2010 and 2012, 4227 complaints were made against US federal court judges. Of those, only 1821 had been fully processed by the time of this 2012 study. Id.
Of those 1821 processed complaints, only 1 resulted in remedial action and 10 resulted in some undefined “other action”, resulting in 1810 out of 1821 complaints being withdrawn or dismissed without any punitive action. Id.
That’s 99.4% of processed complaints against US federal court judges being essentially tossed out by the reviewing judges. In other words, when federal judges review citizens’ complaints about other federal judges, 99.4% of the time, they find that the judges acted properly. Id.
17. USA Today 7/28/14: “Immunity lets bad judges off hook for bad behavior”:
“There has to be a point where there is no immunity for judges. When we’re told that certain government officials are off limits — it undermines public confidence in government”.
“Over the last several decades, federal courts nationwide have consistently ruled against plaintiffs who tried to sue judges for civil damages over decisions they made or misconduct issues. The courts granted immunity to judges under the guidance of the U.S. Supreme Court”.
“The high court essentially has held that anything a judge does in his or her capacity as a judge is covered under the immunity clause.”
18. The Guardian 10/18/15: “Corrupt justice: what happens when judges’ bias taints a case?”
“Judges in local, state and federal courts across the country routinely hide their connections to litigants and their lawyers. These links can be social — they may have been law school classmates or share common friends — political, financial or ideological. In some instances the two may have mutual investment interests. They might be in-laws. Occasionally they are literally in bed together. While it’s unavoidable that such relationships will occur, when they do create a perception of bias, a judge is duty-bound to at the very least disclose that information, and if it is creates an actual bias, allow a different judge to take over.” Id.
“But court critics say that one reason judicial violations are common is because they frequently go unpunished. When litigants ask a judge to back away because of a conflict, they risk being told no, then face possible retaliation, so many don’t bother. If a litigant or an attorney files a complaint with an oversight body, there’s only about a 10% chance that state court authorities will properly investigate the allegation, according to a Contently.org analysis of data from 12 states.” Id.
“The analysis shows that a dozen of these commissions collectively dismissed out of hand 90% of the complaints filed during the last five years, tossing 33,613 of 37,216 grievances without conducting any substantive inquiry. When they did take a look — 3,693 times between 2010 and 2014 — investigators found wrongdoing almost half the time, issuing disciplinary actions in 1,751 cases, about 47%.” Id.
“California, which created the first judicial disciplinary body in the country in 1960, had a dismissal rate of 98%. It did not suspend or remove a single judge in 2013 or 2014 and acted just once over the last five years, removing a sitting judge in 2012.” [Emphasis added.] Id.
“New York’s CJC, for example, is prevented by law from disclosing whether anyone has complained about a judge, discussing specific allegations, revealing what evidence might have been presented or what steps, if any, it took to investigative. When conduct boards do act, the sanctions usually amount to an admonishment that may be embarrassing but costs the judge little.” [Emphasis added.] Id.
“Judicial discipline at the federal level is almost non-existent. A Contently.org examination of the most recent five years of complaint data shows that 5,228 grievances were lodged against federal jurists between 2010 and 2014, including 2,561 that specifically alleged bias or conflict of interest. But only three judges were disciplined during those years and each got the mildest rebuke on the books: censure or reprimand. None was suspended or removed.” Id.
“But a culture of judicial impunity extends far beyond Long Island’s county courts. Indeed, even the US supreme court has been tarnished on this issue. [Emphasis added.]
Justice Steven Breyer owned $215,000 in health-care stocks when deciding on the legality of the Affordable Care Act in 2012. Justice Samuel Alito’s portfolio included $2,000 in stock in The Walt Disney Co. in 2008, the year the court heard Disney, FCC v. Fox Television Stations. And perhaps most famously, justice Antonin Scalia has participated in the Bush v. Gore case, even though his son Eugene’s law firm represented one of the parties. In another case, Scalia remained in the panel despite having gone on a duck hunting trip with former Vice-President Dick Cheney while he was being sued to reveal the details of secret meetings he held with oil company executives in the run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
After his vacation with Cheney was revealed, Scalia scoffed at the suggestion he was compromised and defended his decision to remain on the case. “I do not believe my impartiality can reasonably be questioned,” he said in a 21-page memo. “If it is reasonable to think that a supreme court justice can be bought so cheap, the nation is in deeper trouble than I had imagined.” But Sen Patrick Leahy, the Vermont Democrat, implored Scalia to withdraw. “Instead of strengthening public confidence in our court system, Justice Scalia’s decision risks undermining it,” he stated.
In fact, US supreme court justices enjoy a special privilege: they are the only judges exempt from the federal Code of Conduct, which demands judicial impartiality and prohibits a jurist from presiding when he or she has “a personal bias concerning a party to the case”.” Id.
19. Counterpunch 10/7/16: “Above the Law: On the Prospects of Prosecutorial Reform”
“Prosecutors are a dangerous bunch. They are protected by obscure legal doctrines that grant them absolute discretion for the cases they bring and almost absolute immunity for their conduct in prosecuting those cases. As a result they are free to deceive judge, jury and defendant. They can hide evidence, fabricate evidence, distort facts, engage in cover-ups, pay for perjury, threaten witnesses, lie in summation. They can frame the innocent at will. Among the reasons they lie and cheat is that the public demands toughness against criminals, a toughness signified by convictions, the more the better. More convictions justifies bigger budgets; more convictions means job security. Among the products of this hard work is that the United States now has the largest prison population in the world.” Id.
“In 2014, Judge Alex Kozinski, a justice of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, noted in an opinion that Brady violations [i.e., where Prosecutors violate the requirement to turn over all exculpatory evidence to defense counsel] “have reached epidemic proportions in recent years.” Kozinski cited as a random sampling some 27 separate federal and state criminal cases between 2003 and 2013 in which prosecutors were found to have broken the rule.” Id.
“The Center for Prosecutor Integrity reports that less than 2 percent of cases of prosecutorial misconduct over the past 50 years resulted in any public sanction. From 1997 to 2009, a mere 1 percent of California prosecutors facing formal misconduct charges suffered any professional consequences.” [Emphasis added.] Id.
“That there are no real punishments for prosecutors, no matter how bad the misconduct, is entrenched in U.S. law. The Supreme Court in Imbler v. Pachtman (1976) ruled that individual prosecutors acting in an official capacity cannot be held liable by the defendants they wrongly convict. Prosecutors, said the court, are insulated “absolutely” from civil litigation.” Id.
“Prosecutors routinely overcharge to strike fear into a defendant, overwhelm defense lawyers’ resources, and produce extreme leverage to force a plea and avoid trial. An estimated 95 percent of all criminal convictions in state courts are the result of plea bargaining — a process, Davis notes, “controlled entirely by the prosecutor.” (And the information prosecutors use to force pleas is exempt from the Brady rule.) Jed Rakoff, a US District Court judge, writes that the “prosecutor-dictated” plea bargain system creates “such inordinate pressures [that it has] led a significant number of defendants to plead guilty to crimes they never actually committed.”” Id.
20. Slate 7/10/15: “Prosecution Is About Locking Black People Up”
“Earlier this week a new report from the Women Donors Network revealed that 95 percent of America’s elected prosecutors are white.” Id.
A former NYC Prosecutor discuss his experiences with the Brooklyn DA’s office:
“I saw the inner workings and the politics that go into prosecution and law enforcement, and how things actually get done. I saw the conversations that judges have with prosecutors; I saw the conversations that prosecutors have with cops; I saw the political things that go into the prosecution of crime. From a personal standpoint, it corroborated what I always knew about the system, which is that it’s innately flawed.” Id.
“I thought that because of who I was, because of the street and academic smarts that I had, I was able to do some things that were more in line with justice. But with the overwhelming culture of law enforcement and prosecution work, it was like putting a Band-Aid on a gunshot wound. In the long run, I didn’t think it was worth it, so that’s why I left.” Id.
“Most people are of the law-and-order mindset. And they don’t look at the sociopolitical reasons for why certain communities are the way they are and how certain people get arrested. They just don’t do that.” Id.
Corrupt Criminal Justice System:
21. NY Review of Books 11/20/14, by SDNY Federal Court Judge Rakoff: “Why Innocent People Plead Guilty”
“The criminal justice system in the United States today bears little relationship to what the Founding Fathers contemplated, what the movies and television portray, or what the average American believes.” Id.
“In actuality, our criminal justice system is almost exclusively a system of plea bargaining, negotiated behind closed doors and with no judicial oversight. The outcome is very largely determined by the prosecutor alone.” Id.
“In 2013, while 8 percent of all federal criminal charges were dismissed (either because of a mistake in fact or law or because the defendant had decided to cooperate), more than 97 percent of the remainder were resolved through plea bargains, and fewer than 3 percent went to trial. The plea bargains largely determined the sentences imposed.” Id.
“While corresponding statistics for the fifty states combined are not available, it is a rare state where plea bargains do not similarly account for the resolution of at least 95 percent of the felony cases that are not dismissed; and again, the plea bargains usually determine the sentences, sometimes as a matter of law and otherwise as a matter of practice. Furthermore, in both the state and federal systems, the power to determine the terms of the plea bargain is, as a practical matter, lodged largely in the prosecutor, with the defense counsel having little say and the judge even less.” Id.
“One thing that did become quickly apparent, however, was that these guidelines, along with mandatory minimums, were causing the virtual extinction of jury trials in federal criminal cases. Thus, whereas in 1980, 19 percent of all federal defendants went to trial, by 2000 the number had decreased to less than 6 percent and by 2010 to less than 3 percent, where it has remained ever since.” Id.
“Against this background, the information-deprived defense lawyer, typically within a few days after the arrest, meets with the overconfident prosecutor, who makes clear that, unless the case can be promptly resolved by a plea bargain, he intends to charge the defendant with the most severe offenses he can prove. Indeed, until late last year, federal prosecutors were under orders from a series of attorney generals to charge the defendant with the most serious charges that could be proved — unless, of course, the defendant was willing to enter into a plea bargain. If, however, the defendant wants to plead guilty, the prosecutor will offer him a considerably reduced charge — but only if the plea is agreed to promptly (thus saving the prosecutor valuable resources). Otherwise, he will charge the maximum, and, while he will not close the door to any later plea bargain, it will be to a higher-level offense than the one offered at the outset of the case.” Id.
“But what really puts the prosecutor in the driver’s seat is the fact that he — because of mandatory minimums, sentencing guidelines (which, though no longer mandatory in the federal system, are still widely followed by most judges), and simply his ability to shape whatever charges are brought — can effectively dictate the sentence by how he publicly describes the offense.” Id.
“How prevalent is the phenomenon of innocent people pleading guilty? The few criminologists who have thus far investigated the phenomenon estimate that the overall rate for convicted felons as a whole is between 2 percent and 8 percent. The size of that range suggests the imperfection of the data; but let us suppose that it is even lower, say, no more than 1 percent. When you recall that, of the 2.2 million Americans in prison, over 2 million are there because of plea bargains, we are then talking about an estimated 20,000 persons, or more, who are in prison for crimes to which they pleaded guilty but did not in fact commit.” Id.
Corrupt Police Officers
a. Alternet 1/20/17, “Even Cops Say Police Aren’t Held Accountable for Their Misbehavior”
“[The] overwhelming majority of cops, 72 percent, said that “poorly performing officers are not held accountable” for bad behavior. The evidence is in countless stories from communities of color whose accounts of oppression and police abuse have, historically and today, been ignored. More recently, the proof is in acquittals and mistrials despite documentary evidence of cops criminally gunning down unarmed black citizens. The criminal justice system’s refusal to hold cops accountable is echoed at the departmental level, a fact confirmed by police officers themselves.” Id.
b. Wikipedia: “Black Lives Matter”
c. The Guardian 1/8/17: “Young black men again faced highest rate of US police killings in 2016”
“Young black men were again killed by police at a sharply higher rate than other Americans in 2016, intensifying concerns over the expected abandonment of criminal justice reform by Donald Trump’s incoming administration. Black males aged 15–34 were nine times more likely than other Americans to be killed by law enforcement officers last year, according to data collected for The Counted, an effort by the Guardian to record every such death. They were also killed at four times the rate of young white men.” Id.
““The FBI has been embarrassed by work of investigative journalists that have clearly done a better job gathering this important data,” said Tim Lynch, the director of the libertarian-leaning Cato Institute’s project on criminal justice. “I expect the bureau to show some improvement, but considering its past work on this subject, that’s not saying much.”” Id.
“The Counted found that a plurality of killings by police in 2016 began with attempted traffic or street stops by officers. Almost 29% of deadly incidents last year developed from police trying to pull over a vehicle or approaching someone in public, including some potential suspects for crimes.” Id.
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