Thursday, July 9, 2009

American "justice" Soviet-style

Federal prosecutors like to play a game after hours: they pick a celebrity -- any celebrity -- and find a way they could prosecute that celebrity in a way that fits their character, by applying odd provisions of Federal law.

That's one story William L. Anderson (in tells in his review of Harvey A. Silverglate's book Three Felonies a Day: How the Feds target the innocent:

"If you want to understand the federal assault on the law and upon our rights, read this book, for it will provide an education for those who believe that federal prosecutors have long been overstepping their constitutional boundaries and are railroading thousands of innocent people into prison.

"This is more, much more, than a book full of anecdotes, although the anecdotes themselves tell a depressingly familiar story of the decline of law in the United States. This book also lays out the chilling facts of how the federal system of what Candice E. Jackson and I have called 'derivative crimes' is patterned not after anything that Americans inherited from Great Britain and its great body of common law, but from the former Soviet Union.

"That is correct. Federal criminal law closely mirrors the Soviet code and its 'crimes of analogy.' Silverglate writes that under the old Soviet law, 'any citizen was in constant danger of being prosecuted for virtually any action if it could be analogized to or derived from something in the criminal code' (emphasis his). As Lavrentiy Beria, Stalin’s head of the dreaded secret police said proudly, 'Show me the man and I’ll find you the crime.' ...

"[F]ederal law itself also permits prosecutors to fashion acts that are legal into crimes that carry serious time. Furthermore, prosecutors can take one action and then pile multiple acts upon it. For example, when jurors declared [Enron CEO Kenneth] Lay guilty of 'fraud,' they also convicted him of 'money laundering, 'wire fraud,' and other such acts that by themselves carry draconian prison penalties.

"What makes these other 'crimes' so insidious is that they cannot be instituted without an underlying act, which means they cannot stand alone. If I mail a letter with a fraudulent tax return, then not only am I guilty of 'tax evasion,' but I also can be charged with 'mail fraud' for the simple act of mailing a letter. If I put some of my alleged ill-gotten gains in a bank, or purchase any goods with that money, I have
committed 'money laundering,' for which the penalty is a maximum of 20 years in prison.

"The combination of these 'crimes' gives prosecutors enormous leverage against defendants, for if they choose to go to trial and falter on just one criminal count, they are sent to prison for many years. Thus, many people – even people who maintain their innocence – will plead to something because the alternative is much worse.

"As Silverglate says, that is not justice; it is tyranny. He writes:
'If I am right, we must foster the realization that the Justice Department’s tactics too often are employed not to protect, but to attack law-abiding society (emphasis Anderson's). While it is true…that sometimes creative criminal 'miscreants' cleverly get around the letter of the law (especially laws that have become obsolete) and therefore tempt equally creative prosecutors to stretch the law, it is also true that too many ordinary, well-meaning, and innocent people get caught in the maw of the
Department of Justice’s prosecutorial machinery.'

Meanwhile, the masses pledge allegiance to the flag of a nation that
supposedly has "liberty and justice for all."

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