by John J. Bradley

The American Justice System  –  A Conviction Machine With a Conviction to Convict.



Justice, Out Of Order


You’re out of order! You’re out of order! The whole trial is out of order” Al Pacino, as attorney Arthur Kirkland, in the 1979 film, “…And Justice For All,”   tells the judge and courtroom. That was thirty years ago; now, in any courtroom in the country, Pacino would be more correct in adding, “…the whole SYSTEM is out of order!.”


America must be doing some things right, though,  since we imprison more than any country, where such records are available, on the planet. Per 100,000 in population, the U.S. puts away more than 700 while most other countries have imprisonment rates under 200.  Even China has only 117 per 100,000; India only 29; Canada, 116; Mexico,169 and Russia 584.  For those who doubt the U.S. is tough on crime, the American Justice System has become the most efficient conviction machine in the known universe.


Yet, the public’s perception is that crime rates are up; that prosecutors let criminals off all too frequently, that the guilty go free on the whim of a judge or because of a rouge jury, a la O.J. Simpson.  What IS going on?


All those within the justice system, from law enforcement to those in the highest justice offices, are elected, appointed, advanced, ranked, paid, based on number of convictions.  Convictions are the currency of justice.  Too many acquittals translates to “soft on crime.”


At the core of the system is the trial, by judge or jury.  Conceived as a forum to to dole out justice to seekers of truth, the trial has morphed into a diabolical arena of conflict, where anything goes. If the format of the trial ever was anything else, it is now the ultimate reality game with the highest stakes, the most complex rules and referees who are often players.


Law enforcement, prosecutors and, yes, judges have the strong conviction to convict.  There is no “presumption of innocence.”  There is no “burden of proof” on the prosecutor.  There is no “benefit of doubt” skewed to the possibility of innocence.  The playing field tilts to prosecutors, the converse to what we believe about innocence; it is irrelevant.  It is easier to defend the guilty as it is not necessary to deal with the truth.