Our "Inalienable Rights "Are Really Quite Alienable
Michael Jackson produced a music video with an important song called "They Don't Care About Us." People who are caught in the criminal justice system or have incarcerated loved ones usually discover that Michael's video aptly describes many police officers, jail and prison guards, lawyers, judges, elected officials and other decision makers. However, I interject the word "enough." Not enough people in the justice system care enough about human and civil rights. Numerous judges, lawmakers, and others are helping to effect positive changes.
The overwhelming majority of inmates sentenced in America's justice system are guilty of the crimes for which they were incarcerated or even worse offenses, and they plea bargained to reduce charges. However, the inmate population also includes innocent people who lost their freedom and some who will lose their lives for crimes they never did. Even one avoidable wrongful conviction that results in prolonged incarceration or execution is too many. Nevertheless, several Supreme Court and lower court rulings in 2009 raise a question that has tremendous relevance, especially for those unfortunate innocents who are behind bars.
DOES INNOCENCE MATTER?
The United States Supreme Court already decided this issue in July 2009. Many people who are incarcerated were sentenced before definitive DNA testing was available. However, the High Court ruled 5 to 4 in the case Alaska District Attorneys Office v. William Osbourne that inmates have NO right to post-conviction DNA testing to prove their innocence. Furthermore, some of the states that do allow post-conviction testing deny testing to those sentenced to prison, but only allow post-conviction DNA tests for those facing execution. I wrote about this in the article at the link below:
Supreme Court DNA Deliberations - http://www.nowpublic.com/world/supreme-courts-dna-deliberations-mary-neal
Unfortunately, many judges and district attorneys do not view innocence as being relevant in handing down or upholding prison sentences or even executions. Read the views expressed by Supreme Court justices in the High Court's August 17 ruling granting Troy Davis a hearing before a Georgia federal judge:
“'The substantial risk of putting an innocent man to death clearly provides an adequate justification for holding an evidentiary hearing,' Justice John Paul Stevens wrote.
But Antonin Scalia, joined in the minority by Clarence Thomas, was unconvinced and unmoved.
'This Court has never held that the Constitution forbids the execution of a convicted defendant who has had a full and fair trial but is later able to convince a habeas court that he is ‘actually’ innocent. Quite to the contrary, we have repeatedly left that question unresolved, while expressing considerable doubt that any claim based on alleged ‘actual innocence’ is constitutionally cognizable.'”
Scalia’s fellow justices noted that his position allows no legal avenue for even an obviously innocent person to have his or her case heard.
It is good that some Supreme Court justices have qualms about imprisoning and executing people who are "obviously innocent" without a hearing. But one might question why an "obviously innocent person" would even need to have his/her case heard. If one is "obviously innocent," release seems to be in order. Suppose the judge assigned to hear the case does not like the accent, skin tone, or demeanor of the "obviously innocent" convicted person and rules against him?
Like Justices Scalia and Clarence Thomas, there are judges and prosecutors across the country who feel it is perfectly acceptable to imprison and even execute innocent people as long as the accused parties had their day in court. These judges and prosecutors entirely miss the point that the judicial process is intended to discover the truth of a matter and bring justice. Justice is never served by ignoring evidence of a convicted person's innocence because it arrived late or because reversing a wrongful conviction would be inconvenient to a prosecutor's career, costly to prison profiteers, or burdensome to the court process.
HAPPY HEROES DAY TO JUSTICE SCALIA FOR YOUR HONESTY
Apparently, our so-called "inalienable rights" to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are really quite alienable. All it takes to cancel them is false arrest and poor legal defense that leads to wrongful conviction. After trial, regardless of one's innocence or even the ability to irrefutably PROVE innocence, the High Court's statement above indicates that convicted persons have no automatic right to present proof and escape prison or execution. "Actual innocence" has never been determined to be constitutionally cognizable. The populace is not generally told that innocence and guilt do not matter in criminal justice. Instead, we are carefully taught to believe that we have certain "inalienable rights" as citizens, assuring that we will happily pay taxes every April 15 and give our sons and daughters in wars.
MONEY VS. HUMANITY
Civil court is more fair about late arriving evidence than criminal courts. Civil court judgments that were rendered as a result of fraud or perjury are automatically void. Such judgments are not merely voidable, but already void. Furthermore, there is no time limit on setting aside such wrongful judgments. Obviously, lawmakers consider protecting litigants from wrongful monetary loss in civil court above the possible loss of innocent lives in criminal court. I wonder why? Could the reason be that money matters more than people in America? If the fairness applied to monetary matters in civil court trumps justice for accused persons in criminal court, how far does that concept go? How much more important is money than criminal justice to our lawmakers and judiciary?
QUESTION: IF INNOCENCE REALLY DOESN'T MATTER, WHY HAVE COURT?
Could the reason for having trials be merely to satisfy the "due process of law" requirement in the 13th Amendment to the Constitution? The trial process is a prerequisite to supplying more slaves for the prison industrial complex - America's plantation system that arose immediately after the Civil War deprived the elite of their legal slaves. The emancipation of the Negro was the first time in American history when the elite had no slaves. Before Africans, poor whites were imported from Europe's ghettos and debtors' prisons to use their youth and vigor enriching America's elite, and Native Americans were also enslaved. The earliest Asians in America worked very menial jobs for slave wages. Many Latino workers do that now, especially those who are kept subservient by their illegal alien status. The slave class includes all who live on paychecks or fixed incomes. The ruling class can live quite comfortably off dividend checks or interest income, although many among them work. See information on the 13th Amendment at this link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thirteenth_Amendment_to_the_United_States_C...
This is not to say that all wealthy Americans agree with or participate in perpetuating slavery through the prison system. However, there is a great need for people of means and influence who object to slavery to become modern day abolitionists. Prisons should be facilities used for punishment, rehabilitation, and restraining those who endanger lives and property. The mentally ill and wrongly convicted should be speedily removed from prisons and jails, and children should not be tried and incarcerated as adults.
Slavery in the U.S. has always been conducted with the utmost care for legal process, of course. European indentured servants' papers were properly executed and filed in township records. Slaves owners likewise had documents proving property rights over their slaves. Since the Emancipation Proclamation freed Africans, a huge prison system was created to perpetuate slavery. About 2.3 million people are imprisoned in America, bringing us to the point where 1 in every 30 persons is either behind bars or living under the immediate threat of prison as parolees or probationers. Prison profits soar not only from taxes paid by those in the slave pool, but also prison work projects using inmate laborers. As though 2.3 million inmates are not enough, Rep. Alcee Hastings proposed a congressional bill in January for six FEMA centers to be built in America which would be capable of warehousing millions more - H.R. 645.
After the Civil War, criminal court became the legal process used to keep the prison plantation well stocked with its human commodity while keeping millions in the slave pool compliant about their friends and relatives being marched away in chains. Most wrongly accused persons and their supporters are at first confident that all they need is to prove innocence to gain prison release. Wrong. As the High Court justices pointed out this week, innocence is not the issue. The issue is whether the "due process" provision in Amendment 13 of the Constitution was satisfied before removing the accused's freedom or taking his life.
Slaves are commodities used for their masters' profit. Chronically sick slaves in the prison system such as the mentally ill and hospice patients generally fetch several times more money from taxpayers than well inmates in the general prison population. It is likely no coincidence that about half of all inmates are mental patients, many of whom were dismissed from mental hospitals in the 70's under Reganomics. Likewise, each death row inmate generally cost taxpayers $90,000 more per year than prisoners in a maximum security prison. The additional costs to taxpayers for death row inmates may explain why states cling to capital punishment despite growing public sentiment to end executions. Unfortunately, many decision makers are prison profiteers.
The expanding prison population not only hurts millions of families whose loved ones are imprisoned; but many jobs that Americans think were transferred to other countries with low labor costs were actually outsourced to prisons where labor costs are nil and there are no unions or employee benefits. "Made in the U.S.A." does not necessarily mean that buying a particular product helps to support an American worker in the usual sense. There is much debate regarding prison labor projects. The Center for Research on Globalization carried an article by Vickie Palaez on March 10, 2008, which stated:
According to the Left Business Observer, the federal prison industry produces 100% of all military helmets, ammunition belts, bullet-proof vests, ID tags, shirts, pants, tents, bags, and canteens. Along with war supplies, prison workers supply 98% of the entire market for equipment assembly services; 93% of paints and paintbrushes; 92% of stove assembly; 46% of body armor; 36% of home appliances; 30% of headphones/microphones/speakers; and 21% of office furniture. Airplane parts, medical supplies, and much more: prisoners are even raising seeing-eye dogs for blind people. http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=8289
Criminals are people who disrespect the human rights, property rights, and civil rights of others. Many inmates deserve punishment, and police and prosecutors do the rest of us on the plantation a great services by incarcerating them. But how many inmates would remain behind bars if all innocent people were freed? Debatably, they include:
Slave-catching by law enforcement is made easier by technological advances that monitor the slave pool and collect evidence of their infractions. For those who cannot be proved to be guilty of actually participating in crimes, the law of parties arose and people are made guilty by association. The plantation flourished by implementing three-strikes laws, mandatory and excessive sentencing, wrongful convictions, and declaring a War on Drugs (actually, a war against thousands of helpless addicts and recreational drug users in the slave pool, whereas drug use and most other crimes among the elite are almost never punished).
As it was in the Old South, those in the slave pool vastly outnumber the elite. Therefore, intimidation, physical and mental cruelty, and an award system are applied to keep the masses in line, including public humiliation. Misbehaving European indentured servants in New England were pulled into the town square and beaten or put in a cruel restraint device on public display as a warning to others. Plantation slaves were made to gather and watch their fellows being beaten bloody or murdered before their eyes. The abundance of television shows that deal with criminal justice serve a similar purpose. Like former public beatings and lynchings, reality TV cops shows, bail bondsmen shows, courtroom dramas, etc., keep the slave pool intimidated and have been the source of public humiliation for some who were arrested on film. "Bad boys, bad boys, whatcha gonna do? Whatcha gonna do when they come for you?"
Executions also instill fear among the general populace, as evidence of the power the "justice" system has over them. This may also be why police brutality and wrongful deaths by law officers are protected by the elite in local and federal government. When such deaths occur, it usually takes the threat of a slave rebellion to bring the law officers to justice (such as the demonstrations after Oscar Grant's funeral). There were no demonstrations after the wrongful death of my handicapped brother, Larry Neal, who was secretly arrested and kept for weeks without his heart drugs in Memphis Shelby County Jail in 2003, so his family's right to due process of law is ignored.
Like 2/3 of all inmates, most incarcerated psychiatric patients were arrested for non-violent crimes, sometimes for simple vagrancy or disturbing the peace. Their sentences are frequently lengthened after incarceration due to their lack of understanding or self-control to follow jail rules. See http://wrongfuldeathoflarryneal.com/. Larry is murdered inmate number 26 on the home page of the prisoner genocide website: http://www.geocities.com/prisonmurder/ (Each dead prisoner's story can be accessed by selecting his/her photograph.)
INNOCENT AND POTENTIALLY INNOCENT INMATES
Troy Davis was captured from the slave pool twenty years ago. The Supreme Court ruled in August that Davis must show clear evidence of his innocence to escape lethal injection, not merely reasonable doubt of his guilt, no matter how substantial the doubt is. Furthermore, the Court ruled it necessary for that "clear evidence" to have been unavailable at the time of Davis' trial. This means that if Davis' attorneys present actual proof of his innocence with evidence that his first attorney - an overworked public defender - had available but overlooked, that could be grounds to disregard the evidence. Time will tell whether the Supreme Court gave Davis a ladder or a fence. Troy's was a circumstantial case based on witness testimony. However, to win his liberty Troy must show "clear evidence of innocence" in a case with no forensic evidence for DNA testing.
Many of Troy Davis' supporters feel racism is one reason he was denied a new trial numerous times since his conviction despite the breakdown of evidence against him. Race does play a large part in American justice. However, eligibility for wrongful conviction is not determined by race alone, but also by socio-economic status. People of color are imprisoned at a higher rate than whites and Asians in large part because of greater economic disenfranchisement as well as racial profiling. Nevertheless, whites from the slave pool are as subject to the justice system's cruelty like non-whites. Consider Thomas Arthur, an Alabama's death row inmate, and Tennessee's likely wrongful execution of Phillip Workman, both white Americans who were sentenced to death despite weak cases against them.
Arthur, who has been on Alabama's death row for decades for the 1981 murder of Troy Wicker, was repeatedly denied DNA testing which he claimed would prove his innocence. Arthur's quest for post-conviction DNA testing engendered much public support. Judge Pulliam finally ruled this year that Arthur could test the evidence in his file. Just as he had claimed for years, Arthur's DNA did not match the crime scene specimens that were tested. But Arthur remains on Alabama's death row. When Arthur's test results were released by the forensic lab in July, the court immediately put them under seal, preventing Arthur's attorneys from publicizing his innocence. The Birmingham News reported on August 11 that the D.A. is going to ask for Arthur's death warrant, apparently without many people knowing that Arthur's DNA was negative for crime scene specimens tested. See Arthur's DNA test results at this link: http://www.thomasarthurfightforlife.com/
When Arthur faced imminent execution in July 2008, he allegedly sought to escape lethal injection by inducing another inmate, Bobby Ray Gilbert, to falsely confess to Wicker's murder. Of course, Gilbert's DNA did not match evidence from the murder scene, either. Apparently, neither inmate killed Wicker. The State of Alabama may ignore the fact that Arthur's DNA tested negative and execute him anyway. Authorities are upset with Arthur for perpetuating "a fraud on the court," as Judge Pulliam said, to live an extra year. Off with his head!
Phillip Workman was executed by the State of Tennessee despite the fact that witness testimony in his case fell apart over time, just as it has in Troy Davis' case. Serious doubt was cast on evidentiary testimony by the actions of Shelby County Coroner's Office as Workman's execution date drew near. Dr. O. C. Smith, chief medical examiner, allegedly faked his own kidnapping and taped explosives and notes to his person accusing himself of lying about bullet trajectory in Workman's trial. It was principally the medical examiner's testimony that led to Wokman's conviction.
Workman maintained his innocence throughout his 26 years on Tennessee's death row, claiming it was a policeman who killed the officer he was condemned for shooting during his botched attempt to rob a Wendy's restaurant. Even the victim's daughter protested Workman's execution because she doubted his guilt. If Dr. Smith's kidnapping was a desperate attempt to tarnish his own testimony and save Workman, it did not work. Dr. Smith was indicted but not convicted for staging his own kidnapping, complete with barbed wire around to his head, and Workman was executed in 2007 after five stays of execution. See more about Workman's execution here: http://tnimc.blogspot.com/2007/05/tcask-issues-statement-on-workman.html
Larry Neal's wrongful death demonstrates that persons from the slave pool who are incarcerated sometimes suffer abuse and/or die with little or no accountability from authorities for violations against their "inalienable" rights. Larry's autopsy was performed by the Shelby County Medical Examiner's office while Dr. Smith was chief medical examiner. Since Smith practically confessed to lying in Workman's trial to cover for police who Workman swore killed the officer he was executed for shooting, my family has reservations about Larry's autopsy report, which was received as a fuzzy facsimile copy. We requested the autopsy report after learning that The Johnnie Cochran Firm had done nothing as the family's contracted attorneys in nearly 11 months of Tennessee's 12-month statute of limitations to conduct discovery and prepare lawsuits regarding Larry's secret arrest and wrongful death in Shelby County Jail.
The Cochran Firm used U.S. Mail to write letters to Larry's survivors, the firm's clients, falsely claiming that discovery was being conducted. In fact, the firm contracted as Larry's wrongful death attorneys to prevent his survivors' lawsuit from ever being filed against Shelby County Jail. The managing partner of the Memphis office of The Cochran Firm worked in a supervisory role over the jail as a longstanding Shelby County Commissioner. The Cochran Firm's "representation" of the Neals was an intentional fraud. Larry's family discovered the fraud with just over a month remaining on Tennessee's statute of limitations and sued The Cochran Firm. However, two courts rescued the law firm by pretending no Cochran Firm office existed in Georgia and allowing perjury by defendants, ignoring and changing the nature of the plaintiffs' lawsuit, etc. Both courts dismissed our lawsuit when it was time to set a jury trial date. So much for Larry's "inalienable right" to life and his family's right to due process of law.
Within 10 days of USDC's dismissal on February 9, The Cochran Firm's Atlanta office published a commercial video on February 17: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vlcolpUzckU. One might assume that The Cochran Firm Atlanta office's advertisers insisted that the firm publicly acknowledge its identity (that the firm repeatedly denounced in court) in order to prevent class action suits against advertisers that had presented it as The Cochran Firm to the public for years. The Cochran Firm uploaded the ad for the Atlanta office on February 17, although the video proves perjury in the Neals vs. Cochran Firm case.
Thomas Arthur's case and Workman's execution should illustrate plainly that suffering in the justice system is not limited to African Americans like Troy Davis and Larry Neal. Poor and middle-class whites fare no better in the justice system than people of color do. Racism is devisive, and there is a need for middle-income and poor people of different races and national origins to unite for justice. It is from these economic groups that America's prisoners come, innocent or guilty.
Cameron Todd Willingham, another white man, was executed in 2004 in Texas for arson murders. Authorities now admit the arson may not have happened at all. See: http://www.testimoanials.com/blog/blog1.php/2009/09/08/arson-death-and-execution-in-texas. Cameron's photograph is at this link: http://www.care2.com/c2c/share/detail/1234875
ABOLISH SLAVERY AND REDUCE THE PRISON BUDGET BY HALF OR MORE
The Supreme Court told us twice this year that innocent people have no protection against imprisonment and execution beyond sentencing. The fact that the High Court ruled 5 to 4 in July against inmates having a Constitutional right to post-conviction DNA testing and the Court's minority opinion in Troy Davis' case made it patently clear for everyone who thought that innocence matters in criminal justice that it most certainly does not. "Actual innocence" has never been determined to be constitutionally cognizable. The only relevant issue is whether slaves had a trial. This is a time when men and women of conscience should unite and advocate for justice. Human rights organizations like the NAACP, Amnesty International, ACLU, and Innocence Project deserve support. The mission before us is the same as the one our great grandparents faced that was never fully accomplished: Slavery must be abolished and equal justice shared by all.
Michael Jackson: They Don't Care About Us
The message Michael Jackson left us in his video is true of many in the justice system who do not seem to care. However, Attorney General Holder recently stated that actual justice is key, not merely procedure. Officials like Sen. Webb and Rep. Johnson in Texas and others are applying themselves to making the justice system more sane and equal. Sen. Webb proposes a complete review of the justice system. Rep. Johnson introduced H.R. 619 to restore Medicaid payments for mentally ill persons who require hospitalization. It was mostly the withdrawal of those funds that made prisons become America's de facto mental hospitals and plunged 1.25 million sick people into prisons where they comprise 60% of those in solitary confinement. Despite the human suffering, taxpayers saved nothing. eMail your representatives and urge support for H.R. 619 - www.house.gov/writerep/
SUGGESTIONS FOR POSITIVE CHANGE
Inasmuch as possible, ensure that everyone being punished is guilty of the crime for which he is incarcerated without excessive sentencing, and see that inmates who leave prison are equipped with job skills and the support needed to avoid recidivism.
Decriminalize Mental Illness
Remove our most vulnerable citizens, the mentally ill, from cruel incarceration for having a common, treatable health condition. They should be either hospitalized or released into assisted outpatient treatment (AOT) programs, depending on their offenses. Kendra's Law participants in New York experienced around 90% decrease in homelessness, hospitalizations, jail arrests and prison incarcerations compared to their experiences three years prior to joining the program. This means their communities were safer because patients were under mandatory treatment provisions, there was less crime, and the mentally challenged had subsistence assistance many of them need to avoid homelessness - all accomplished at a tremendous savings compared to imprisoning non-violent mentally ill offenders. Transfering America's mentally ill from hospitals and community care to prison rolls helped no one but heartless, mercenary prison owners and investors.
Put juvenile offenders into juvenile detention centers and ensure that they are given the tools and guidance to live decent, successful lives after release, which should be no later than age 21 regardless of their crime, except the criminally insane, who should be hospitalized.
End Prison Profiteering
All prisons should be owned and operated by the state or federal government and not be for-profit enterprises. Relocating the mentally ill from prison would make that goal immediately attainable. Furthermore, minimum wage laws should be applied to prison laborers to reduce the incidents of free citizens losing their jobs to prison work programs.
Prison laborer's minimum wages should be divided into four parts:
(1) The first part should be paid to the correctional facility to reduce the taxpayers' burden for incarcerating the working inmate.
(2) Minors whose parent(s) are prison laborers should receive support payments from their parents' work, which will also help taxpayers by reducing public assistance rolls. In the absence of minor children, funds should revert to the correctional facility.
(3) The crime victims should be paid restitution for lost property, pain and suffering. In the absence of crime victims or once restitution is paid, this portion should revert back to the correctional facility.
(4) The final one-fourth of a prison laborers' wages should be placed in an interest-bearing account for the inmate's release, to be administered weekly for a period of time after parole like unemployment insurance or in lump sum amounts if the parolee applies for college, buys a home, starts an approved business, or has an emergency affecting him or his dependents. The parolee's weekly "unemployment insurance" would help provide for basic needs while readjusting to society and seeking employment. After the end of the inmate's parole period, any remaining monies on the inmate's account should be paid to the ex-prison worker in a lump sum or to his next of kin if he dies. Having a nest egg to look forward to upon successfully completing parole would inspire compliance with parole provisions.
Ending for-profit prisons and applying minimum wage laws for prison labor would finally abolish slavery in the United States, reduce recidivism, eliminate prisons' unfair competition for jobs, and significantly unburden taxpayers of prison costs. Some correctional facilities could become nearly self-sustaining.
Petition to End Private Prisons, sponsored by the Single Voice Project
Capital punishment should be repealed. That will save approximately $90,000 per year per death row inmate and help raise America out of barbarism.
Death row population figures are available by the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund "Death Row USA" at this link: http://www.naacpldf.org/content.aspx?article=297
Innocent in Prison Project International (IIPPI) carries stories of the wrongly convicted from around the world. Visit at http://www.iippi.org/
Human Rights for Prisoners March
Is America's Prison System Legalized Slavery?
The Innocence Project helps wrongly convicted inmates obtain DNA tests to regain their freedom. Its website carries photographs and stories of exonerated persons and other information.
The Innocence Project
Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law
100 Fifth Ave. 3rd FloorNew York, NY 10011
Org: Assistance to the Incarcerated Mentally Ill
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