This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
Thoughts on Upgrading the American Criminal Justice System: By Citizen Writer, Ted Agens
American Citizen 6/1/2021 1:43 PM
Editor’s Note: This is the first in a 3-part series on Criminal Justice Reform. Ted Agens, one of our Citizen Writers has put forth an interesting set of ideas to get politics out of the Justice System. As part of our effort to foster sincere discussion on critical issues, I challenged two of our feature writers to respond to Agens’ article. The intent is not to conduct a “beat down,” but rather to foster robust debate leading to actual solutions. Ed.
Thoughts on upgrading the American Criminal Justice system
There are many issues that can be addressed in all of our systems of self-governance, to include the Criminal Justice System. Refinements that should be able to be made within the Constitution as it is written. No need for ‘sweeping reforms’ or Congressional actions; new Bills and Laws costing hundreds of man hours in Committee and debate and billions of dollars to action and implement if passed. No, I believe several things can be upgraded at the local level, by local officials with the help of a ‘nudge’ from the Federal government to do so. The “We believe that States and Localities should make these changes”, free nudges from D.C.
I’ll give my thoughts on two issues.
1) End the Election of all District Attorney’s. Now, I fully understand the reasons why they are elected. Originally, it was thought that appointed DA’s would be the pets of local officials, like Judges, Mayors or Governors. But that was the past.
A past that lacked both the public scrutiny and official and unofficial oversight of government actions. Today, with independent investigatory bodies like local media and ‘people’s reporting’ rampant like wildfire on the internet, the issues of cronyism and favoritisms of the past, would be very easily called out today.
I cannot provide you with any ‘perfect’ solution, I just know that in the current system- again- one designed to stop corruption with a DA, has instead bred a whole new style of corruption--the corruption of the “afraid to act, it’s election season”, DA.
Where District Attorneys consistently either flat out turn down a case from the Police because its “unwinnable” (usually perceived) or plead out a case outside of a courtroom, in private, away from the public eye and counted as a ‘win’ from the DA’s re-election stats.
This cannot go on. Just look at all of the damage this is now causing? Damage where criminals go free with no record (and I am not talking about Bail reform at all here) simply because the DA believed that the case could not be pled out or won at a trial. Consider this one non-charged, un-tried individual, and their potential to become a repeat offender now having a basic idea of the DA’s “standards”. They may stick to a career of petty crimes they know they may not even be arrested for because thePolice know the DA will not charge them.
Also, consider this- for every person that should have been charged and, at least ‘pled out’ for a felony charge, but released without charge or pled to a reduced, non felony charge instead, we have one more person still legally eligible to purchase a firearm. One more person still eligible to enlist in our Military. To get government student loans or even a government job.
How many times have you said to yourself “now how did that guy get a gun legally, even though he was “known” to the police?”, “how did a guy like this with a shady background, get into the Army?”.
Maybe DA’s could be ‘selected’ by a blind, digital lottery where all the licensed lawyers in a county are drawn from to serve as a DA for a set period of service? A ‘Prosecutor's draft’?
2) Let’s consider making Jury Nullification a legal option for Juries.
Jury Nullification is the ability of a Jury to refuse to convict a person not because they believe the person is not guilty of a crime, but because they believe the crime they are being tried for is not a legitimate crime.
An example of when this has happened before is in the 19th century when Northern Juries in the US would refuse to assign a verdict onto runaway slaves on trial or to those persons accused of assisting in their runaway. All founded on their strong belief that the Fugitive Slave Laws were unjust and immoral.
Now, this ability is neither quite legal or illegal. Neither a Judge nor a Prosecutor is required to include the option of Jury Nullification in the jury instructions. Let’s take it out of the gray area and make it a fully legitimate option.
Also, let’s make additions and expand on this idea of true Jury empowerment. For the period a Jury is en-paneled, let's give them powers to question everyone and anyone involved in the process of bringing the accused to trial and involved in the trial itself.
A Jury that can issue subpoenas in their name- the People’s name- and further investigate the issues they believe were not thoroughly investigated by the Police, District Attorney or even the Defense Attorney.
Qualified Immunity for the Police and anyone el;se working on the Government’s behalf, would still be in force. This way, no Jury can cause a financial hardship on anyone they choose to investigate.
Let’s give them the tools to fully do the People’s duty of discovery, deliberation and delivery of Justice on the accused.
Also, give a Jury the power to censure any media outlet that causes disruption to the case or against any government body or Official that either takes actions or makes statements that could jeopardize Justice. Examples of this would be both the decision of the City of Minneapolis to award the Floyd family a settlement and the utterances of elected Officials like Congressperson Maxine Waters and even the President of the United States on their views of what the verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial “should be”. Words have meaning and consequences. Those who use their position to even unintentionally skew public opinion or intimidate jurors should be held accountable.
A Criminal or Civil trial is one of the most impactful things that can happen to an individual or a corporation. Inversely, the outcomes of these trials can have a massive impact on our society. The conduct of the investigations and actions leading up to and during a trial is how our society IS judged. Let's take the time to get it right with the right people in place-those with no agenda, like re-election. Let's give the tools and powers to those fellow citizens who are chosen to deliver this Justice so they can do their job-however temporary-as thoroughly as possible with as much precision and accurate delivery of Justice possible.
Ted Agens is a retired Sergeant First Class with 20 years of active duty service in the US Army Field Artillery. He is a married father and grandfather. He has earned a BA in Social Psychology, and a BS in History - Political Science from the University of Pittsburgh, as well as a Master's Degree (with out licensure) in Mental Health Counseling from St Bonaventure University. He lives in rural North Central Pennsylvania.
American Citizen born in 1776 and a proud supporter of the Constitution of the United States.
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