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The Next Step in Criminal Justice Reform

W. Scott Cole

Posted on August 12, 2018 13:22

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Yes, there is a next step in criminal justice reform. It’s not all about helping the prisoners make an honest living after they are released or reforming sentencing laws. We need to look at the laws that create the criminals too.

What is a crime? The Oxford Dictionary defines it as “an action or omission that constitutes an offense that may be prosecuted by the state and is punishable by law”. Merriam-Webster says it is “an illegal act for which someone can be punished by the government”. By those definitions, 100% of the adults in this country is a criminal. Ever gotten a speeding ticket? You violated the law and committed a crime. Yes, that does sound trivial and laws against speeding are needed, considering how many people seem to have lead weights in their feet, but the trivial laws are just a starting point and even those can have a major impact on people’s lives.

Enforcing the law is inherently violent, no matter how trivial the law may seem to be. Remember Eric Garner? He died at the hands of the police because he sold loose cigarettes on the streets of New York. That was illegal because the city did not get any tax money from cigarettes sold in that fashion. Yes, a man died because he violated the law, preventing the city from getting a few pennies of tax money.

Today’s society has reached the point that every time something bad happens to someone, there is a knee-jerk reaction to make the act that caused the harm illegal. Some of those acts should be illegal, but many should not. It’s a pretty simple equation. The more laws there are, the more criminals there are. The more criminals there are, the bigger the criminal justice system is, the harder it is for those criminals to make an honest living, and the more second class citizens there are in this country.

There are literally so many laws in this country, even the government can’t keep track of them all. The result of having so many laws is that we no longer have a criminal justice system. It is a plea bargain system. Prosecutors have so many options of what to charge a defendant with that they use the “kitchen sink” approach, overcharging in order to make a plea bargain look appealing. Unless the defendant has the money to go to trial, almost all defendants accept a plea bargain out of fear of being found guilty of all those crimes and spending a long time in prison, even if he is actually innocent. The worst part of this path to “justice” is that every criminal defendant has many constitutional due process rights available to him beginning at the moment of his arrest. But almost all of those rights become effective only at the start of a trial. By accepting a plea bargain, he unknowingly gives up those rights, thus circumventing due process and the Constitution.

Maybe the solution is to require lawmakers to repeal two laws for every law they enact for awhile, starting with the trivial laws and the ones passed because of a knee jerk reaction to something that made the news and caught society’s attention.

W. Scott Cole

Posted on August 12, 2018 13:22

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Source: KSDK

The Illinois House has approved a package of criminal-justice reforms to aid crime victims and reduce prison populations.

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