We live in a police state where every person is actively breaking numerous laws. Between the constant issuance of speeding tickets, verboten substance possession charges, public intoxication charges, parking citations, and numerous other victimless “crimes” being perpetuated by everyday people you would think our court systems would be flooded with so many cases that none of these things would actually get to trail. The dirty little secret of the state is that they’re only able to fine, incarcerate, and otherwise punish people for these petty crimes is because they rarely go to trail. If we want to crash the punishment system (often incorrectly called a justice system in this country) all we need to do is take everything to court:
AFTER years as a civil rights lawyer, I rarely find myself speechless. But some questions a woman I know posed during a phone conversation one recent evening gave me pause: “What would happen if we organized thousands, even hundreds of thousands, of people charged with crimes to refuse to play the game, to refuse to plea out? What if they all insisted on their Sixth Amendment right to trial? Couldn’t we bring the whole system to a halt just like that?”
“The truth is that government officials have deliberately engineered the system to assure that the jury trial system established by the Constitution is seldom used,” said Timothy Lynch, director of the criminal justice project at the libertarian Cato Institute. In other words: the system is rigged.
In the race to incarcerate, politicians champion stiff sentences for nearly all crimes, including harsh mandatory minimum sentences and three-strikes laws; the result is a dramatic power shift, from judges to prosecutors.
The Supreme Court ruled in 1978 that threatening someone with life imprisonment for a minor crime in an effort to induce him to forfeit a jury trial did not violate his Sixth Amendment right to trial.
On the phone, Susan said she knew exactly what was involved in asking people who have been charged with crimes to reject plea bargains, and press for trial. “Believe me, I know. I’m asking what we can do. Can we crash the system just by exercising our rights?”
The answer is yes. The system of mass incarceration depends almost entirely on the cooperation of those it seeks to control. If everyone charged with crimes suddenly exercised his constitutional rights, there would not be enough judges, lawyers or prison cells to deal with the ensuing tsunami of litigation. Not everyone would have to join for the revolt to have an impact; as the legal scholar Angela J. Davis noted, “if the number of people exercising their trial rights suddenly doubled or tripled in some jurisdictions, it would create chaos.”
We can grind the police state to a halt by simply exercising the rights that are supposedly guaranteed us by the United States Constitution. In other words we must overcome our fear that the state will toss us in a cage longer unless we surrender our rights. Furthermore we must stop looking at tickets on a purely costs basis. Sure it may cost more to fight a ticket in court than it would to simply pay it off, and the state realizes this, they have engineered the system this way to ensure we simply surrender our money to them.
The current criminalization of everything requires complacency by the people. Were every single citation, ticket, find, and charge taken to trail the court systems would be so flooded with cases that they would be entirely unable to function. In such a scenario they would be forced to make a decision: concentrate on crimes where a victim exists or continue prosecuting victimless crimes and finding it impossible to get through the cases.
Nothing can be changed at the ballot box, but we can change things through other methods. Jury nullification and taking everything to court, in other words exercising your rights, are two great ways to toss monkey wrenches into the state’s works. The state expects us to roll over and pay the money they demand from us because it’s easier than fighting them. In the short run it may be easier to roll over but in the long run it costs us far more as every infraction against our liberty the state wins empowers them, encourages them, and makes them believe they can extract anything they want from us by merely making the cost of fighting seem smaller in the short run. Let us use their own weapon against them, let us gunk up the engine of punishment by exercising our rights.