“Reality,” a commenter wrote, “Look at history and tell me how many times the Feds lose cases when there are so many financial crimes involved and so much fed money being spent to investigate.”
It’s true, the Feds, that is the Department of Justice [DOJ], has a high conviction rate. It’s so high that the DOJ is either nearly infallible or the justice system has become so broken, so pro-government, that innocent people have little chance at justice.
The literal reason for super-high conviction rates at the DOJ is because approximately 95 percent of defendants take plea bargains. They almost have to – whether they are innocent or not.
In the money-driven federal justice system [you need big money to get a respected attorney] the method used by the DOJ to get high conviction rates is to grossly overcharge a defendant so that he faces long years in prison.
Then offer him a plea deal with a substantially shorter potential prison term.
For instance, Joe O’Hara was facing 20 years on a bribery charge in El Paso Texas.
I personally believe Joe is innocent. But the public official he allegedly bribed – with a $5,000 fully reported, fully on the books, otherwise perfectly legal political donation – and for which he got nothing in return – was also charged with accepting a bribe[s].
That public official took a plea bargain – contingent [of course] on his testifying that Joe and others bribed him.
This man did not care perhaps if he was really bribed or not – or that he gave Joe nothing in return. He was simply seeking to get out of years of potential prison.
In turn, Joe was also offered a plea deal – for 2.5 years. From 20 years down to 2.5 years.
Joe had to make an assessment. He knew he had a judge who was salivating at the prospect of putting people in prison and making a name for himself in the arena of public corruption.
Joe took the deal and likely saved a decade or more of his life in prison. I don’t think he had a chance at a fair trial. Our present federal justice system if so corrupt that it does not matter if Joe was innocent.
It just doesn’t matter.
There was another factor that militated against Joe. He had no money. Years of fighting Nxivm left him bankrupt.
So in the Texas bribery case, seemingly unrelated to NXIVM, he had a public defender. He therefore was not considered a formidable opponent. He could not afford a top lawyer. The DOJ wrote him off – and probably felt darn good about it. Another conviction.
“And what the hell; 2.5 years is not so long. He’ll get out and resume his life,” I can imagine the prosecutor saying to himself.
In my case, Ms. Chitra Selvaraj, my codefendant in the Bronfman-inspired federal charges against me, is currently facing up to 20 years in prison – just as I am.
She was offered a misdemeanor and no prison time by former AUSA Anthony Bruce, a man who I believe corruptly led a grand jury to indict us in 2015.
Who wouldn’t want to take that deal? A misdemeanor? Instead of 20 years?
But Chitra’s challenge was that the misdemeanor came with a condition: She must lie in court for the DOJ against me.
This is what former AUSA Bruce proposed: She could have a misdemeanor if she wanted. From 20 years to no prison.
She had to decline the deal however since she was unwilling to perjure herself, she said, and make up crimes that neither she nor I did.
It’s a sad fact: She could get out of trouble by simply lying. And the DOJ would be pleased to accept her lies.
But isn’t that what children try to do? Get out of trouble by lying? Isn’t that what cowards do?
But, still, can I blame Joe or anyone who takes a plea? No I cannot. This is what the system has become.
Convictions [via plea bargains] of innocent Americans are appropriate at the DOJ. Sure, it’s Machiavellian: Keeping conviction stats high is important for prosecutors’ career advancement.
There is another reason: The DOJ notion is that the importance of public perception of the infallibility of the DOJ is more important than the lives of a few thousand innocent people.
No one can beat the federal system. That’s the idea they want Americans to believe. They want you to believe that if the DOJ charges you, you are through. The judiciary is irrelevant. There is no such thing as a fair trial in the federal courts. That is the approximate reality. And the DOJ wants Americans to believe that. It’s efficient. It makes their job easier.
It keeps our prisons full. It keeps bad guys off the streets. And if a few innocent people have to suffer, it’s the price we pay to insure that we lock up all the bad guys.
The perception has become that the DOJ is never wrong. If they charge you, you must be guilty.
In the old days, the days of the founding fathers, they knew that government is often wrong and that people are people. When people – cloaked in governmental power and authority – are unchecked – and not watched – they become corrupt.
That’s why they wrote the constitution and included a number of provisions for due process.
It’s funny. In America, today, we all believe that a politician can be corrupt but for some reason we think a government prosecutor is somehow above that weakness – that all the rest of of us have.
We would easily believe a politician could be corrupt and insist on watchdogs and transparency. We believe police can be corrupt. We want body cams on them.
But for some reason we don’t want to believe that prosecutors can be corrupt. It strikes at our whole sense of comfort.
The people who have the most power – prosecutors – are the ones we don’t want to watch. We let them police themselves. And trust their integrity – where we would never trust anyone else- not a priest, not a senator, not even the president.
But prosecutors – who control literally the life and liberty of people – they are to be trusted never to abuse their power?
That’s the American idea and of course this is wrong.
The Innocence Project has shown time and again that about 10 percent of exonerates on DNA evidence were innocent – but took plea deals!
Totally innocent men and women took plea deals because they were facing long years in prison. Were I a prosecutor, I would be ashamed of such a statistic and not proud of a 96 percent conviction rate – if it included say 10 percent of innocent people.
So the question is raised: Does every innocent person take a plea deal or get convicted at trial?
The reality is that, on occasion, an innocent defendant can get a federal judge that is fair, a judge that did not originally come up from the ranks of prosecutors at the DOJ.
It is a shocking fact that most federal judges were formerly DOJ prosecutors. So they have a natural bias toward convictions, toward supporting their old friends. People are people.
Many of those judges themselves put innocent people in prison when they were prosecutors to boost their own conviction rates – which helped them, in turn, get promoted to higher positions and ultimately led to a federal judgeship.
If this is true, and I believe it is, then what chance does an innocent defendant have for an acquittal in the federal system? Most federal judges are pro-prosecution because they were prosecutors.
But occasionally, judges are appointed who believe in due process and the constitution. They know that prosecutors – possessing almost unlimited power to destroy lives – are corrupt or semi-corrupt [I call any man or woman corrupt who would knowingly convict an innocent person] and these judges will impose fair trials.
Call me naive, but I still believe a fair trial, presided over by a judge who is not pro-prosecution – but neutral – will convict the guilty and acquit the innocent most of the time.
But who gets a fair trial?
Prosecutors – such as former Assistant US Attorney Anthony Bruce – who I have written about on this website – are extreme examples of corruption.
But he is not unique. He is just more brazen.
Many DOJ prosecutors know a person is innocent, but it frankly doesn’t matter. I think this is what happened to Joe O”Hara.
I believe the DOJ knew he was innocent, but they also knew they had him. Why let any fish go, once he’s hooked?
Let no indictment go to waste. Innocence or guilt is of secondary consideration. “Show me the man and I’ll find you the crime.” That’s a motto the DOJ might consider.
The present Latin motto of the DOJ is “Qui Pro Domina Justitia Sequitur”. It has been translated as “Who prosecutes on behalf of justice.”
I would change their motto to: “Qui Pro Domina Cupiditas Sequitur”
Who prosecutes on behalf of ambition.
And let us, while we’re at it, reverse another longstanding belief: Blackstone’s rule.
Blackstone wrote, “It is better that 10 guilty ones go free than one innocent suffer.”
Much of due process is based on this one concept.
But the new DOJ rule, perhaps we could call it, “Blackguard’s Rule,” is: “It is better that 10 innocent ones are convicted [via plea deals] than anyone we indict – guilty or innocent – go free.”
We never let them off the hook.
If the DOJ spends time and resources on an investigation – for they have only finite hours to invest – [about 2000 hours per prosecutor per year; if they spend a lot of time [say 200 hours] and it turns out that the target is totally innocent, what’s a DOJ prosecutor to do?
He just spent 10 percent of his year on an innocent man. He’s got all this time in. He will be chided if he does not get enough convictions. A prosecutor who does not win convictions [via, mainly, plea bargains] is considered a dud. He won’t be promoted.
On top of that the public presumes the DOJ is infallible. When they jury sees the defendant paraded in, they don’t think he’s innocent until proven guilty. They think ‘What did he do?”
Then there is the fact that there is no watchdog for prosecutors.
I can hear the DOJ prosecutors saying among themselves, “Most of the people indicted are guilty of something anyhow.”
The conscience says, “Most, but not all.”
The prosecutor argues with himself, “If a few innocents suffer – what the hell is the difference?”
His conscience says, “It would matter to you if you happened to be one of those who are innocent and charged.”
But the conscience is a small voice. Easy to ignore — for a while.
On top of that, Americans just don’t care.
Americans care if a dog is abused. If someone beat a dog or a cat, you would hear a howl rise up and a lynching party ready to form.
But if their own Department of Justice provably puts thousands of innocent humans behind bars every year – destroying their lives – for conviction stats – no one seems to care.
That’s the America I am now acquainted with. It’s a different America that I thought existed when I was young.
It is the America that has the most people in prison of any nation in the history of the world.
I think this is partly because people don’t care that their Department of Justice has run amok and cares little for anything other than conviction stats. They do not care that the DOJ regularly puts innocent people in prison. It’s an inconvenient fact and they do not want to hear about it.
Many prosecutors, I believe, do it habitually, knowingly. Others play the game in such a fashion so that they never face their demons.
They put on an air of high-mindedness and simply avoid examining evidence of innocence. They say to themselves, “It is the defense’s job to establish innocence. My job is to convict.”
Then they ignore evidence of innocence and overcharge innocent defendants who now face long prison sentences. Then they offer a plea deal with 1/10th the prison time.
Scared and broke many innocent people take the deal.
The DOJ prosecutor gets the conviction stat. And goes to sleep at night, proud of their accomplishment.
They are criminals in the eyes of the true Lady Justice. But they self righteously crow they are on the side of justice.
And when the innocent person allocutes in front of the judge – admitting to something he never did – to get the plea deal and save years in prison – the corrupt prosecutor can say to himself – “See he admitted to the crime. He’s guilty. I did my job.”
What place in hell is there for such as these?