This is my very first Blog Post, and in that I don’t know who exactly constitutes my audience at present, Ralph Waldo Emerson’s advice to write “always for the unknown friend” smiles warmly at me as I begin.
My general subject for the foreseeable future will be the American Criminal Justice System. As my website (howardgfranklin.com) indicates, I am the author of a novel entitled Gideon’s Children, which tells the story of the birth and enlargement of the Public Defender System in the 1960s, and the revolution it sparked during that era as part of the greater Civil Rights Movement. My purpose in creating G.C. was to contribute to the growing conversation today about our Criminal Justice System and Civil Rights with which it is so closely intertwined that for most purposes they cannot be separated, and my blog posts are intended to further that discussion.
Conversation implies a dialogue between two or more persons, so I very much hope that readers will respond and a genuine discussion will ensue. In the meantime, unknown friend, let’s chat. Now, for openers, you might be thinking, I don’t commit crimes, so the Criminal Justice System doesn’t directly affect my life, so why should I be concerned?
And the answer is, that while fortunately most crime is committed by less than three percent of our population, all of us are subject to: (1) the Patriot Act, which suspends our right, if arrested, to know what the charge against us is at an arraignment proceeding, and to a timely trial at which with the assistance of a lawyer we can defend ourselves; (2) the No-Fly Rule, in which at the moment there is no legal or administrative process in place to permit an individual to know whether he or she is on the list prior to flying, and even more importantly, if one’s name should appear on the list, likewise no way to find out why, or how to clear one’s name if an error has occurred; and (3) NSA surveillance of all Americans, which has spread to state and local governments also performing 1984-like spying on you and me, which is out of control and therefore without probable cause due to insufficient court supervision.
In future Blog Posts, each of the above issues will be discussed separately in detail. But for now let’s talk about the argument that if one has done nothing wrong, he or she has nothing to worry about. That’s a reasonable first thought. But unfortunately, it’s not wholly true, because the possibility of human error is always present, and society’s good guys are not always good guys, which I will demonstrate in a future Blog Post that focuses on Police and Prosecutor misconduct that clearly demonstrates why our individual constitutional rights must be obeyed and protected.
For if the fear of terrorism becomes so great that it causes us citizens to surrender our constitutional rights that form the fundamental base on which our democracy rests, then terrorism wins because our governmental authorities are acting exactly the same way that dictatorships do. True, America cannot fight terrorism and its evil perpetrators by conducting our defense by the Marquis of Queensbury Rules. However, so as to not become just like our enemies, we can and must tailor our technological weaponry, along with proper court supervision, so that it effectively protects us physically, while at the same time also protects and preserves our basic freedoms provided by our Constitution.
This need to protect and preserve our basic freedoms as guaranteed by the Bill of Rights was never more important than now when Americans have suffered a large loss of faith in the ability of our government to properly function. Recently, in an article in Politico, Doug Sosnik cited a Gallup poll from late June of this year that showed that only 30 percent of Americans expressed confidence in the U.S. Supreme Court. And while this figure compared favorably with the President’s rating of 29 percent and Congress’ seven percent, the Judicial branch’s rating is saddest of all.
Why? Because our society is based on the Rule of Law. And if we as a people lose our respect for the law and our courts, and therefore allow our Judicial branch, the ultimate check on the Executive and Legislative branches and the dispensary of justice, to fail, then our entire way of life will also fail.
Our Criminal Justice System, a crucial component of our Judicial branch, is composed of many parts: police, prosecutors, public defenders, private defense lawyers, trial courts, appellate courts, prisons, and probation and parole officers, both at a state and federal level. Future Blog Posts will focus on each of these vital components, and explore both problems and solutions to each.
First up for discussion is the Public Defender Crisis due to the fact that a large percentage of the criminal courts’ business involves minorities and the poor, a significant segment of our society that is being underserved and hence represent a tinderbox for violent social disturbance.
Thanks for listening. Let’s chat again soon.