Tuesday, December 3, 2013

This is America - be what you want to be.

Every time I speak to children, such as when the D.A.R.E. program was in our public schools, I always speak of the pursuit of a dream and how in America you can be almost anything you want to be. We live in the greatest country in the world. I’m proud to live in the United States and would not have it any other way. It is truly the land of opportunity.

I’m a perfect example of this. Until the last months of my senior year of high school, I wasn’t sure I even wanted to go on to college. As with so many other high school kids, I had uncertainty (to say the least) about what I wanted to do when, and if, I grew up. I was at least certain that I could succeed if I worked hard. Not everyone saw it that way. I’ll never forget what my high school counselor told me. He said I’d never get into college if I applied and if I did get in, I’d never finish.

That reminds me of a “retired” doctor whom I’m proud to call my friend. He told me he worked in a laboratory in his first year of medical school and thus was told he was not required, as his fellow students were, to take his chemistry labs. I guess they never told his professor that. To his dismay, he received a failing grade in chemistry and was informed by his professor that he would have to study chemistry all summer and then pass a very difficult exam to make up for his absences. All he had to do to get a passing grade was to do the “make up work.”
His family had received his grade report for the semester and their reaction to the failing grade in chemistry ranged from utter shock to deep disappointment. You see, Doc, in my opinion, is a genius and he should certainly never fail any grade, and his family knew this. Well, the summer was a blur for my friend. He studied for long hours – everyday. Doc did eventually pass that nearly impossible chemistry exam. His medical studies continued and after a long successful career as a treating physician he is spending his “retirement” in his laboratory researching for medical advances in areas of critical illness including diabetes. He admits he was forced that summer to suffer his way into the ultimate position of a top medical chemist, for which he is renowned today throughout the world. That summer of hell earned him the advanced knowledge of chemistry, the most essential of sciences which has greatly benefited him to this day.

Perhaps that’s what my counselor had in mind; perhaps he didn’t. I’ll never know because that was 45 years ago.
The point of this story is you can and should be what you want to be. You can do it. You only need the passion, the drive, the commitment. Everyone should follow their dream. It’s an exciting, unpredictable journey, sometimes with unanticipated wondrous results. Ah, the doors that open and the people you meet.
Who knows even in high school what they are going to be. Even in college, changes in direction are usually made an average of three times before graduation. I personally am an example of this as is my genius friend. He completed seminary and was expected to be a priest. He also had enrolled in the military and was a sniper in the marine corp. His medical career was Doc’s final change. Me – well, I match that in the number of times I changed my major in college: Phys. Ed. (Coaching), the ministry and you know the rest of my story. 
Wherever you live, whatever the challenges you face now or as you travel on your life’s journey, FOLLOW YOUR DREAMS. It was my dream in the study of law; it was Doc’s dream to be a doctor.
People came to the USA from all over the world to obtain a better job and/or the education that is not available back home and the life that they dream of having for themselves and their families.
Dare to dream.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Trial by Impartial Jury: Part II

Celebration of the Anniversary of the signing of the U.S. constitution:
Words of wisdom from the author
Trial by an impartial jury.
Alas the founding fathers did reconcile the prejudice, passions, local interests and selfish views that we all have. We’re human, not infallible. I mention this because we all must get along and work out our prejudices, passions, local interest and selfish views. If they did it then why can’t we do it now? And this reconciliation among 12 strangers is what every jury must accomplish in every case in order to render a fair and just verdict.
What a difficult, challenging task we assign them. The jurors are hard working, dedicated and true-hearted in their determination of what is justice in each case they hear and are the best example of the people checking and balancing their government. It’s up to the jury to decide if the government’s action taken, including arrest and incarceration of a fellow citizen is justified under the circumstances.

The Trayvon Martin Case
1.       The jury did their job and it did so by considering both the evidence and the legal instruction from the court. Reminder: the presumption is not guilty unless  and until being proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt by the prosecution who bears this lofty burden in all criminal cases.
2.       The jury is the ultimate check and balance on government action taken. It’s not we full-time professionals who make the decision but the citizens who are given the impactful task. I get goose bumps every time I speak to jurors after their verdict. They are called in from their busy lives to complete the almost impossible task of how to do justice.
3.       Regardless of whether the stand-your-ground law may or may not have an impact on this case, the issue has now been raised and debated and must be further addressed. For 400 years the castle doctrine has been law. Eight years ago Florida adopted a new stand-your-ground statute. 20 other states have since done the same.

                                                   Important questions to answer:
Is this good for society? We’ve got to review our work and see if that law has been a mistake or at least is in need of renovation (or overhaul). We must revisit and debate the concept of retreating to the wall if you are able to safely do so. This was always required, except in your home (castle). We had this duty to retreat to avoid a deadly encounter. If we for some reason now encourage a deadly encounter, is this what is best for society? Has this change resulted in some more violent behavior and the increase in gun purchases? The right of self defense conceived and developed under the castle doctrine was in place as the law for the last 400 years. Hasn’t it evolved sufficiently in four centuries to make stand your grand laws not necessary?
4.       Finally and most importantly shouldn’t we seize this opportunity to take a probing view of our criminal justice system? This has been called for by many citizen groups in recent years and in fact has actually been done.
This is what they Evangelical Lutheran Church of America did for the last five years and now demands reform in the criminal justice system. Shouldn’t we seize this opportunity to intelligently discuss these issues today?

Nearly all the experts agree that mandatory minimum sentences should be eliminated but politicians are afraid to do so because of being voted out of office for being labeled soft on crime. I firmly believe that sentencing discretion has been taken from the judiciary and replaced by the prosecution offering guilty plea bargains that are too often being accepted by the defendant solely to avoid the risk of a mandated longer sentence being imposed by the prosecutor with the sentencing judge having no discretion!
I also call for the abolishment of sentencing commissions because the sentence is determined by point values and the prosecution rarely will go below the recommended guideline ranges because it’s easier and more popular to simply follow the recommendation. So who truly now does the sentencing?  The PA Commission on Sentencing boasts that we judges in Pennsylvania follow these recommendations in 90% of the cases. I repeat, who is doing the sentencing? Shouldn’t it be returned by the prosecutor and the sentencing commission to the judges who were elected to do that job?
All across this great country, sentencing discretion, harsh mandated sentences, racial and class issues, overcrowding of prisons by being the highest incarcerating country in the world and the high costs of fighting these wars on drugs must be studied by the citizens.
Out of such discussion comes reform.

Next week: Who really does the sentencing in Pennsylvania?

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Trial by an impartial jury: Part I

Celebration of the Anniversary of the Signing of the U.S. Constitution:
Words of wisdom from the author
Trial by an impartial jury.

NBC 10@ Issue


On Friday, July 19, my wife Jane and I traveled to the television studio of NBC 10 on City Ave in the great City of Brotherly Love.  I’m honored to have been invited to discuss legal issues in the Florida trial of George Zimmerman who was found not guilty a few weeks before on charges of the murder of Trayvon Martin.
The Summer of 1787
 Some might find it surprising that my thoughts turned to what was occurring in Philadelphia 226 years earlier. I guess that’s just the way I think, but in my defense I had just finished preparing  for participation in this half hour T.V. program and, as commonly happens,  the United States Constitution was again pulled from the shelf.
We all know that in the long, hot summer of 1787, the founding fathers were laboring and debating the colossal challenge of establishing the structure of government for a new country. The reader recognizes the anniversary of its signing on September 17, 1787.  
In his letter which was read before the vote was called for the adoption of this “imperfect document”, Ben Franklin wrote:
 “I doubt too whether any other convention we can obtain, may be able to make a better constitution. For when you assemble a number of men to have the advantage of their joint wisdom, you inevitably assemble with those men, all their prejudices, their passions, their errors of opinion, their local interests and their selfish views.”

He pleaded with each objector to “doubt a little of his infallibility and to make manifest our unanimity, to put his name on this instrument.”
The wisdom from all that brain power has lived on in the history of mankind. We must continue to inform the people of what we believe can be learned from the experience – what can we do to continue to make this a better world.
Alas the founding fathers did reconcile the prejudice, passions, local interests and selfish views that we all have. We’re human, not infallible. I mention this because we all must get along and work out our prejudices, passions, local interest and selfish views. If they did it then why can’t we do it now?
And this reconciliation among 12 strangers is what every jury must accomplish in every case in order to render a fair and just verdict.  What a difficult, challenging task we assign them! The jurors are hard working, dedicated and true-hearted in their determination of what is justice in each case they hear and are the best example of the people checking and balancing their government. It’s up to the jury to decide if the government’s action taken, including arrest and incarceration of a fellow citizen is justified under the circumstances.
Next week, Part II The Constitution, trial by jury and the Trayvon Martin Case, to be published on my new blog http://justiceorjustthisjudgesprecher.blogspot.com/, on November 13, 2013.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

If you do not graduate from high school, you are 63 times more likely to end up in the criminal justice system.

As the youth of Berks County begin to prepare for another school year, we must remember that Reading is one of the poorest cities in the country. Sadly, only half of Reading’s Public School students graduate from high school. However, instead of giving more help to the children in Reading, we slashed funds, thus greatly increasing class size and decreasing support while ousting dozens of teachers and aides. The school board is about to adopt next school year’s budget with a projected reduction of $15,000,000 (less than the current year).
At the same time the Commonwealth’s current budget ends with many cuts to the poor that are “offset” by tax cuts. We must remember that this budget “cut business taxes by hundreds of millions of dollars…and slashed hundreds of millions of dollars from services for the poor, homeless, troubled and disabled.” (Front page, June 30th, 2012, The Reading Eagle)
What’s wrong with this picture? How can cutting funds for education and related services for our inner-city youth, while at the same time cutting taxes from any source, somehow be beneficial to society? Mathematically, how can cutting the state’s taxes balance significant funding sources in recent years?
We collect fewer taxes, go deeper in debt, or at least continue to carry the loss of revenue, while we cut services to the neediest in society. As I asked in an editorial to The Reading Eagle in September, 2012, “Will these cuts improve the most troubling statistic that only half of the kids in the Reading schools graduate?”
By previously cutting $860,000,000 from public education in Pennsylvania, are we not grooming more young people for our criminal justice system? Shouldn’t we pay for the fundamental educational services now, rather than paying many times more in incarceration expenses later?

Statistic Source Referenced: P.B.S., posted in Philadelphia’s subway passenger cars, as seen by the author on May 31, 2013.

Monday, July 8, 2013

The greatest uncolored criminal, legal and court system on Earth.

We embrace and enjoy many checks and balances that fundamentally grant us protections from an overbearing government that oppresses its citizens. This is how we started 225 years ago. Just four years after our constitution was ratified, it was lawfully amended by the Bill of Rights, the first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution. The basic framework divides powers and duties among three equal branches: Executive, Legislative and Judicial. It was designed this way for the single reason of assuring no one person or government agency exercises exclusive powers while presiding over its people. Yes a civilization needs laws protecting its citizens but the honorable position of elected or appointed official is never very far away from tyrannized behavior. We have witnessed throughout world history dozens of examples of dictators ruling the people with an iron first.

Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely and absolute power is the very definition of tyranny. The world examples include inhumane, harsh and strict punishment. Right now the United States mandated absolute punishment that is strict and harsh, intolerant through mandatory minimum sentences. The reader can find each of those terms in the dictionary defining ‘tyranny.’

For those opposing a despotic leader, there are, sadly, also dozens of examples of genocide where the leaders torture, execute and/or enslaves its citizens. Every nation, at one time in history has been guilty of this conduct.

The reader is invited to comment on whether mandatory minimum sentences are strict, tough, mandated and severe examples of intolerant sentences where the judge has no discretion except to follow the prosecutor’s (Executive) or Legislature’s sentences for life. The executive and legislative branches elect its representatives as often as every two years. It is only U.S. Senators that are elected for a longer, six-year term. Which one is governed by public opinion and which is free to do what is right, not necessarily those elected officials more accountable and therefore more liable to do the will of the voters?

Key Amendments to the United States Constitution

December 15, 1791:
Bill of Citizens Rights:
1. Freedom of speech, religion, press, etc.

2. Right to keep and bear arms.

3. The conditions for quartering soldiers.

4. Right of search and seizure.

5. Provisions regarding the prosecution of an individual.

6. Right to a speedy trial.

7. Right to trial by jury.

8. Provision against excessive bail and cruel punishment before trial.

9. Rule of construction regarding the constitution; and

10. The rights of the states under the Constitution.

  December 6, 1865: 13th Amendment: Abolish slavery and involuntary genocide
JJuly 9, 1868: 14th Amendment: Blacks as well as whites are citizens of the United States. No state shall abridge privileges or deprive its citizen of life, liberty or property without due process of law.
 February 3, 1870: 15th Amendment: Cannot deprive citizens of voting because of race, color or previous condition of servitude.
JJanuary 23, 1964: 24th Amendment: No denial of voting privilege because of poll or other taxes which were established typically to keep certain classes of people from voting.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Is this Justice or is it Just This?

My name is Judge Jeffrey K. Sprecher, and I am a Court of Common Pleas Judge in Reading, Pa. Welcome to my newly created blog!

Periodically I will be writing about controversial topics on which I believe I am well-versed through my education and experience. I invite you to comment and offer your opinion. I anticipate extensive discussion and debate. This is how we learn; by hearing both sides of the issue and then discussing the subject zealously but also professionally. We must be mindful that topics generally result in people expressing different opinions. If we become disrespectful we will lose sight of the issues at hand. Keep an open mind; agree, disagree, enjoy and learn.

As a trial judge now in my 22nd year on the bench, I believe that the other two branches of government have committed a constitutional trespass with regard to usurping sentencing discretion from the judiciary. I express the reasons for this conclusion in my book, Justice or Just This? A Constitutional Trespass. The book is self-published; I wrote for the general public, so it is an easy read.

After reading this book, it will be up to you to convince the lawmakers to return sentencing discretion to the judiciary, where it belongs. Although our lawmakers admit their “tough on crime” mandatory sentences are wrong, they refuse to correct their mistake because you will vote them out of office for being soft on crime. That’s their reason for allowing this monster to continue to fill our prisons and bankrupt our government. However, don’t take my word for it – ask your legislator yourself. You must learn the facts and then proceed the way your conscience guides you…

There were 11 PA state prisons built from 1820 to 1980. In 1982 the PA Commission on Sentencing was created; 16 prisons were built in only the 14 years thereafter.

Please stay tuned for more information via my blog. In addition, please visit www.jeffreysprecher.com or email book@jeffreysprecher.com. I look forward to your feedback.