Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Under what circumstances do defendants become snitches or confidential informants? Questions to Ponder: Part I

Do drug law enforcement procedures and mandated sentencing laws contribute to poverty and violence in our cities?

Where are the gangs located?

Where are kids raised by a single parent or no parents?

Where do most of the inmates in prison come from?

Where has our family structure suffered the most?

Do we make the situation worse with our tough drug enforcement policy?

Earlier this year, a New York Times article written, by John Tierney, featured four reasons why so many city families who reside in low-income neighborhoods become trapped in poverty:

1. The parents can't find jobs and if they do, it's minimum wage, well below the poverty level.
2. The most lucrative job is one that, sadly, is most prevalent - illegal drug sales.
3. Incarceration follows. [1]
4. "Prison has become the new poverty trap," according to Bruce Western, a Harvard sociologist - " a routine event for poor African American men and their families creating an enduring disadvantage at the very bottom of society."

In late 2011, as a trial court judge of 20 years, I felt compelled to publish a book on this very subject. The entire second chapter of my book, Justice or Just This - A Constitutional Trespass (
www.jeffreysprecher.com) is dedicated to the devastation of the family structure. For instance, women - most likely mothers - have incarceration rates 11 times greater now than 30 years ago.

The battles are fought in the city

We have lost the "war on drugs" and what's worse, taken far too many city residents prisoner. I firmly believe we have unintentionally declared war on our cities and the statistics prove it. Although illegal drug use is the same for blacks and whites, the incarceration rate per capita is not. We all have seen reports concluding African Americans have been arrested and imprisoned at a far greater rate than whites. Mr. Tierney points out such a statistic:

"Among African-Americans who have grown up during the era of mass incarceration, one in four has had a parent locked up at some point during childhood. For black men in their early 20s and early 30s without a high school diploma, the incarceration rate is so high - nearly 40 percent nationwide - that they're more likely to be behind bars than to have a job."

28 years of progress?

Mr. Tierney's article further shows , by graph, that children of inmates has increased in numbers five-fold from half a million in 1980 to over 2.5 million by 2008. At the same time the employment rate for black men without a high school diploma decreased from 60% employment in 1980 to just 28% in 2008 while the incarceration rate for black men without that degree increased from 10% in 1980 to nearly 40% in 2008.

Education is essential

A similar statistic is published on subway cars in Philadelphia: "Without a high school diploma, you're up to 66 times more likely to end up a defendant in the criminal justice system" (quoting the Public Broadcasting System).

[1] And new prisons, especially those in Pennsylvania, are located far away which makes parental contact with the children back home expensive and nearly impossible to attain. (Quote from author)

Right or Just Popular? State and Church Decision Making.

The U.S. and its three equal branches of government that check and balance one another is the fairest and most effective form of government. It is the best, but remains imperfect. Certainly it is far better than an oligarchy, a dictatorship, the royal family governing the people, a monarchy et al.
All power corrupts. We’ve seen countless examples, even in America, that absolute power corrupts absolutely. With the implementation of checks and balances, it stands to reason that corruption will likely be detected and reported, and that consequences will follow for those who abuse their government-given power that citizens allocate to their leaders.
Corruption, its detection and prosecution, is not the only benefit of co-equal, separate branches of government monitoring those elected to office. Two of the three branches require that the will of the people be heard and carried out in the laws that are made.  The executive and the legislative branches are both perfect examples of representative government, of the people and for the people. If it’s popular, we’ll vote for it. But is the will of the people always what is best for the country? There is a third branch, one that protects against the others blindly following what the people want, to the point of infringing on the rights and freedoms of others. There are multiple examples of this process being followed throughout our nation’s history, especially with regard to those who have minimal political influence and thus suffer at the hands of those in power passing discriminatory laws.
Also, the “haves” control the making of laws sometimes directly designed and enforced to keep the “have-nots” in check. It is rarely explained by the “haves” as controlling the “have nots.” It is typically justified by the “haves” as necessary for the safety of the general public or to maintain the status quo. A violent crime being committed is a proper transition into passing a law that “over kills,” one that does more harm than good, that is popular without being just and that does not negatively impact “the haves,” but does the “have nots.” No legislation is really effective to begin with because these heinous crimes have occurred since the beginning of time. Even with tough laws that severely punish the perpetrator, crime continues to exist. Existing effective laws are almost always in place and thus the new law may seem like a good idea, but it isn’t. New laws often affect far more people than originally intended or if one is even able to zero in on the next perpetrator.
What is the byproduct of this type of political action? Why do these two branches traditionally attempt to pass popular laws that are not very effective? It is because the masses will support it because it also “appears” to be a sound idea. Thus it gets and/or keeps someone in political office. It is the oldest and most fundamental trick in the book. It keeps the politician popular. Despite not doing what is right, it is what is popular and leads to their re-election.
With one of the government’s branches it is not intended to be that way. By design, these public officials serve 10-year terms as judges in Pennsylvania as opposed to two or four-year terms, and then run for retention, not re-election. This is to ensure they will not be voted out of office if they do not follow the will of the people. The founding fathers would want the judiciary to do what is right, not just what is popular. They are the only ones protected against being forced to do only what is popular. Let’s go back in time to see what two powerful leaders did 2,000 years ago when faced with the question: right or popular?
                 Some Lessons from the Bible:  Is it Right or Just Popular?
“As soon as it was morning, the chief priest held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council. They bound Jesus, lead him away, and handed him over to Pilate.”
Now at the festival, he used to release a prisoner for them, anyone for whom they asked. Now a man called Barabbas was in prison with the rebels who had committed murder during the insurrection. So the crowd came and began to ask Pilate to do for them according to his custom. Then he answered them, “Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” For he realized it was out of jealousy that the chief priests had handed him over. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release Barabbas for him instead. Pilate spoke to them again, “Then what do you wish me to do with the man you call the King of the Jews?” They shouted back, “Crucify him.” Pilate asked them, “Why, what evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Crucify him.” So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released Barabbas for them, and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified.

(Retold from Mark 15: Verses 1-15)

Pontius Pilate did what was popular, not what was right, in his decision to crucify Jesus. How many powerful people paint themselves in a corner, and/or choose the easiest path over the most difficult? Is it right, or just popular? Is it the easy way? Is it justice or it just is. Let’s take a look at King Herod and the leadership decision he made.
King Herod had stolen his brother’s wife, Herodias, and John the Baptist criticized him for doing this. Herod at his birthday party told his daughter he would give her any gift she wanted. She had just finished entertaining his powerful friends with a sultry dance. Her mother (the wife that was stolen) wanted revenge against John the Baptist for criticizing her and Herod, and so she told the daughter to ask for the head of John the Baptist on a silver platter.
The king was sorry, but he was embarrassed to break his oath in front of his guests. Herodias wanted John killed in revenge but without Herod’s approval, she was powerless. This leader, in front of many other leaders and politicians at the party, had a choice to either tell her how immoral she was for her request or to grant the wish, and not renege on the promise. John the Baptist was beheaded. (from Mark 6: 16-30)