Thursday, June 21, 2007

American Justice

I've been following with great interest the case against Conrad Black currently in closing arguments in Chicago, and I am increasingly outraged at the manner and system in which Black is being prosecuted. My knowledge of the American justice system had largely been limited to civil and constitutional issues- and this first in-depth look at the criminal justice system has been a rude awakening. Firstly, the system of plea bargains clearly lends itself to abuse, as I believe it has in the Black case. The ability of prosecutors to determine sentences, while not absolute, is much broader than that in Canada. Combine this with the extremely high sentences available (Conrad Black is facing over a century of jail time), and there results an extremely strong incentive for those involved to implicate others in order to reduce the penalty they incur, regardless of truth.

This is combined with an biased court procedure where, contrary to Canadian and English practice, the prosecutors get the last statement in closing arguments. In the Black case, the independent directors were going to be subject to SEC investigations- their testimony became favourable, and the threat of SEC sanctions vanished. Again in relation to the Black case, the theory of the case presented by the prosecutors was that Black was in charge of the supposed frauds, the mastermind. Nevertheless, the judge will instruct the jury with a so-called "ostrich instruction" which calls them to convict if they believe Black merely to have been willfully ignorant of the fraud- a theory sprung on the defence at the end of the case.

While the procedure of an American case is hardly inspiring, the enormous power wielded by prosecutors with little judicial oversight is what is most concerning, and which is most likely to lead to injustice.


Blogger PithLord said...

This is one area where we are fortunate to be less democratic.

June 27, 2007 7:24 AM  

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