• Shyam Arakere 10th Etiwanda High

A Broken Court System

There is one thing I can say with absolute confidence, and that is that our criminal justice system is severely flawed. How? You know how people say we live in a fair and just society? That is simply not true and our court system is everything from Human/civil rights violation to a system which supports discrimination and prejudice. To understand everything, we have to go back to when the Constitution of the United States was written. Along with the constitution, came a bill of rights, which were in essence basic God-given unalienable rights. Our 5th amendment right states our liberties cannot be taken away without the due process of law. What is due process? Due process is a process that allows us to have a fair chance at explaining ourselves, most of the time with representation before a decision being made about our fate. The due process comes in play in many legal situations. For example, a kid being expelled from school has a right to have an expulsion hearing, and that is their due process being enacted. But in much more serious cases, when someone is being charged with a crime, they have a right to a fair and speedy trial by a jury of their peers. After being arrested or charged, a person will have an arraignment, which is a hearing before a judge to decide what the bail will be. Sometimes, a bail isn’t even given. This is when things get complicated because having bail in our system makes people have to pay their way to fight the charge from a standpoint of freedom. When bail cannot be afforded, the accused must stand trial from behind bars, even when they have not been convicted yet. Now it gets much worse. Those who cannot afford bail probably cannot afford a lawyer; therefore, they are given a public defender. A public defender is a state employee that has been hired by the court to give legal defense to the accused if they cannot afford it. The problem is that these lawyers are often over-worked, under-staffed, and severely under-paid. They do not have time to represent their clients because they have over hundreds of them at any given time. Public defenders often urge you to take a plea deal from the state. What if you don’t want to take a plea deal? You’ll have to go through trial with poor representation. During this trial, usually the state will offer the accused a plea deal, which often seems better than it actually is. For example, Kalief Browder was arrested off the street one day because someone said he robbed them. Now this was a very hazy moment and they virtually no evidence. The prosecution continuously asked for more time to prepare for trial and everytime the judge granted it. Before he knew it, Browder had served 3 years in jail without actually being convicted simply because of a racially motivated arrest and not being able to make bail. The prosecution offered Browder a plea deal of time served and no probation. What does this mean? That means Browder can go free and does not even have to probation. So why not take it? This brings us to a very scary part of the system. Taking a plea deal means you are admitting guilt, and unlike a jury conviction, an admission of guilt cannot be overturned. You cannot appeal a plea deal. Once you take a plea deal, you are a convicted felon without a trial by jury. So at times it seems that these plea deals are a ticket out of the system, but in reality it is just a fast pass into being stuck in the system forever. You will always have to say that you are a convicted felon at job interviews, and the whole world can figure it out with one search on the internet. Thankfully in this case Browder stuck it out, and the prosecution dropped all charges, but how long did it take? So next time you think someone should just stop “resisting arrest,” just remember that it isn’t just an arrest, it’s a whole new world, especially if they are people of color, or members of a lower socio-economic status. So the question is, how do we put an end to it? There are always opportunities to end this, and an example for this is abolishing the cash-bail system. Unfortunately, in 2020, California’s proposition to end cash-bail failed. We must take a stand against our flawed criminal justice system and fight for those who cannot. Remember, this is a matter of humanity, and it starts by understanding that conviction does not mean guilt.

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