What happened to the rights of the accused in America? – Fareed Zakaria

Reading about the short, troubled life of Freddie Gray — who suffered lead poisoning as a child, was arrested for drug offenses more than a dozen times and died in police custody nearly two weeks ago in Baltimore — I recalled a description of the world of young men, mostly black, trapped in the American criminal justice system. It was written by an archconservative who was at the time a prisoner in a Florida jail.

“Many are victims of legal and social injustice, inadequately provided for by the public assistance system, and over-prosecuted and vengefully sentenced,” he wrote. “The failures of American education, social services and justice [are] unaffordable, as well as repulsive. In tens of millions of undervalued human lives . . . the United States pays a heavy price for an ethos afflicted by wantonness, waste and official human indifference.”

The author of those words is Conrad Black, once one of the world’s most powerful media barons, who spent more than three years in prison on charges of fraud. Whatever one thinks of Black’s case, which is complicated and on which he mounts a robust defense, after he became enmeshed in the American judicial system, the Canadian-born (now British) Black studied it intensely and wrote a book and several essays about it. His lessons are worth taking seriously, since they come from a friend of the United States — indeed, a tough-minded Tory .

It is well known that, with nearly 5 percent of the world’s population, the United States has close to 25 percent of the world’s prisoners and, Black adds, 50 percent of its lawyers. The U.S. prison population is many times higher, per capita, than that of other advanced democracies such as Canada, Britain, France and Japan.

Prosecutors win 95 percent of their cases, 90 percent of them without ever having to go to trial, says Black, noting that the overall conviction rate is 60 percent in Canada and about 50 percent in Britain. Are American prosecutors that much better? No, Black insists, it is because of the plea bargain, a system of bullying and intimidation by government lawyers for which they “would be disbarred in most other serious countries, [and which] enables prosecutors to threaten everyone around the target with indictment if they don’t miraculously recall, under careful government coaching, inculpatory evidence.”

Read the rest via What happened to the rights of the accused in America? – The Washington Post.

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