I am going to write quite a few posts on crime, criminals, punishment, and justice. This is just the first I have posted. I have several others in the draft stages, but they are going to take more time.
Kurt Gödel was a mathematician, and he is most famous for his Incompleteness Theorems. His theorems deal with systems (mathematica ones). One theorem is that, “If the system is consistent, it cannot be complete.” While Gödel was talking about mathematics, I believe this extends to other systems. For example, imagine you could instantly read a book. And, I tasked you with authoring a new book. The new book would be the book of all books that do not reference themselves. Simple. Until you reach the end of your task, you are on easy street. Then, what do you do with the final entry? If you list your book in the book, it references itself, and should not have been included. If it doesn’t reference list itself, it should have been included, and your book is incomplete. You cannot win!
What does this have to do with crime? Everything. We are constantly tinkering with criminal laws. We are constantly expanding criminal law to “catch” those criminals who evaded justice, as if it is possible to create a system of laws that is so perfect that it cannot be made better. And yet, it is impossible to ever do this. For Gödel has proven that even aspiring for perfection is a goal that cannot be achieved.
Beyond Gödel, it takes on even more absurdity. Consider this. Felonies are the most serious crimes you can be accused and convicted of in our society. Perhaps treason, which is defined in the U.S. Constitution, has a higher standing. But even so, felonies can and do carry death penalties in many states. The death penalty could certainly be considered the most serious of penalties. As such, you would expect that each and every citizen would know what crimes are felonies in their state. So, let me give you a moment to name the crimes in your state that are felonies. Come back to reading when you have enumerated them.
Back so soon? Had trouble with that did you? OK, that is understandable. So, simply list the crimes that can carry the death penalty or life in prison in your state. Obviously, it is much easier to remember this list, and much higher priority.
Not so well there? Well, what about the list of possible freedoms that you could lose from being a felon? Here is a list for you.
- Disenfranchisement (which is expressly permitted by the Fourteenth Amendment, as noted by the Supreme Court) (losing your right to vote).
- Exclusion from obtaining certain licenses, such as a visa, or professional licenses required in order to legally operate (making some vocations off-limits to felons)
- Exclusion from purchase and possession of firearms, ammunition and body armor
- Ineligibility for serving on a jury
- Ineligibility for government assistance or welfare, including being barred from federally funded housing
- Deportation (if the criminal is not a citizen)
Did you do better with this list? Were you even aware that you could lose these things, in addition to spending time in prison, parole, probation, court costs, legal fees, and the infamy of your crime. These punishments, and the tag of being a felon, are life sentences. You are unlikely to escape their grasp.
SO! It is then obvious that we pay special attention to felonies. We obviously do everything we can to insure that those crimes we deem felonies are truly felonies. We obviously work hard to ensure that no crime that isn’t a felony is mislabeled as such. And, we work even harder to make sure no person is wrong categorized. Obviously!
First, we would never mislabel a crime that dealt with children. If a parent is acting in the best interest of their children, we would never accuse them of a crime. Never!
OH! Ooops. Obviously, what I meant to say is that we are OVER-PROTECTIVE of children. We are willing to step in at a moment’s notice to protect a child. Obviously, we would never allow them to be harmed. Never!
WHAT!? This is the second child these parents have killed? Meanwhile the parents from the first story are under constant review by CPS because they tried to save their child from an incorrect diagnosis? SERIOUSLY?!
OK, I can calm down now. Because I fully understand that as tragic as it might be, you cannot arrest someone until they have committed a crime. Which may mean that we have to allow a child, or anyone else, to die before we can arrest and convict someone of murder. Since murder carries the death penalty in many states, and life in prison in most of the others, we obviously pay HUGE attention to making sure, with 100% accuracy, that we have nabbed the correct person. We go to extraordinary ends to ensure this, lest we wrongly convict and execute the wrong person. We obviously make no mistakes in this.
Or, take a look a The True Story Behind “Conviction”.
Folks, people are being wrongly convicted because of
- DNA evidence not being used to exonerate them
- Eyewitness misidentication
- Improper preservation of evidence
- False confessions by the accused
- Improper interrogations by the police
- Bad informants
- Government misconduct
- Bad lawyering
There are literally thousands of these cases. In large part, it comes down to ignorance on our part as citizens. We have an ideal. We believe, “…that if you cannot afford an attorney that one will be appointed for you …” (or some other similar saying based on Miranda Rights). Yet, what we ignore is that this is truly a lie. Those Public Defenders are a sham. Not because of who they are, but because of us.
There is tremendous work being done by Public Defenders. Given some staggering case loads, it is amazing what they accomplish. You can read more about them on Wikipedia. But, let me give you this hypothetical. You are sitting at home, and your receive simultaneous phone calls. Your adult child was in a car accident and your $100,000 life savings needs to be spent for a private doctor, or you can rely upon the random doctor in the ER/Trauma center. You can let your adult child rely on public assistant. The other call is your second adult child who was just arrested on murder charges. You can spend the $100,000 on a private attorney for a charge that carries the death penalty, if convicted. Or, you can let this child rely on a public defender. Instantaneous decision … what do you decide? PLEASE! PLEASE! PLEASE! Decide to spend the money on an attorney. Our healthcare system is excellent, and is not dependent upon your ability to pay. Sure, the after-care may not be as extensive, but your child in the accident is likely to receive as good as care as anyone. You simply cannot say this about a public defender.
Why? Because we fund public defenders. We pay taxes to do so. And in almost every state in the union, we pay more to the Prosecutors than we do the the Defenders. Defenders, even those in private practice, will admit that they are not doing it to “get rich”. Here is an excellent video from an attorney in Wisconsin that talks about these very issues.
But truly, when tax collections are down and the coffers are tight, it is very difficult to say, “let’s spend more money on defense attorneys for the accused!” In fact, it is often just the opposite. We look for ways to cut, trim, and “improve the efficiencies of” our Public Defenders. We look to shuttle more of the costs to the accused.
Which is yet a further startling discovery! If you are accused of a crime and pay to defend yourself, you are liable for the attorney bill even if you are found not guilty. Your entire life savings, including your home, can be wiped out defending yourself. And, we call this justice? JEESH! I thought I was out of the lines, seems like there are others that have me beat.