The popular symbol of the judicial system is the blindfolded woman holding up the scales in one hand and leaning on the hilt of a sword with the other. The message that this symbol conveys is that the court system will weigh the facts of each case in an unbiased manner and execute justice without prejudice. Three recent court cases cast a shadow of doubt upon this profession of the American legal system.
The first case is that of the four Los Angeles police officers who were charged in the beating of Rodney King. The officers were tried on assault charges in the state court in 1992. They were acquitted on all but one of the charges in that case. The jury deadlocked on the remaining charge. Fierce rioting began in Los Angeles the afternoon the verdict was announced.
During the rioting President Bush announced on nationwide T.V. that the Justice Department was looking into the Rodney King beating and that the justice process was still ongoing. Shortly afterward a Federal Grand Jury indicted the four policeman on charges of violating Rodney King's civil rights. Officers Koon and Powell were convicted on those charges. Each received 30 months in federal prison.
It is important to note here that the fifth amendment to the U.S. Constitution clearly prohibits trying a person twice for the same offense. It reads "No person shall...be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb." This is what is called "double jeopardy".
Even though the officers were found "not guilty" on all but one charge in state court, the U.S. Attorney circumvented the fifth amendment clause prohibiting "double jeopardy" by causing the officers to be indicted on federal civil rights charges. They were essentially tried twice for the same crime.
After the two officers were convicted in their federal trial, Judge Davies gave them a sentence that was less than the federal sentencing guidelines called for. The judge cited several reasons including the specter of unfairness in trying the officers twice. He did not go so far as to say it was unconstitutional.
The federal government has used its broad federal statutes in other cases to convict those who could not be convicted in state courts. This is often done in cases were there is a large public outcry and political pressure.
A second case in point is the highly publicized O. J. Simpson murder trial. The prosecution introduced an incredible amount of evidence against the accused, yet Mr. Simpson was found not guilty in state court. As of this date there has been no announcement from the President of a Justice Department inquiry into possible civil rights' violations.
Last spring a federal judge in New York came under intense political pressure when he tossed out evidence in a drug case. There was a big uproar in Congress and President Clinton threatened to ask Judge Baer for his resignation. Soon afterward the judge reversed his decision and admitted the evidence. The implications of this incident are enormous, as it proves that the judiciary, which legally and traditionally is immune from the harassment of politicians so they may administer justice, are now subject to the threats of the mob.
It is not hard to see that the government chooses whom it will prosecute based on the passions of public opinion. The spirit of the law is subverted and the Constitution bypassed by scheming lawyers and politicians. Judges are more and more restricted by sentencing guidelines and now with threats of impeachment. The protections built into the law for the protection of the few and unpopular are being steadily eroded away. By crossing the line separating the powers, the government has gone from protecting the people to protecting itself.
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