Letter: Courts need accountability

The editorial in the Jan. 4 Augusta Chronicle (“Potentially perilous calculation”) describes a not-so-unusual case of judicial malfeasance.

 

James A. Thomas, a 54-year-old long-time criminal was sentenced to two long months for his fourth domestic violence conviction. His known criminal activity, including burglary and theft, goes back 36 years, to 1981. How many judicial officials – judges, prosecutors and defense lawyers – have been sanctioned for their lackluster performance in dealing with this man?

I suppose their defense would be, “That’s what elections are for.” We also hear this from Congress. How big is the national debt?

Just what the heck are they being paid to do? Is the judiciary there to protect the public, or not?

Judges are supposedly learned lawyers who, by their experience and ethical wisdom, interpret the law and conduct trials where prosecutors present evidence against a defendant who has been indicted for breach of law. A grand jury has determined that there was enough evidence presented by arresting officers that an indictment is warranted.

The prosecutor takes the evidence and builds a case to present in a trial court. The defendant hires a defense lawyer, or is assigned a public defender, to defend against the charges against him – which, in many cases, are indefensible. In that event, the defense lawyer does his best to make sure the defendant gets a fair trial.

If guilt is determined or admitted, the judge pronounces the punishment.

In our criminal justice system, the defense tries to convince the prosecution that the evidence is weak. If the defense lawyer succeeds, then plea bargaining takes place where the charges are either dropped or reduced to a lower-level crime.

The problem with this is that it can be manipulated by lazy lawyers to make the public think the courts are efficiently disposing of cases when, in reality, they are generating long-term job security – knowing the defendant will continue his bad behavior because he knows nothing bad will happen to him.

Common sense tells us the basic purpose of criminal courts is to change the errant behavior of criminals – not to provide job security for lawyers. For this situation to work, closer accountability than the election cycle is needed – or at least a reporting system that publicly exposes the success or failure of the rehabilitation of those who have been convicted.

Perhaps the public publishing of the rap sheet for each person arrested in every jurisdiction each time they are arrested would inform the public that our current corrections methods are not working.

Dropping or reducing charges just to expedite the court schedule, or to reduce prison overcrowding, is not protecting the public!

Are we taxpayers expected to continually bear the cost of this failing system?

Charles Eubank

Johnston, S.C.

 

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