A Friend’s Plight Condemns the American Justice System; Reform Is Needed

September 21, 2020 Updated: September 21, 2020

Commentary

As many readers are aware I spent three years and two weeks in a U.S. federal prison between 2008 and 2012 for series of offenses that it is now generally acknowledged I did not commit.

Of the 17 original counts, four were abandoned, nine were acquittals by the jury in the Chicago trial, the remainder were vacated unanimously by the U.S. Supreme Court. In the unique American manner the high court remanded them to a lower court, which it had excoriated for its shortcomings in an admirably worded judgment produced for the whole court by the late Justice Ginsburg.

The Circuit Court panel in Chicago, invited to “contemplate the gravity of its own errors,” and struggling desperately to salvage anything from this outrageous prosecution, resurrected two of the counts even though the court of original jurisdiction on one count found it did not justify a charge, and the other count was dismissed by the trial judge as a clerical error of a co-defendant.

In 2019, President Trump granted a full pardon on the assurance from White House counsel after extensive research that these were unjust convictions and the charges should never have been laid.

I inflict this trivial personal history on readers because I have kept in contact with a number of my former fellow residents and remain appalled at the vindictive and negligently inhumane operation of the U.S. criminal justice system.

As I have recounted on this site and elsewhere many times, the inability of most American prosecutors to resist abusing the plea-bargain system and extorting or suborning false inculpatory evidence under threat of prosecution, and with the promise of immunity from perjury proceedings for those they coerce, has given the United States the highest conviction rates of any advanced Democratic country in the world—almost 99 percent, and 97 percent of those without a trial, so hopeless a mockery is the system.

Victim of an Awful System

My function when a guest of the American people was as a tutor to assist inmates in matriculating from secondary school after they had failed to do so in the examinations conducted by the Bureau of Prisons each month.

It was my privilege to assist all 204 of my students to graduate from high school and in doing this all I had to do was convince them that I was not another agent of the corrupt regime that oppressed them and that I offered an opportunity to leave prison with a foot on the up-escalator able to earn a living in a way that did not lead directly back to a place like the one we were in. For the most part those whom I met have flourished, having taken intelligent tactical decisions on how to reenter the labor force.

Last week I received a message from my friend from those days, Rufus Rochelle, one of the most popular people in Coleman low security prison, who served 32 years in federal prison for a fairly trivial cocaine-trafficking offense, (amplified by the bigotry of the legislation because it was crack, generally used by African-Americans, and not powder cocaine).

This was his first genuine offense, and there was no hint of violence. Everyone, including all of the so-called correctional officers at the prison where I met him would have attested to the fact that he presented no threat to society and was a peaceable, affable man, a gentleman in fact.

Finally, this past April, he was released under President Trump’s First Step Act, and as part of the initiative to reduce the likelihood of coronavirus fatalities in low security prisons. He is now 69 and living with relatives near Gainesville, Florida, under house arrest and with an ankle bracelet.

This is ridiculous and it is cruel; Rufus Rochelle is no more a threat to the Gainesville community than any other mature, gentle person would be, and it prevents him from taking up the job he has enterprisingly arranged for himself as a curator of artifacts in the museum at Plant City. So, after a third of a century of grossly over-sentenced detention, he is a needlessly indigent charge on his relatives, confined to their home, while gainful employment awaits him.

Rufus appeared on television with members of the Congress, including speaker Nancy Pelosi, shortly after his release, to explain how the Covid crisis affected confined people. The Wall Street Journal covered his release. A Go Fund Me account was set up for him, but after all these years, his contacts in normal society are not numerous nor especially well-to-do. The account only has $20 in it.

I am making a contribution, and I take the liberty of commending my friend Rufus Rochelle to the generosity of readers.

Here’s the Go Fund Me page set up for Rufus Rochelle: https://ca.gofundme.com/f/help-rufus-rochelle-reenter-into-society

A bowdlerized account of relations between Rufus and me appeared in the Charleston Chronicle on Feb. 11, 2020, claiming that I was Rufus’ roommate and had somehow forgotten him after money procured my own release. This is all bunk, but the main point—that Rufus Rochelle is a victim of this awful system—is absolutely true.

Law and Order, and Reform

As the drama of attempting to confirm a new justice on the Supreme Court of the United States unfolds in full election campaign, and as the country awaits (and waits, and waits), special counsel John Durham’s conclusions on the origins of the Trump-Russia collusion scam, I am reminded of my three unjust years in the maw of that awful system.

I must record my extreme impatience with the frequently renewed enthusiasm of media lions whom I generally agree with on other matters, such as Sean Hannity, that America is blessed with a wonderful justice system.

In fact, it is the most inherently unjust, capriciously executed, and nasty-spirited of any justice system in an advanced democracy in the world. Contrary to what one frequently hears from the American media, the American justice system is not the envy of the world; it is regarded with horror and contempt in Western Europe, Canada and Australia, and Japan, all countries that incarcerate from 1/6 to 1/12 the number of people per capita as the United States, and all of which have a lower crime rate.

All summer and into the autumn the world has watched “peaceful protesters” around the United States inflict up to $2 billion of damage to public and private property and injure over 700 policemen and kill scores of people, incoherently protesting against the shortcomings of the United States of America.

Almost all of these people are effectively guerrilla terrorists or common or garden hooligans and whatever my reservations about the American criminal justice system, it will be a source of rejoicing to me to see the ringleaders treated with the severity in which the American criminal legal system specializes.

Apart from some reflections on poor or brutal police techniques that are exceptionally but more frequently employed than is acceptable, the only complaint from these vandals and arsonists that I have heard that resonates at all is about the justice system. It is a terrible and disgraceful system, as the distinguished and courageous Attorney General of the United States, William Barr, sometimes hints.

Rudolph Giuliani and other good men who are veterans of that system would do themselves and the nation a large favor by making themselves a force for penal and constabulary reform. Their support for the police is broadly justified, especially in the face of the cowardly ambivalence of most Democratic politicians, especially the detritus of their corrupt urban political machines.

But looking past the present and recent lawlessness, it presents the spectacle of a very great nation poorly served by a justice system that is unbalanced, draconian, and that needlessly destroys the lives of millions of innocent people and minor offenders. It is certainly time for Law and Order, and for Reform.

Conrad Black has been one of Canada’s most prominent financiers for 40 years, and was one of the leading newspaper publishers in the world. He’s the author of authoritative biographies of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Richard Nixon, and, most recently, “Donald J. Trump: A President Like No Other,” which is about to be republished in updated form.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.