Last month, two criminal cases hit the presses that put into sharp relief one of America’s biggest problems.
In Indiana, a man was accused, arrested, tried and convicted for raping his wife. The tale is even more disturbing than it might seem at first.
David Wise, husband to Mandy Boardman, had been drugging her for at least three years and raping her while she slept. She even discovered video clips on her husband’s phone. She confronted him, and he admitted the entire thing to her in an email. The bizarre thing is this: the jury in the trial convicted Wise of all six felony charges related to his actions, but the judge suspended 12 of his 20-year sentence and the remaining eight years were to be spent in home confinement.
Keep in mind that Wise’s crime is both a violent crime and one that occurred within his own home.
In the meantime, a Texas teenager has been arrested for making and selling pot brownies — a “crime” that harms no one. This story has a tinge of the absurd as well. Because the teen used hash oil instead of marijuana leaves, the state gets to charge him based on the weight of the brownies, rather than just the hash he might have used to fill them. They caught him with 1.5 pounds of brownies, so he is facing five years to life in prison.
Five years to life in prison for a “crime” that harms no one while a man who rapes his wife regularly for three years sees not one day in jail.
What these two criminal cases have in common is that, together, they put in stark relief just how broken America’s criminal justice system is.
The poison starts with the law. Though many know and understand that laws like those that comprise the War on Drugs are violations of individual liberty, it is perhaps more often that the small, petty laws are those that show the deepest cracks in the system.
Speed traps. Seatbelt laws. Loitering violations. Though seemingly harmless, the administrative fees for violating such laws often outstrip the crimes themselves and are often so high that the poor (who are more likely to be caught and prosecuted for such crimes) are forced under the radar — or must go to prison.
It’s made worse by unequal enforcement. There is a disgustingly biased enforcement of drug laws. Despite using illegal substances in the same percentages, black people are far more likely to be arrested, prosecuted, and convicted of a drug crime than their white counterparts. Drugs that are used more often by black people receive higher sentences than those used by white people — despite being the same chemical substance.
It is escalated by police violence. What is a person to do when they are being falsely arrested for a crime that is unjust in the first place? Nothing but submit or face the wrath of a person with a gun who will get away with doing almost anything to you — including murdering you.
For victims, the poison is laced with police negligence. Officers blame the reporter when a rape survivor brings accusations to the proper authorities — particularly if the incident involved alcohol.
Crime labs stir the corruption and let it simmer. As the Annie Dookhan case last year showed to the world, crime labs are funded per conviction, providing a strong incentive for those to work there to falsify lab data, putting thousands if not millions of people in jail for crimes they did not commit.
In the case of North Carolina, crime labs there withheld exculpatory evidence in more than 230 cases in 16 years, resulting in the death of three innocent people on death row.
Even when the evidence isn’t corrupted, juries are still made of people with the same biases and prejudices that are planted in our society — perhaps partially because of the biased criminal justice system.
Whether chicken or egg, the criminal justice system’s cracks go to the core.
Those same biases can become concentrated, just as the power is concentrated in the judge who sits to pronounce a sentence. Judges commute sentences of violent criminals, blame the victims for their trauma, and demand that the victim forgive their abuser, all while granting clemency to the person that the judge is supposed to protect society from. And when the offender fits into the judge’s preconceptions, they throw the book at them.
And when a person is sentenced — whether rightly or wrongly — they are then sent to prison, which is little more than a rape factory. We stick people in large boxes for years at a time — much longer than most industrialized countries — where many are beaten, abused, and raped, most often for crimes that have no victim.
We then release these people into the world where their criminal record stays with them, many of their rights are stripped, which also keeps them from obtaining meaningful employment. We offer no meaningful mental or emotional support for what they have been through or help for how they can bounce back — and then we’re surprised when the offender repeats their crimes or is driven back into a black market trade.
America’s criminal justice system does not supply justice. It makes criminals out of people who only want to make their living honestly. It ignores or belittles those who are actually threats to others. It does not meaningfully mitigate that threat even when it does exist. It throws people of color in prison by the millions without remorse. It creates poverty, then criminalizes it.
We are stuck, trapped in a vicious cycle, and it’s past time to end it.