Reaction to the American Court System
The American court system has been part of the nation’s progress since the colonial times. The system has significantly evolved since the days of the American Revolution, and the subsequent addition of new states into the Union. The relative diversity in the court system in the Union, from the civil law systems to the common law ones, the local court, state appellate to State Supreme courts and finally the Federal Supreme Court, the US system has a peculiarity rarely found in any other court system in the world. This essay seeks to provide a personal opinion on the American court system. In particular, the essay demonstrates that, by its very nature, the U.S court system fosters injustice, inefficiency and in some cases, prejudice.
The court system in the U.S fosters injustice, inefficiency and prejudice through its apparent politicization. More than two centuries ago, the Alexis de Tocqueville noted that in America, all political questions almost always turn to political ones. While in some countries the head of government, such as the President or the Prime Minister, appoints the judges, or a special body does it, in the US appointing judges is a deliberate political process. When the party of the President is the majority in the Congress, this usually presents no problem, as the president is to have his /her appointees. However, when the Congress and the President are from different parties, the president can have problems having his nominees confirmed. This situation is apparent in two cases. First, President Obama is unlikely to have his nominee to the Supreme Court in spite of Meryl Garland being one of the most experienced Supreme Court justices as Republicans control the Congress. Second, apart from the Supreme Court, there are also several federal judicial slots, which the Congress will not approve due to its partisanship.
The inefficiency, prejudice, and injustice apparent in the politicization of the court system in the U.S. at the federal level are also manifested at local and state courts. In some of the areas, there is an election of the local judges. The localization of judges, coupled with juries that have a bias against some aspects of the population, lead to the juries deciding verdicts without thinking of the social discourse in the area. The same situation happened in the South in the early 1900s when an accused black person would most of the times receive harsh sentences, regardless of the strength of the evidence the prosecution would present. Consequently, there could be circumstances where the judge coleus the law to favor his electorate with dire consequences for the pursuit of justice.
Another source of inefficiency, prejudice and injustice are dual in nature of the court system. The states have their court systems independent of the Federal court structure. This dual nature of the court system has its advantages including ensuring that federal courts are not overburdened and that they do not become entangled in local affairs. However, this dual nature seems to have more disadvantages than advantages. Needless to say, a delay in justice is a denial of justice. Nevertheless, with the dual nature of the court system, an appeal takes many years to obtain a higher position from the state courts to the Federal Court structure while the person appealing undergoes incarceration. Furthermore, the dual nature of the courts has been an impediment to justice in some cases. For instance, local prejudices are prominent in the determination of criminal cases where there are local jurors. In some cases, the prejudice pervaded has been to such an extent that the jurors subconsciously appear under the influence of such a bias. The South during much of American history presents an excellent example. Rosich affirms this by explaining that, in the past this not only exerted to the juries, but also that “prosecutorial and judicial bigotry were common, particularly in the southern criminal justice systems” played a big role in the American court system. Thus, the dual entire of the courts does not only lead to more time that it wasted, but it also leads to more injustice.
Moreover, there is evident injustice and inefficiency in the protracted nature of the American court system. This inequity is expensive for both the prosecution and the defense, which is not only inefficient but also unjust. Moving a case through the appeals, process from the state courts to the state’s Supreme Court and if allowed the federal system in the U.S can cost upwards of one hundred thousand dollars. The other option is for one to use the overworked public defense system that, even if well-meaning, are too stretched to be of any help in cases requiring a lot of manpower, legal hours and auxiliary services such as the use private investigators. Thus, the fact when innocent people go to jail is always a possibility due to the lack of an adequate legal counsel.
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Furthermore, the adversarial representation can also be a source of injustice due to the culture it promotes. Adversarial system has fostered a situation where competition and winning are the primary motives of the parties in the courtroom. It has nurtured a culture of “win-at-any-cost” attitude contrary to the decision in Berger v the US. The net result again is injustice on parties, especially those prosecuted ones. In pursuit of a win and the image of being tough on crime, prosecutors falsify evidence to obtain their suspects convicted. One of the most notorious of these cases is the case of Ricky Jackson and his friends whom the court convicted for murder and sentenced to death (later commuted to life sentence due to an error in jury instructions). The police had coerced the sole prosecutorial witness and thus made him testify. It is notable that the witness was a minor them only 12 years and thus more susceptible to pressure. Thirty-nine years later, the sole prosecution witness recanted his evidence, and the three were under exoneration. The most notable thing is that the police and the prosecution had pushed this witness while no single piece of forensic or physical evidence connected the three to the crime. This example is a hint about the flagrancy of the issue.
Besides, the injustice that comes from prosecutorial misconduct does not just affect innocent people whom courts may convict of crimes they did not commit, but it has also led to free by courts criminals. An example is the case of Commonwealth v Bond et al. in this case, the court dismissed murder charges, in spite of the fact that there was overwhelming evidence against the defendants. It happened because of prosecutorial misconduct by the prosecutor admonished the lead prosecutor, Edward Cameron. A former Chicago police Commander is in a prison for beating confessions out of more than 100 suspects, all of whom there was no evidence against. It shows the enormity of the issue among the police and the prosecutors.
In spite of the inefficacy, the apparent injustice, and prejudice that are a result of the system which also has advantages. First, the American court system emphasis on the use of jurors, in particular at the local level. It ensures that judicial decisions obtain local legitimacy as one is judged by "a jury of his/her peers". There is more possibility of court ruling gaining local acceptance if the primary decision makers in the court system are local people. Second, the election of judges at the local level also guards against the judicial despotism, as the judges are liable for their actions to the local populace. The use of state courts for the settling point of law that do not involve federal law, or are not of national importance insurers that the federal courts do not become overburdened with local issues. Moreover, it is evident that the appointment of judicial judges one can protract as the President does it but the Congress has to approve it. The main advantage of this process is that it ensures there is a public consensus on those who becomes judges in the federal courts, and especially the Supreme Court and who help to define American law. It ensures that the President does not just appoint his cronies as the judges who do his binding but that the appointments are balanced, and those appointed are the most qualified. Nevertheless, in the considered opinion of the author, these advantages do not outweigh the system’s drawbacks.
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In conclusion, the U.S court system fosters injustice, inefficiency, and, in some cases, prejudice in spite of its advantages. From the preceding, several points support this assertion. First, the appointment of judges is a protracted and very politicized issue in the U.S., while this ensures that federal judicial appointments are in balance, it also leads to judicial posts remaining empty when the President is unable to forge a consensus with the Congress. The Congress has also used this as a way of frustrating the President. Second, the use of juries and the election of judges in some of the local courts within the states can lead to bias in some of their decisions in issues that have gained local notoriety. Furthermore, the basis of the court system on the adversarial model has fostered the mentality of the winner among prosecution attorneys and defense attorneys. It has been the source of injustices in the court system. Finally, the system is too expensive for the ordinary American, and it takes much time in the pursuit of justice in the U.S.