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Observations on the U.S. criminal justice system, Part 2

We noted in our immediately preceding blog post the eye-popping news that "about one-quarter of all the world's prisoners are presently locked up inside the United States" (please see our June 2 entry).

And that figure is not under serious challenge from naysayers. Indeed, it is routinely supplied by many sources, including, as we noted in the above-cited post, a recent Washington Post article discussing the country's harsh criminal law policies and bloated prison population.

United States District Judge Jed Rakoff is a strong and oft-quoted critic of many aspects of the American criminal justice system. Rakoff is a fervent reformist, whose views often engender a good deal of debate in the national press.

It's easy to see why. The judge recently stated that the system "bears little relationship to what the Founding Fathers contemplated," given a shifted emphasis over time from a citizen's right to his or her day in court to a prosecutorial-driven outcome forged through the plea bargain process.

Other critics support Rakoff's critique. One of them, a media tycoon who spent several years behind bars following a fraud conviction and now writes about the justice system, says that an unseemly emphasis on plea bargaining enables prosecutors "to threaten everyone around the target with indictment" if they don't cooperate.

In the Post article, noted political columnist Fareed Zakaria writes that, "when scared, Americans often overreact and enact bad legislation." He says that the justice system now gives cops and prosecutors "far too much power and the accused too few protections and too little dignity."

The role of a criminal defense attorney in North Carolina and elsewhere across the country is to zealously safeguard the legal rights of individuals who are charged with crimes and must defend themselves against the unquestionably strong powers of criminal justice authorities.

The playing field may be a bit skewed and tilted, but an experienced and aggressive defense attorney may help to ensure that clients squaring off against government power has the chance to be accorded fundamental fairness. At its core, that means strong advocacy unstintingly focused upon fully promoting the interests of any person charged with criminal behavior.

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