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The Indirect Victims of the Drug War

There is an incredible and deeply disturbing article in the New Yorker about a teenager that spent three years in jail as part of a pre-trial detainment, only to have his case eventually dismissed. While his case had nothing to do with drugs, the drug war played a huge role in making this Kafkaesque nightmare possible. From the New Yorker:

[Kalief] Browder’s family could not afford to hire an attorney, so the judge appointed a lawyer named Brendan O’Meara to represent him. Browder told O’Meara that he was innocent and assumed that his case would conclude quickly. Even the assistant district attorney handling the prosecution later acknowledged in court papers that it was a “relatively straightforward case.” There weren’t hours of wiretaps or piles of complicated evidence to sift through; there was just the memory of one alleged victim. But Browder had entered the legal system through the Bronx criminal courts, which are chronically overwhelmed. Last year, the Times, in an extended exposé, described them as “crippled” and among the most backlogged in the country. One reason is budgetary. There are not nearly enough judges and court staff to handle the workload; in 2010, Browder’s case was one of five thousand six hundred and ninety-five felonies that the Bronx District Attorney’s office prosecuted. The problem is compounded by defense attorneys who drag out cases to improve their odds of winning, judges who permit endless adjournments, prosecutors who are perpetually unprepared. Although the Sixth Amendment guarantees “the right to a speedy and public trial,” in the Bronx the concept of speedy justice barely exists.

A very big reason the justice system is overwhelmed and conditions at our prisons are so terrible is due to overcrowding from the drug war. According to the FBI’s nationwide statistics, “The highest number of arrests were for drug abuse violations.” It is the single biggest source of arrests in the country.  The drug war has caused our prison population to explode and puts an incredible financial strain on the judicial system. We have one fourth of the world’s prisoners despite having only 5 percent of the world’s population.

This doesn’t just hurt people caught up in the drug war and their families. It harms everyone who needs to use the justice system including the victims and those accused of all other crimes. The drug war has so overwhelmed our system of justice that it is has effectively destroyed the constitutional right to a speedy trial.

CommunityJust Say Now

The Indirect Victims of the Drug War

There is an incredible and deeply disturbing article in the New Yorker about a teenager that spent three years in jail as part of a pre-trial detainment, only to have his case eventually dismissed. While his case had nothing to do with drugs, the drug war played a huge role in making this Kafkaesque nightmare possible. From the New Yorker:

[Kalief] Browder’s family could not afford to hire an attorney, so the judge appointed a lawyer named Brendan O’Meara to represent him. Browder told O’Meara that he was innocent and assumed that his case would conclude quickly. Even the assistant district attorney handling the prosecution later acknowledged in court papers that it was a “relatively straightforward case.” There weren’t hours of wiretaps or piles of complicated evidence to sift through; there was just the memory of one alleged victim. But Browder had entered the legal system through the Bronx criminal courts, which are chronically overwhelmed. Last year, the Times, in an extended exposé, described them as “crippled” and among the most backlogged in the country. One reason is budgetary. There are not nearly enough judges and court staff to handle the workload; in 2010, Browder’s case was one of five thousand six hundred and ninety-five felonies that the Bronx District Attorney’s office prosecuted. The problem is compounded by defense attorneys who drag out cases to improve their odds of winning, judges who permit endless adjournments, prosecutors who are perpetually unprepared. Although the Sixth Amendment guarantees “the right to a speedy and public trial,” in the Bronx the concept of speedy justice barely exists.

A very big reason the justice system is overwhelmed and conditions at our prisons are so terrible is due to overcrowding from the drug war. According to the FBI’s nationwide statistics, “The highest number of arrests were for drug abuse violations.” It is the single biggest source of arrests in the country.  The drug war has caused our prison population to explode and puts an incredible financial strain on the judicial system. We have one fourth of the world’s prisoners despite having only 5 percent of the world’s population.

This doesn’t just hurt people caught up in the drug war and their families. It harms everyone who needs to use the justice system including the victims and those accused of all other crimes. The drug war has so overwhelmed our system of justice that it is has effectively destroyed the constitutional right to a speedy trial. (more…)

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Jane Hamsher

Jane Hamsher

Jane is the founder of Firedoglake.com. Her work has also appeared on the Huffington Post, Alternet and The American Prospect. She’s the author of the best selling book Killer Instinct and has produced such films Natural Born Killers and Permanent Midnight. She lives in Washington DC.
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