"The jury found facts establishing guilt," Wingate said.
Errors that caused three innocent men to be sent to federal prison are "harmless"? And how did the jury manage to find facts that established guilt? Why, Wingate gave them jury instructions that were not remotely correct under the law.
How screwy were Wingate's jury instructions? We've addressed that in a previous post. Here was a key portion of Wingate's instruction:
"You may find specific criminal intent even though you may find that the rulings were legal and correct, that the official conduct would have been done anyway, that the official conduct sought to be influenced was lawful and required by law, and that the official conduct was desirable or beneficial to the public welfare."
You can search law books until your fingers bleed, and you will not find that description of bribery or honest-services fraud. That's because it doesn't exist. Henry Wingate made it up, and the Minor defendants were convicted for a "crime" that is a figment of a judge's imagination.
What about those perverse qualities that are built into our "justice" system? Here are two big ones:
(1) A judge gets a second chance to screw up--When an appellate court finds an error at the trial-court level, it returns the case to the same judge who likely is responsible for the screw up in the first place. Does that make a lick of sense? Of course not. In the Minor case, the Fifth Circuit, in essence, found, "Judge Wingate, you screwed this up." So what did the Fifth Circuit do? It sent the case right back to Judge Wingate, who now is pissed off because he's been reversed. Works out real well for the defendants, especially those who were convicted based on jury instructions that describe a "crime" that does not exist under the law.
(2) The value of remorse--One way to get a sentence reduced is to go in front of a judge and act contrite about having broken the law. But what if you didn't break the law? What if the actual law was not even presented to the jury that convicted you? What if you know all of that? You are supposed to be remorseful about something you didn't do?
That, too, is at play in the Minor case. Consider this from a story about Wingate's most recent ruling:
The government had initially requested maximum sentences for the three men. Wingate said he would not do that, resentencing all three to terms that were less that those suggested in federal sentencing guidelines.
Wingate said he impressed by the contrition shown by the three. "You have with you conduct earned a reduction" in the sentence, Wingate said.
The Minor defendants, understandably, are desperate to get out of prison. And they know how the game is played, so they are apologizing for "crimes" they did not commit.
That's all part of the "theater" involved in our justice system. And it can't get much more perverse than what we are seeing in the Paul Minor case.
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