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Justice from the Bottom Up

By Henry Whitney  Posted by Darren Wolfe (about the submitter)     Permalink       (Page 1 of 4 pages)
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You’re dreaming. Nothing special, just a mixture of the familiar and the unfamiliar, neither as they really are. You’re fixing your burglar alarm, but you’re missing a part, so you need to go to the store, but the car has a flat tire. You’re headed to the neighbor’s house to borrow a lug wrench when . . .

Suddenly you’re awakened by the shattering of the bedroom window, and you hear the thump of heavy boots and the rustle of flak jackets. In the distance, you hear the front door being kicked in. Your wife draws her breath in fright. You try to open your eyes, but everywhere you try to look you are blinded by a flashlight. Your toddler in the next room begins to scream in terror. A deep, loud, terse voice calls your name.

"Yes," you reply, "that’s me. What’s—"

"Stand up."

"What’s—"

"Stand up! You’re under arrest."


"What—"

Strong, gloved hands grab you out of bed and push you facedown onto the floor. You struggle to breathe as a knee in the spine pins you down. Your hands are forced behind your back and secured with handcuffs. You are jerked to your feet. "You have the right to remain silent…"

You struggle to pay attention to the voice, but between your wife’s sobs, your toddler’s shrieks, and the sound of the SWAT team going through your dresser, closet, and desk, you comprehend nothing. Eventually the officer stops talking and begins to shove you out of the bedroom, past your seven-year-old, through the house, and outside to the waiting cruiser. Though you see lights on and faces in the windows of some of the neighbors’ houses, you don’t have time to be either embarrassed or grateful that you have your pajamas on.

Somewhere along the line, the SWAT team tells you the charges against you, but that only increases your confusion. "There must be some mistake," you say. You’ve never done anything like that. You’ve never even had any reason to do it. But when you tell them that you’re innocent—in the house, in the cruiser, at the booking desk, and as they push you into your cell—they only respond, "Tell it to the judge."

The next day, when your wife calls your boss and tells him you won’t be in for work, she is surprised to find out that he has already heard your name on the radio. The day after that, your seven-year-old has to come home from school at lunchtime because he can’t stand up anymore to the chants of "Your dad’s a criminal."

After a few days comes the hearing. They read you a list of charges so long that you can’t remember them all. It sounds to you like they’re charging you with the same crime many times, but they assure you that no, each act you are accused of committing broke more than one law. If any of those counts against you stand, you will be in jail until your children are adults. Your trial is set to begin in two months.

Would you like to post bail? The amount is about twice the value of your savings, your investments, and the cash value of your life insurance put together. If you post bail, you’ll lose interest, dividends, and leverage, plus you’ll have to pay interest on the loan for the difference. Whether you post or not, your wife will have to take whatever job she can find. She has been out of the job market for a long time, so she doesn’t have a lot to offer, and she doesn’t have time to look for the best she can get. On top of all that, she’ll have to pay childcare costs. And you have to work—if your boss will take you back—or you’ll lose your job. So you go for it.

Would you like to hire a lawyer? Your wife gets several offers, any of which would cost you more money than you earn in a year. And each solicitation ends with the reminder that "the man who defends himself has a fool for a lawyer." So you settle for the court-appointed lawyer, who "just happened" to be on his way out the door of the courtroom when the judge appointed him. His advice to you is to plead guilty to the most minor of the charges and get the major charges dropped.

"But I haven’t done anything wrong!"

"Well, it’s up to you, but if they stick you with any of the serious charges, you’ll be in jail for a long time. And it isn’t like I’ve got all the time in the world to hunt up exculpatory evidence for you."

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