Defense attorneys, at least the ones I know, regularly speculate about how much time we have before the criminal justice system finally collapses. The argument is never about whether it’s going to happen, but rather about when it’s going to happen. Spend enough time in court with open eyes, and you’ll wonder the same thing. The system is so broken and overflowing with cases that most of us think it can’t possibly last much longer.
Always one to embrace a little doom and gloom, instead of talking about how we might prevent the imminent collapse, I’d rather talk a little about how I think things are likely to be after it happens. Here are my predictions:
1) The Bill of Rights as we know it will be just a memory. The various state and federal constitutions are well-known havens for criminals. Get rid of the right to a jury trial, the right to confront the state’s witnesses and cross-examine them, and the right to present evidence and call witnesses. That stuff is expensive and time-consuming. Plus, most people are guilty anyway, right? On top of that, eliminate the right to remain silent and to refuse to be a witness against one’s self as well as the right against unreasonable searches and seizures. All of those things prevent the police from getting their guy. Also, take away the right to appeal and other post-conviction relief. That can take a while, and victims deserve closure, whether authorities have the right person or not. Most importantly, forget about the right to counsel, especially the right to counsel free of charge. Defense attorneys make things difficult. Even without civil rights, they’ll still somehow throw a wrench in the system. Instead of presuming people innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt and letting them defend themselves with the help of counsel, we’ll just have the victim, the prosecutor, and judge sit down, discuss the case, and decide what’s fair.
2) We won’t legalize anything. In fact, we’ll keep enacting more laws. Why not make any DUI alcohol zero tolerance, just like we’ve done with DUI drugs? Hell, why not just give alcohol prohibition another try? Why not make speeding a felony? We aren’t going to learn from the mistakes that led to the collapse. I think we’d sooner legalize robbery or kidnapping than cocaine. Building a new system out of the rubble will take money. Solving a robbery or a kidnapping won’t make the state any money. It takes time and money to solve those crimes, and the defendant probably did it because he had no money. The state won’t have any cash to put up some shiny new courthouses and hire highly qualified ex-prosecutor judges if it wastes all of its time investigating poor people suspected of tough-to-solve crimes. With no right to privacy in one’s person or property, police will just pick someone and violate what used to be his or her constitutional rights until they find something with which they can charge them. Without the Bill of Rights, a justice system focused on victimless crimes like drug possession and traffic violations could be a cash cow. People will love it because it’ll make them feel safe.
3) It won’t be total anarchy, ever. Before the great new justice system is up and running, things will be surprisingly peaceful. Even though people won’t be getting busted for every little thing, it won’t mark the end of our country or our society. There won’t be massive riots and class warfare. Things may even be better than they are now. In some ways, that’s a bad thing. If the system collapsed into absolute chaos, we’d probably learn our lesson and avoid the things that led to the collapse. Instead, people will see things are somewhat okay and try desperately to maintain that. Even though some people might see that fewer laws means less crime and more prosperity, most people will just ignore that and use the extra time they have as a result of that prosperity to come up with new, dumber laws. Being tough on everything and everyone just makes sense. If something’s bad, we must outlaw it. What if things aren’t always okay? We need laws to prevent future problems. Ignore the past failures of that line of thinking. Never mind if the result of the law is actually worse than the evil it seeks to remedy.
Well, those are my guesses. Hopefully the collapse never happens. Hopefully I’m mistaken about how we’ll react. I think I’m right though. Do any of you disagree? Do any of you have your own predictions? If they’re too long for a comment, I’ll put them up in another post. Let me know what you think.