The Federal “Justice” Shutdown Project Purpose

This project is for people who already believe or can be convinced, that the “Federal Justice System” provides very little justice, and a huge amount of waste. Federal prisons currently house about 184,000 prisoners, at a typical cost of $40,000 per year, or a total cost of about $7.36 billion per year.

Most people in Federal prison are there due to a 'victimless crime', perhaps drug possession and sale, illegal re-entry (illegal aliens), gun possession, money laundering: The only victim, other than the prisoner himself, is the American taxpayer.

Some of us, call us libertarians, believe that illegalizing drugs merely converts a small medical problem into a huge crime problem. Libertarians also support the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: They agree with the Supreme Court decision D.C. v. Heller, 2008, and believe that the only restrictions on gun ownership that should exist are those that existed in 1789 when the 2nd Amendment was written. (There were few if any restrictions on who could own a gun, and they could be carried almost anywhere.) Libertarians also believe that “money laundering” is simply a “crime” which is an expected product of drug illegalization, also with no identifiable victim. Legalize drugs, and their prices will be low with quality predictable and consistent. Crimes typically said to be associated with drugs are actually usually caused by the illegalization of drugs, not the drugs themselves.

Others, including libertarians, believe that whether or not undocumented immigrants (aka “illegal aliens) should be removed from America, they shouldn't be convicted and potentially cost the taxpayers well over $2.5 billion per year.

Less than 25% of these cases involve a genuine crime with an identifiable victim. Libertarians believe that such cases are the only ones which should be prosecuted!

There are about 77,000 new Federal criminal defendants each year. Yet, there are only about 2500 Federal criminal trials each year. 97.3% of defendants “plead out”, or take a plea agreement. A prosecutor might say, possibly even with a straight face, that this is the most “efficient” disposition possible. No trial. Don't we have a right to a criminal trial? Huh?

This system is remarkably effective at what it does. If “effective” was the same as “fair”, that would be one thing. But it isn't. The system is simply effective at putting the maximum number of people in prison, and keeping them the maximum practical time, and costing the taxpayer the maximum possible amount.

What's happening is this: Defendants are usually offered a deal. They can plead guilty, and accept a sentence the prosecutor considers “reasonable”. That is called “plea bargaining”. But if they refuse, and go to trial, over 90% of them are convicted anyway, and the government can give them sentences far higher than the “deal”. Given that reality, it is not surprising that 97.3% accept the plea agreement. Who would refuse a 20-month sentence, go to trial anyway, and end up with a 10-year sentence? Very stubborn, very innocent people perhaps, but few others.

How do we stop this? Vote in new politicians? Since when does that ever work for any problem?

It turns out there may be a very good solution, comparatively quite cheap, that can stop “the system” in its tracks. The system's weakness, its Achille's heel, is the fact that defendants have a Constitutional right to a jury trial, in most criminal cases. What is needed is a mechanism to convince more than that 2500 Federal defendants per year to demand a jury trial. If all of them did, the Federal Court system would find it almost impossible to supply 77,000 trials each year, and anyone that could not be supplied a trial would probably have to be released, dropping charges.

How can this be done?

While there are a very few rich, high-profile defendants, the large majority of criminal defendants are poor: Few people who AREN'T poor feel the need to turn to crime, and many people who make a lot of money (drug criminals) lose it upon conviction. So, the large majority of defendants, if (and usually, when) convicted, enter prison with little money. Or worse, leave outside of prison family that would be dependant on them.

The lot of a convicted prisoner without money is unpleasant. If they are employed at all, they are probably paid 10 cents per hour of work. What they need, what they certainly would like to have, is money to buy from the Commissary, which is the prison grocery store.

Here's the idea:

Suppose an Organization is formed, that collects money for a Project. That Project scours federal criminal records for the names of any newly-charged Federal criminal defendants. The Organization then writes a letter to each one, announcing that the Organization has decided to make an offer to each new Federal criminal defendant: If that defendant refuses to plead “not guilty”, and demands a jury trial, and receives that jury trial, the Organization will pay that defendant a sum of money, for concreteness let's say $3,000.

It will also tell that defendant that all other defendants are being given the same offer and that it would be very unlikely that the Federal Court system would be able to put on more than about 3-4,000 trials per year. Thus, if the defendants “stick together”, so to speak, and a large proportion demands a jury trial, the government would have little option other than to drop most or all charges.

This Organization would only have to pay those defendants if they actually received a trial: If the government drops charges against some defendant, he will be released, but he won't be paid anything. So, the total cost to the Organization will be the amount of payment per defendant, let's say $3,000, multiplied by the number of actual defendants who go to trial: Perhaps 3-4,000 per year. This works out to between $9-12 million dollars.

Is that “a lot” of money? That depends on how you look at it. If it can keep the Federal Court system from convicting people of victimless crimes, maybe 60,000 of them per year, that will lead to enormous savings for the Federal prison system. If that number is reduced even further, the population of the Federal prisons might drop from 184,000 to well under 25,000, and eventually to 10,000, which happens to be where it was in 1980.

The Federal Court records will be monitored to determine how many criminal trials are actually being given. If it turns out that $3,000 does not appear to be enough to motivate most defendants, that amount could be raised to $4-5,000, ensuring that the large majority of defendants refuse to plead guilty, and demand that jury trial.

Sure, there are real crimes, with real victims. Some of them, arguably, should be caught and convicted. That is why the Federal Court system, along with the Government, will soon be motivated to negotiate with the Organization: It will be demanded that victimless crimes cannot be prosecuted, which is over 75% of the defendants currently prosecuted. Another reform is to require the prosecutors to offer plea agreements to defendants, but if those defendants refuse the deal and are convicted anyway, the court cannot give the defendant more than 10% more, or 6 months more, whichever is greater, than the original plea deal specified.

This means that the defendant doesn't fear retaliation if he refuses to plead guilty. It will also guarantee that sentences are reasonable, close to what the prosecutor himself agreed to be okay. So, a defendant's right to a jury trial is kept intact: he is not unjustifiably punished, merely because he refuses a plea agreement.

Initially, perhaps all defendants will be offered the money deal to plead not guilty. Eventually, or soon enough, the terms could be changed to exclude a payment associated with some especially heinous crimes, or exclude such crimes if a jury finds the defendant guilty.