Saturday, November 26, 2011

innocent? plea bargain regardless

UPDATE: Nearly 100% of all military court cases in West Bank end in conviction.
B'Tselem has released a publication called No Minor Matter concerning the injustice of military law as applied to Palestinian teens in the West Bank.

Setting aside the basic injustice that Palestinians are considered adults by the IDF when they reach 12 years of age though Israeli children must become 18 before they may be tried as adults under Israel's civil law, I want you to know of the application of plea bargaining this reports brings to light.

Normally, a plea bargain is the path that a defendant might take if the penalty for a crime is less onerous than the process required to go through a trial that might end up producing a guilty verdict anyway. If the plea bargain is used frequently, it makes it appear that the authorities and the court system are efficiently doing their jobs of going after criminals when, in fact, the rights of those accused are being abused. I recommend the excellent book Courtroom 302 for anyone interested in how this works in the overloaded judicial system of Cook County, Illinois.

In Chicago and in the West Bank the goal is the same - to pass through as many accused as possible just as one would create sausages in a factory - while letting the matter of innocence or guilt in the alleged crime fall by the way.

Because they can far more easily convict people, military courts have become the choice of those wishing to quickly put away those they assume to be guilty, for example everyone at Guantanamo.

If you want people to plea bargain, the best way to do it is to make the trial process a long drawn out affair and allow no bail so that the accused must sit in jail for the entire time. Add to that the very good chance of conviction that comes with any trial under military law and it will be very unlikely for anyone, innocent or not, to pass up the chance to plead guilty, pay a fine and be gone.

As Americans should know, we are guaranteed the right to a speedy trial by our Constitution (though it rarely works out in practice). But military courts do not operate under the civil law. According to B'Tselem, in Israel's military courts each step in the trial process requires a separate hearing. To indict someone is a hearing, then calling witnesses is another. Anyone who has followed the Rachel Corrie case brought by her parents against Israel will know the frustrating delays that are involved; the hearings can be months apart. When an accused is in custody the whole time, it means the accused is serving time even before guilt is established.

Here is the strange logic of the process as explained by Israeli military court appellate judge Col. Eli Wilf:
...a period of five months from the time of arrest to the filing of the indictment and setting of a time for hearing the matter cannot be deemed such a long period as to justify release from detention. This length of time is acceptable; it is neither unusual nor unreasonable. To hold that this period of time justifies a detention alternative would lead to the conclusion that, in almost all cases, we would have to consider release, which is an unacceptable result.
One can tell from this statement the regard with which any rights of a defendant are held! The military court system must operate efficiently before any rights for the accused are considered, if ever.

Of the 642 cases involving minors that B'Tselem reviewed, only 5 involved a trial. In 13 the defendant pleaded guilty without a plea bargain and the remaining 97% of the cases were plea bargains. And remember, all these cases involve teens that Israel has decided to label adults.

Read the full report for an account of all the other travesties of justice that occur to Palestinian minors netted by the IDF.

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