Yet Another Case Of Overzealous Prosecution – OpEd


Radley Balko has a great roundup of bloggers’ reactions to the Zimmerman indictment. The common thrust in most of these responses is that the prosecution has gone too far, based on the available evidence it promises to show, to pursue second-degree murder charges.

No doubt the media frenzy brought about this prosecution in the first place. One thing to keep in mind through all this is that a prosecutor’s tendency to over-charge a defendant does not only occur in such high-profile cases. To the contrary, it is completely common. While here the purpose might be to garner the support of the public in a well-known case, usually the purpose is quite different: to ensure the conviction of the defendant.

In 95% of felony convictions in the United States, the result comes from a plea bargain. There is no trial. In order to secure guilty verdicts, the prosecution almost always over-charges, layering one charge upon another to make the risk of conviction at trial far too high for a defendant to accept. The prosecutor, the most powerful official in the law enforcement system, will typically threaten a defendant with 30 years of prison, for example, if he dares to take his case to the courtroom. This guarantees a plea that results in a few years of imprisonment.

This is a major source of prison overcrowding. Only a tiny minority of inmates ever had their day in court, because instead of being charged with what the prosecution thinks is fair, throwing the fate of the defendant to the chance he’ll be acquitted, the prosecutor often does a simple calculus: If he wants the suspect in prison for two years, he’ll find a way to charge him with enough accusations so that a conviction will lead to fifteen. And so he gets the two.

There is virtually no justice in the American criminal justice system. If there is a silver lining in the horrific Zimmerman-Martin affair, it will be to give one more famous example of this important truth.

Anthony Gregory

Anthony Gregory is a Research Editor at The Independent Institute. His articles have appeared in the San Diego Union-Tribune, East Valley Tribune (AZ), Contra Costa Times, The Star (Chicago, IL), Washington Times, Vacaville Reporter, Palo Verde Times, and other newspapers.

2 thoughts on “Yet Another Case Of Overzealous Prosecution – OpEd

  • April 17, 2012 at 12:10 pm

    I think this is a classic case of racial discrimination as an overseas observer. I cannot understand how the prosecution did not prefer charges immediately against this self proclaimed vigilante. The whole criminal system in the USA has to be revisited on an urgent basis.

    • The function and need of the police has now diminished –thanks to the National Rifle Association peddling arms to the public on the basis of a constitution that needs to be amended bringing it to the 21st century. This is “big business” in the USA for the NRA!

    • The prison system has become “big business”. Fared Zakaria in his weekly program –GPS-shows how millions of dollars are spent building prisons rather than schools-like 30 to 1 school. Where are the American priorities? So it is lucrative for a prison run by corporations making millions from taxpayers to keep their tenants jailed rather than let them go free-California is broke! Thanks to big business and finally

    • “Plea Bargaining”. Has the issue of guilt and sentencing become “big business”? Deals are made so that money will be saved. What happened to the legal maxim that “justice must not only be done but seen to be done?”[Per Lord Denning]

    If Zimmerman was a black man –he would have been incarcerated immediately. The Attorney general and police involved must be strictly investigated. Even when you kill a person with your car you will be in jail and the accused must apply for bail. In this case, this man was walking around free after killing a young person at the tender age of 17.

    It is time that the US look to other countries-there is more children in jail in the USA than any other country in the world. There are also more prison inmates. The US has also the highest civilian armed population. God save America!! I pity some of the police who have to face the militia!

  • April 17, 2012 at 12:50 pm

    Excellent point. Especially true when it comes to drug crimes.


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