Ferguson’s Backstory

Amazing Whitepaper by ArchCity Defenders, a legal aid organization representing indigent defendants in the St. Louis metropolitan area, on how Ferguson police/prosecutors/judiciary are in league to milk poor defendants of large fines on the basis of petty offenses.

Among the shocking bits — yes it’s still possible to be shocked — are

  • Plea bargains offered to defendants rich enough to hire lawyers, but not to pro se defendants
  • the systematic closing of courtrooms to the public,
  • prohibiting defendants from bringing their children to court (and in at least one case charging the defendant for child neglect for leaving the child outside)
  • starting trials 30 minutes before time on summons and locking doors to court five minutes after the official hour, “a practice that could easily lead a defendant arriving even slightly late to receive an additional charge for failure to appear.”

There’s actually a lot more – well worth a read. Note in particular that Ferguson was one of only three municipalities in the greater St. Louis metro area singled out by Arch City Defenders for a particularly abusive practices; this is not business as usual but nor is it an isolated phenomenon.

(Spotted via Daily Kos).

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4 Responses to Ferguson’s Backstory

  1. Vic says:

    Well, I have to say that I find this very hard to believe in full. Especially since the one citation link I actually followed was to a newspaper article citing the very source that cited it. I didn’t bother with any others since the intellectual dishonesty that would do THAT deserves no further checking.

    The bigger issue to me is the OBVIOUS unconstitutionality of it all. The (effective) privatization of a municipal courts system!? How can this POSSIBLY have been allowed and be maintained? It’s not even a question of the (I’m sure) justification that allowed it in the first place. So there are apparently NO attorneys who object to this arrangement? Or know of it? How could a defence attorney possibly just allow his client to be railroaded in this system, and then just go on with his day. (Surely something so systematic would have been seen by MANY attorneys by now?)

    If this ever made it as an issue into a REAL Court – and I suspect they do have a few of these in MO (I think the Feds have a franchise there last I checked), how could it possibly be deemed to pass Constitutional muster?

    For this to be true as written, would require every attorney involved in those Courts to go along with it. And as much as I see a lot of pure sleezoids in the attorney ranks, I find it hard to fathom that even a sleezoid wouldn’t want his client to succeed in Court – even if for selfish reasons. (a lot of these sleezoids are the first person I’d call if I needed a good defence attorney. They do tend to be zealous.) I can’t see this lasting past the first Motion in a real Court. So how did it? Or how hasn’t one been made? THAT’S the truly mind-boggling part.

    While I have no doubt at all that there is kernel of truth in this, I suspect it’s largely based on what someone’s second cousin told his happened, mixed with Court rules that have gotten a bit out of hand. We’ve ALL seen those.

    • NYT Graphic on “Warrants issued per 1,000 People in 2014. Each bar is a Missouri city larger then 10,000 people. Ferguson is the bar on the far right. Darker bars are cities in St. Louis County.

  2. While I obviously have no first hand info, it is remarkable that a number of news outlets have reported similar info about the quantity of warrants. including the New York Times. The city hasn’t in any case denied it.

    Yes, it’s totally unconstitutional. But I would have said the same thing about police departments getting a cut, or even 100% of civil forfeitures they initiate, and that’s apparently not unconstitutional.

  3. Vic says:

    Michael, this is all truly amazing…

    I just can’t figure out how it manages to survive legal challenge. You would think that SOME criminal defense attorney would care enough about how client’s fate to appeal some procedural wrong, and that some appellate judge would listen. I can understand how things like this (if they did) happen, but not how they continue, unchecked.

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