Christopher Ruddy's Perspective
: A federal jury deliberated for nearly two weeks before acquitting former presidential candidate and U.S. Sen. John Edwards on one count and declaring a deadlock on five others, forcing the judge to declare a mistrial.
In my mind, a guilty verdict would have been another judicial travesty.
A number of cases have flooded the news radar that seem to demonstrate that "justice for all" often falls far short of the ideal. Justice is never perfect or fair, but we as the American people should strive for it nonetheless.
No doubt John Edwards is guilty of being a cad. I never liked the man and never voted for him. (Though I must admit, his comments after the verdict was announced were moving.)
But something in me is outraged that he went to trial facing a 30-year prison sentence, because campaign supporters, not Edwards directly, helped pay more than $1 million to support his pregnant mistress. It shouldn’t be a crime for friends to intercede in a personal matter. None of his "donor" friends claimed they did so as a campaign contribution.
Federal prosecutors alleged that the support for Edwards’ girlfriend was effectively an "in kind" contribution and should have been disclosed on federal election documents.
This is what we call a stretch, and almost every federal candidate has received a form of “in kind” contributions. For example, prosecutors could pick any federal candidate who stayed at someone's home for the night and say that’s an “in kind” contribution and prosecute the candidate for failing to disclose the lodging on federal election forms.
If Edwards failed to identify his $1 million, how about we fine him and his campaign $1 million and demand restitution that way?
My guess is that the feds have spent more than $10 million in prosecuting Edwards for this donation.
If the government had instead fined Edwards, we would have netted a cool $11 million to the Treasury (the $10 million spent on the case, plus the $1 million fine). And consider if Edwards was convicted — we the taxpayers would have had to pay for up to 30 years’ worth of incarceration, despite the fact that he posed no threat to civil society.
At Newsmax we have talked about selective, and often political, prosecutions. Personally I don't like them when they are targeted against Democrats like Edwards or Republicans like former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik.
Kerik, if you recall, was thrown in prison for four years, despite an exemplary career of military and police service, because he failed to note an apartment renovation matter on his federal application for Homeland Security secretary, and failed to pay taxes on his domestic servant, the first time any official was charged for such an action. It was such a judicial over-reach, I believe it will deter many qualified candidates who might apply for high federal office. Who would want to take the risk of four years in jail for a tax oversight relating to domestic help?
And then there is the curious case of Lord Conrad Black, the international news publisher, also punished by a severe prison sentence in 2007 even after a jury found him “not guilty” of most of the federal charges against him. He was sentenced to 6 1/2 years for violating a vague law of theft of "honest services."
Black waged a legal fight that went to the Supreme Court, which agreed with him that the law was so vague anyone could be found guilty of it.
Black's case was returned to the same appeals court that had ruled against him, and he was eventually returned to prison on an additional 13-month sentence, apparently a punishment handed out for complaining about the injustice.
Black, a British citizen, discusses his American legal nightmare in his book "A Matter of Principle." A lengthy evaluation of Black's case can be found in the writing of Andrew McCarthy, a former federal prosecutor, who reviewed the evidence and suggested Black's only "crime" may have been he was over compensated — which is not a crime at all. (McCarthy’s discussion of the Black case can be read on the New Criterion website, www.newcriterion.com, titled, “The persecution of Lord Black.”)
Conrad Black, McCarthy noted in New Criterion, “is undoubtedly guilty of two grievous modern offenses. He is a conservative, and he is a capitalist — thoughtfully and ethically on each count, but unabashed nonetheless.”
These problems of the justice system are not simply problems of well-known white-collar defendants like Edwards, Kerik, and Black — they extend to many people from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Charles Blow, a columnist with The New York Times, recently wrote of the prison system in Louisiana, where many inmates are incarcerated in for-profit private prisons. “Louisiana is the starkest, most glaring example of how our prison policies have failed,” Blow wrote. “It showcases how private prisons do not serve the public interest and how the mass incarceration as a form of job creation is an abomination of justice and civility and creates a long-term crisis by trying to create a short-term solution.”
Louisiana imprisons more of its people, per capita, than any other state. Prisons have become big business for both government and private firms across the country. The United States has the highest rate of incarceration in the world: 730 prisoners per 100,000 of its population, according to the International Center for Prison Studies. In China, the figure is 122 per 100,000; in Canada, 117; and in India, 30.
The sentencing system in the United States has created a prison industry and with it a permanent underclass — felons can’t get jobs, and many ex-cons wind up back in prison. And statistics show that incarceration rates unfairly strike African-Americans and other minorities.
Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell has offered a sensible proposal for dealing with the problem, especially for nonviolent offenders. Last year he signed prisoner re-entry legislation designed to cut down on recidivism.
He said in a statement that when a prison sentence is completed, “and the price to society has been paid, we need to take the additional steps necessary to ensure that our prison system is not a revolving door.”
“Currently, two-thirds of those who come out of prison are re-arrested within three years. That means new victims, and more costs to taxpayers. This is simply not acceptable.”
The McDonnell initiative offers methods for convicts to make restitution and become active citizens contributing to society.
We need such outside-the-box thinking at both the state and federal level, from Republicans and Democrats, to not only improve the concept of “justice for all,” but also to help make our society stronger.
Christopher Ruddy is CEO and editor of Newsmax Media Inc. Read more Christopher Ruddy Insider articles
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