Friday, August 25, 2006

A "State of Emergency" in New Orleans.

Sometimes I catch a snippet of some ongoing news story, and I am amazed at how detached I am from national affairs. Could I be the only one in the country who didn't know that there are many poor inmates being held without trial in New Orleans? Did you know that there are hundreds who have not had access to a lawyer? Some of them have been incarcerated without the benefit of due process for almost an entire year. It's shameful that this hasn't been a major news story until now (I'm assuming it hasn't).

The Sixth Amendment to the US Constitution gives the accused "the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed." It also guarantees a public defender to those that cannot afford legal representation. Surely there should be provisions to raise a jury pool in periods following crisis or emergency. Is the district of New Orleans still in a "state of emergency"? From a quick google search, I have ascertained that the "state of emergency" was still in place in April of this year. I can find no mention of this condition being lifted. Are the federal and state governments suspending the civil rights of inhabitants indefinitely?

The stories on CNN and NPR that I caught today were inspired by a New Orleans judge who is outraged by the lack of concern the government has shown for the rights of the accused. The city's long underfunded public defense fund is cited as the main reason for the suspension of trials. So the reality is that if you were charged with a crime in New Orleans, and you could afford a lawyer, you generally got released until your trial date. If you couldn't afford a lawyer, you stayed in jail. Of course this is extremely unfair, but it just continues the established story of the poorer classes in New Orleans.

And the lack of regard for the civil rights in New Orleans is representative of the larger picture in our nation today. I never realized that Louisiana was THAT close to Guantanamo Bay.


Blogger lee said...

The current administration does not seem to beleive that our beloved Constitution actually pertains to them. What scares me even more is the apparent number of US citizens who would like to see more of our rights taken away. We can't seem to control ourselves and we need to make sure our govt. can. Ugh.

10:05 AM  
Blogger John Morris said...

Wow, I didn't know that!. I can't say I am too suprised that it happened, given the general way things work, but even I expected that to be a story.

As far as the general state of legal defence for the non-rich, that is the basic state everywhere in America to a large degree.

It basically works like this-- the government, has a massive and growing aray of vague laws (the biggest problem being the drug laws )that people can be accused of breaking. But, the government and most especially the people who create these things for political gain do not want to expose thir true cost in terms of trials etc. So, the defacto rule is that everything works through plea bargains. The state places a poor accused person in jail, who can not make bail and let's them rot untill they confess, ussually there's a pile of threats placed out there about what's going to happen to the person if they choose to go to trial. The incentive system is a cold blackmail intended to save the state money in court costs.

Not suprisingly, we are now finding through DNA evidence that a large number of poor people confessed to crimes they did not commit.

This is the state of our country. A government that can afford to involve itself into every aspect of our lives can not afford to perform it's basic function which is the police and the courts. A little something to think about before the game begins at the state funded stadium.

10:14 AM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...


I agree. People are far too willing to cede their civil rights when confronted with "fearful" times. It's like people regress to adolescence.

4:46 PM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...


All those laws seem like a scam to allow the authorities to target "troublemakers" (i.e. people who aren't down with the status quo). There are so many laws that everyone is in a perpetual state of "law-breaking". The government reserves the right to pick you up at any time.

4:50 PM  
Blogger John Morris said...

Yes, that is exactly what these laws do in effect. Vague-- non objective type laws are just a blank check the government can use whenever it wants.

I do want to make the point however, that this stuff is not some new thing that the Bush administration cooked up but a long term trend of legal decline that has been going on for most of this century.

One key "benefit" of this type of situation from the governments standpoint is that it creates a self sustaining trend. Vague laws and draconian penalties create climate in which many people are cowed into confessing ( or in the case of businesses pleading no contest ) which creates the impression that the government was right and that everyone accused is guilty.

Perhaps we can discuss this further when we get to the concentration camp?

3:05 PM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...

You are making a bad assumption- that the bureaucratic efficiency of the federal government will be such that we will get sent to the same camp. It just all depends on what private security firm they outsource the transportation contract to.

7:11 PM  
Blogger John Morris said...

IG Farben will control most of the camps

2:11 PM  

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