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MatC
81800.  Wed Jul 26, 2006 7:32 am Reply with quote

Q: If the court finds you not guilty of a crime in the USA, what happens to you?
F: They let you go.
A: You get sent to prison.

On BBC Radio 4’s “Law in Action” on 27 June 2006, Bruce Zagaris, an attorney in international criminal law in Washington DC, revealed (much to the presenter's astonishment) a new law in the US, under which, if you are tried for, say, five offences, found not guilty of four and guilty of one, you will be sentenced for all five.

I’m guessing that this is unprecedented in human history, but some legal historian amongst us might know better.

 
Feroluce
81805.  Wed Jul 26, 2006 8:38 am Reply with quote

The land of the brave and the home of the free.... ...my arse.

I'm sure that such a stupid law wil make it's way over to this 51st state as soon as Tony can push it through.

It is the sincerest form of flattery you know ;)

 
QI Individual
81849.  Wed Jul 26, 2006 10:18 am Reply with quote

I guess the privatised prison system owners have been lobbying successfully for more trade.

I recollect hearing that these privatised prisons are the fastest growing businesses in the US.

 
Celebaelin
81862.  Wed Jul 26, 2006 10:23 am Reply with quote

That is REVOLTING.

 
Jenny
81951.  Wed Jul 26, 2006 2:53 pm Reply with quote

I'd like to see a link to back that up, because I'm sure it's not constitutional.

 
Flash
81980.  Wed Jul 26, 2006 5:02 pm Reply with quote

Classic stuff if true - can we identify the statute in question? It would have to be a State law by the sound of it - Federal laws don't cover such matters, do they, Jenny?

Arbitrary justice is hardly unprecedented, though: "exemplary hangings" were commonplace in 17th century Europe if you believe Neal Stephenson, and 1 in 20 of the Jacobite sympathisers rounded up after Culloden were executed on the basis of a ballot.

 
suze
81986.  Wed Jul 26, 2006 5:25 pm Reply with quote

Surely State laws aren't allowed to override the Constitution of the United States? It's a long time since I read this stuff, but I think it's made clear in the Fourteenth Amendment that no state may override citizens' rights and privileges, including the right to a fair trial, due process and so on.

It's different in Canada though, where in limited circumstances provincial law can exist Notwithstanding The Constitution - a provision which is rather controversial in itself. Only Quebec actually uses it much, in its efforts to try and prevent the use of the English language.

 
Quaintly Ignorant
82036.  Thu Jul 27, 2006 3:40 am Reply with quote

The federal government says that the growing of cannabis, even for medical reasons, is against the law though some states have passed their own laws to allow medical trials to take place. The growing areas are kept secret, by the state, from the federal government just in case. The federal government however, do grow their own cannabis in ortder to keep supplying the patients they put on a trial back in the 60's, it was so effective it was seen as cruel to withdraw the drug and yet the study was marked as a failure.

This is all from a television show I watched called Penn & Tellers Bullshit but it does make me wonder how far away the state can legislate from the federal governement.

 
MatC
82045.  Thu Jul 27, 2006 4:19 am Reply with quote

The “Law in Action” office did send me a link http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/law_in_action/5120824.stm

but I wasn’t able to reach a recording of the specific edition of the programme from there. A request from QI management on Headed Notepaper might be worth a go.

Flash, I’m not sure this is an example of “arbitrary justice,” is it? I take that to mean punishing the innocent along with the guilty; this is punishing the guilty ... even when they’re innocent. I would imagine that *openly* abolishing the principle that you can’t be sentenced for a crime having been acquitted of it is unprecedented. Not that I actually know, of course; I’m guessing.

 
Flash
82062.  Thu Jul 27, 2006 5:29 am Reply with quote

Yes, good point. I was just showing off about knowing the Culloden stuff.

 
QI Individual
82066.  Thu Jul 27, 2006 5:43 am Reply with quote

On this page is this link to the Real Audio archived broadcast. From about 5:45 minutes in the broadcast the issue is mentioned.

 
QI Individual
82070.  Thu Jul 27, 2006 6:14 am Reply with quote

If you want to see some interesting facts about how extreme the US legal system is becoming you should watch the documentaries linked to at the bottom of this page

Where it says:

Quote:
War on drugs Part I: Winners, documentary (50 min) explaining 'War on Drugs' by Tegenlicht of VPRO Dutch television. After short introduction in Dutch (1 min), English spoken. Broadband internet needed.

War on drugs Part II: Losers, documentary (50 min) showing downside of the 'War on Drugs' by Tegenlicht of VPRO Dutch television. After short introduction in Dutch (1 min), English spoken. Broadband internet needed.


You'll need Real Player or something similar. It's in pretty high resolution so you can watch it full screen.

Look for the man telling about his involvement in drawing up the three-strike law in the second episode. You get a preview of him at the end of the first episode. See and hear his emotions when he tells about what he now considers to be the worst thing he has ever been involved in.

It's quite shocking.

 
grizzly
82071.  Thu Jul 27, 2006 6:23 am Reply with quote

That is absolutely ridiculous. I would like to see those guidelines. It would make a good QI question I think.

 
Jenny
82539.  Fri Jul 28, 2006 11:35 pm Reply with quote

AFAIK state laws aren't allowed to override the US Constitution.

The 'three strikes' law is only in California. It was adopted in 1994. It imposed double-length prison sentences for people convicted of a second violent or serious felony. As of March 2004, about 35,000 inmates were 'second strikers'.

If a person has two or more previous serious or violent felony convictions, any new felony conviction carries a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment with a minimum term of 25 years. As of March2004, about 7,000 inmates were third strikers.

This ludicrous law has led to people being sentenced to life imprisonment for such heinous crimes as stealing a slice of pizza (theft being a felony).

 
Flash
539087.  Sun Apr 19, 2009 7:27 pm Reply with quote

MatC wrote:
a ... law in the US, under which, if you are tried for, say, five offences, found not guilty of four and guilty of one, you will be sentenced for all five.

I’m guessing that this is unprecedented in human history, but some legal historian amongst us might know better.

Not quite three years later, here's what I think must be the relevant passage from the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, 2008:
Quote:
In determining the relevant facts, sentencing judges are not restricted to information that would be admissible at trial. See 18 U.S.C. § 3661; see also United States v. Watts, 519 U.S. 148,154 (1997) (holding that lower evidentiary standard at sentencing permits sentencing court’s consideration of acquitted conduct); Witte v. United States, 515 U.S. 389, 399-401 (1995) (noting that sentencing courts have traditionally considered wide range of information without the procedural protections of a criminal trial, including information concerning criminal conduct that may be the subject of a subsequent prosecution); Nichols v. United States, 511 U.S. 738, 747-48 (1994) (noting that district courts have traditionally considered defendant’s prior criminal conduct even when the conduct did not result in a conviction). Any information may be considered, so long as it has sufficient indicia of reliability to support its probable accuracy.


Federal Sentencing Guidelines, 2008, §6A1.4
http://www.ussc.gov/2008guid/gl2008.pdf

Apologies for the delay.

 

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