In your opinion, what is a major flaw in the U.S. judicial system? Why? How would you make it better?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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This question is asking for the student's opinion; therefore, the student must weigh for herself what is presented here:

One opinion is that the courts of the United States have become more and more a part of the power struggle of political parties and are not neutral as they should be. When a Republican president is in office, he tends to fill positions in the Supreme Court and federal courts with conservative judges; similarly, a Democratic president usually appoints liberal judges to positions in the federal courts. While these appointees do not always vote the way that the party which appointed them would like, often they do lean in political directions. As an example, it is a matter of history that as a backlash of the 1960's, the sentencing on serious crimes was shortened and more lenient.

As David Rothman (1971) points out, Americans increasingly came to view crime as a product of the "social disorder" that was gripping their communities—communities that were growing larger and more diverse. 

Then, when rehabilitative and recreating social order did not succeed, sentencing by judges grew more stringent as the political milieu became more conservative.

Another problem with the judicial system is in the disparities regarding sentencing. For instance, there were riots in October of 1995 in the federal prisons because of the disparity in sentences for the sale of crack-cocaine vs. powdered cocaine: Lighter sentences were, in general, handed down to those accused of selling powder cocaine over those accused of selling crack-cocaine. The inmates rioted because they felt the sentencing involved racial and social bias since more blacks and lower-class individuals were accused of selling/buying crack-cocaine while cocaine dealing was more "white-collared."

Gordon points to the U.S. House of Representatives disapproval of the U.S. Sentencing Commission's crack cocaine guideline reform proposals on October 18 as the spark lighting a tinder of discontent that grew out of overcrowding, excessively long sentences, and efforts to strip inmates of educational opportunities, exercise and recreation, and access to the courts...."Congress is saying to prisoners, 'Not only do you get long sentences, but you will have no rights while you're there," said Scott Wallace, special counsel to the National Legal Aid and Defender Association and charter member of the National Drug Strategy Network.

Nowadays, because of all the technicalities and appeals that can take place in the courts, swift justice is often virtually impossible. Whether one believes in capital punishment or not, to make a point, a sentence and completion of the proscribed punishment of capital punishment  has become unreasonable. As an example, a man convicted and sentenced to death in 1988 in Alabama died of natural causes on 1 July 2014, after twenty-six years on death row.

As Charles Dickens noted in the 1800's, there is too often a justice for the poor and a justice for the rich; "Lady Justice" sometimes is not blind. After the O.J. Simpson trial, Johnny Cochran made the statement, "The color of justice is green." It would seem that when one can afford a powerful attorney or if one is from a wealthy andor of a prestigious family, he/she has a better chance in court. There are those, for example, who would point to Simpson's trial as the example of how money colors justice, and others would point to Senator Ted Kennedy and his trial as an example of this green power of justice. Although the ruling was that there was insufficient evidence for a criminal charge of murder; Kennedy was charged with leaving the scene and his sentence suspended. On the poor side, a veritable example is the history of a poor inmate from a Federal Correction Institution in the Southeast who had his sentence reduced after he went to prison because of the assistance of another inmate ("jailhouse lawyer"); this man, who also was serving time,, found in the transcripts of the inmate's trial that his lawyer to whom he had paid $1500.00, after his mother had mortgaged her home and other family members contributed to him, had simply recited verbatim from the records of a trial that was in the law books.

Indeed, there are many unconscionable attorneys who fail to help people, or who get people out of convictions because of technicalities, rendering justice as less than impartial.

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mwestwood's profile pic

mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Suggestions for improvement:

To improve the appointment of Supreme Court Justices, district judges, and court of appeals judges perhaps, limiting their tenure from a life appointment to only so many years would decrease the effect of any one judge. Also, the Constitution is silent on their qualifications other than ¨good behavior.¨ Perhaps, then some criteria could be established for qualification. And, although the Senate can confirm or not confirm, if the Senate is of the same political persuasion as the president who nominates the judge, usually the appointment goes through. Perhaps, then, another method of approval could be decided upon.

Regarding the federal judges appointed to the states, the individual states could be allowed to vote on these judges and elect them instead, even though there is what is known as senatorial courtesy extended to the state. 

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