I am officially finished with grand jury duty. Which means I now get to start the process of unloading on you all of the frustrations of watching our injustice system in action. And I think I’ll start with an article I came across just an hour after leaving the prosecutors’ offices.
Marktain Kilpatrick Simmons, 43, was jailed in November 2006 for the stabbing death of Christopher Joiner and yet his case has not yet gone to trial. Hinds County Judge Bill Gowan denied bail for Simmons, saying he wanted to hear more evidence of Simmons’ mental problems, according to The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Mississippi.
Similarly, Lee Vernel Knight, 47, has been in jail without trial since December 2007, accused in the Christmas Day stabbing death of his brother, Michael Palmer. Knight, who has been diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic, had previously been committed to the state hospital. Gowan ordered Knight committed to the state hospital in 2013, but there have been no beds available there.
If you are counting, that means those men have been in jail awaiting trial for six or seven years. Let me just let that sink in for a moment. They have been locked up for years without having been convicted. Their cases are some of the most egregious that I have heard, but they are not alone.
As I was listening to one of the cases presented before my grand jury, It dawned on me that the accused had been in DC jail for a very long time. In fact, he will likely be in jail for about two years before he goes to trial. I confirmed with the prosecutor that he was indeed being held waiting for trial and not on some other charges. I asked her if that was typical. It is. She estimated a year and a half wait for trial. She didn’t say how many of those people are waiting in jail.
But as you can see from the Pretrial Justice Institute infographic posted here, 60% of the people in jail nationwide are waiting for trial. And just in case the loss of freedom for months or years is not enough of an injustice for you, how about this.
Research shows that among defendants facing the same charge and who have the same criminal history, those who are kept in jail before trial receive worse plea offers, are sentenced to prison more often if they are found guilty, and receive harsher prison sentences than those who are released under court-ordered supervision.
Studies also find that just two to three days in jail pending trial can have a significant and lasting impact on a defendant’s family, such as the loss of permanent employment or, for single parent households, a child being placed in state custody.
If they were rich, they would be waiting for their trial at home. We have a system where Bernie Madoff gets to walk around while he waits to be tried for a $50 billion Ponzi scheme, but the poor and homeless and mentally ill will spend months or years in jail without having been found guilty of anything. Many of them will eventually be acquitted of the often petty crimes they are accused of.
And meanwhile the bail bonds people are raking it in. There are “15,000 bail bond agents work in the U.S., who write bonds for approximately $14 billion every year. Those companies are backed by multibillion-dollar “insurance giants.”
Amazing how much money people make off of the poor.
According to this Christian Science Monitor article, DC is one of the better places when it comes to holding poor people for minor things on bail they cannot afford. But even those accused of murder are still only accused. What is all that nonsense we are told about our rights to a speedy trial and innocent until proven guilty?