(Fred Weinberg) – As regular readers know, I have, over the last few years, become a critic of our criminal justice system.
It comes under the heading of a conservative is a liberal who has just been mugged and a liberal is a conservative who has just been charged. I did some work for a TV network back during the Abramoff “scandal” and for the life of me cannot figure out what Jack Abramoff did wrong except to piss some powerful people off. Yet he served time in a Federal prison at our expense.
Then came the Harvey Whittemore “scandal” in Nevada where Whittemore was accused of raising the $140,000 Harry Reid asked him to raise, convicted of a felony and nobody even suggested that Reid did anything wrong much less criminal. In short, Harvey was convicted of pissing off powerful people. And is now serving time in a Federal prison while Harry is living at the Washington DC Ritz Carlton.
Now, there are powerful people and powerful people. To many people, some Justice of the Peace in rural Nevada is “powerful” in a way that he or she should not be and it’s now time to change that.
As Eric Holder’s investigators correctly found in Ferguson, Missouri, the “criminal justice” system was being used to extract money in prodigious amounts from the citizens to fund the cops, the courts and who knows what else.
That’s not a surprise to those of us who watch the system closely. I know that many see this as a racial issue, but the truth is that the system is busy screwing everybody all the time. It’s just that many times, middle-class white folks in the suburbs are harder targets because we have lawyers. And the best justice is the justice you pay for.
A logical solution is to make it illegal to fund the system with fines, fees and the like. If that makes some tin horn JP in Mineral County a part-timer, so be it. And if that reduces the workload of the Las Vegas Justice Court, oh, well…
In Nevada, as an example, speeding is a criminal violation, not a civil violation.
That means that when you pay a speeding ticket to make it go away, you have a criminal record. You plead guilty to a misdemeanor. It also means the cops can show up at your house if you fail to pay the ticket and haul you to jail. And cops hauling people to jail over traffic tickets are NOT policing the streets for violent crime.
The whole system is a perversion of justice. Cops have an incentive to write tickets to bring in revenue to make judges happy. Legislators don’t have to worry about actually funding the court system because, assuming the cops write enough tickets, it takes care of itself. Taken to its ridicules conclusion, you get Ferguson, Missouri and plenty of other places.
It’s a hot potato that even the most conservative elements of our own state legislature are hesitant to deal with because, for some reason, they are afraid of small town justices of the so-called peace. What brings it to the forefront is an intelligent decision on the part of the Nevada Highway Patrol to focus their traffic enforcement efforts on things that actually cause crashes as opposed to writing a quota of tickets. This has reduced revenue so much that judges are crying aloud about funding.
That comes under the heading of a load of crap.
There is a way to solve this problem permanently.
Given the very small turnout in the last general election, there has never been a better time to launch things like this as voter initiative constitutional amendments. Getting the relatively small number of signatures required and placing an initiative on the ballot making it illegal to fund the court system with fines and fees should pass with the kind of numbers that restricting tax increases did.
If the legislature doesn’t like that idea, they should do something themselves, before the voters force their hands.
And if the judges don’t like it, they need to remember that they are elected, too.
Right now, we need to get our criminal justice system under control and you can start by removing most traffic enforcement from its jurisdiction. Then, we’ll start looking at other things which come under the heading of revenue farming.
Mr. Weinberg is publisher of the Penny Press. Get to know more about him by visiting www.PennyPresslv.com.