Rubberstamp Justice

By Robert S, Ortloff, Prisoner of the Drug War

In a speech before the Drake University Law School, Judge Richard Arnold of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit acknowledged an untenable practice of federal courts, that is, perfunctory opinions which are contrary to the American ideal of justice.

Quoted in The Des Moines Register on March 26, 1999, Judge Arnold called this federal practice an "abomination" and described how he recently participated in a court session where over 50 cases were decided in a mere two hours; The appellate panel heard many, many cases with no opinions or unpublished opinions. Judge Arnold said, "I felt dirty. It was a betrayal or the judicial ethos. It makes me feel terrible."

These perfunctory, and in many cases, one line rulings are terrible. They certainly violate the due process of law and create a bulwark against an individual's post-conviction appeal effort by denying a thoughtful, on point, written basis for how the court reached its judgment to affirm the conviction or deny the relief requested.

The truth is that most federal appeals are now rubberstamped. Indeed, much of the judiciary neither has the time or inclination to even read the records before making these ugly and tragic decisions.This dishonorable reality is a systemic phenomenon and has significant implications for the production of unlawful and false convictions, it's time that the Americal public realize that it could be them next.

The federal system, starting with the targeting of an individual or the investigation of an alleged crime, and culminating in the appellate courts, tends to ratify errors and wrongdoing at lower levels in the process. Simply stated, the further a case progresses, the less chance there is that an error or misconduct will be discovered and then actually corrected.

That is the federal government's trump card: once convicted, the typical defendant is financially wiped-out, burdened with either court-appointed counsel or no counsel at all, and he or she now simply faces an insurmountable array of procedural and technical hurdles just to get a federal court to review the issues on their merits. On the rare occasion that a court will address an issue on the merits or will accept jurisdiction of a habeas petition, a successful 2255 or Rule 60(b) motion, the individual, whether illegally convicted or actually innocent, still is faced with the greatest hurdle of all­­an apathetic judiciary which bends and twists the issues, contorting the facts and legal precedent so that the truth can be avoided and the conviction affirmed.

Justice isn't the goal. The truth doesn't matter. Controlling case law doesn't matter, especially when most criminal and habeas opinions are never published for public scrutiny. In a corporate society like ours, it's the bottom line; the numbers. And it's a war, and in war, innocents are destroyed, rights are taken, and the truth dies.

There is now within our judiciary a desperate need to maintain an illusion in a system run amuck, and naturally, it is the people who suffer most. The folly of the war on drugs has caused immense damage to the rights of those caught up in the venal battles of that war, and collaterally, to every American prosecuted for any alleged crime by the self-venerated system we ironically call Justice. I understand this truth all too well for I see the destruction within opinions in case after case. I see it in my friends lives and the lives of their families, and I have experienced it first hand, being a victim of rubberstamp jurisprudence as practiced in the Fifth Circuit, as that court works to limit the fallout from the forensic scandal at the FBI Crime Laboratory. In case after case, these egregious rulings purposefully limit, if not foreclose the ability to continue appealing those issues and the underlying facts which the judiciary seem too eager to ignore.

This entire situation goes to the very core of our system. It matters not what the political animals in Congress and the self-righteous U.S. Attorneys say or do if our Third Branch of government had the character and the integrity to use its plenary power and protect the rights of the people. But that check-and-balance our founding fathers gave so much hope to is a myth. Today in 1999 America the federal judiciary has turned their black-robed backs on the rights of the people in the interest of the societal need of an all-powerful state, and this truth bodes ill for our collective future as a free people.

We must keep in mind that we are battling a triad of bad law, governmental misconduct and overreaching, and an indifferent federal judiciary. Until we take that triad head-on, any gains we make in one area will be purposefully negated by one of the others. In any effort to bring an end to the war on drugs, we must ensure that our fight is brought to our judiciary as well. They must be reminded that their oath of office is to protect the Constitution and thus the rights of the individual citizen. That is what this country was founded on; that is what the judiciary has forgotten.