Like many individuals, I had fallen for the notion that the US legal system was about fairness.
Contrary to popular belief, it is far from being fair and this is what makes it even more dangerous – the belief that it is a fair system blind to political whims and corruption. Most people in the US grow up with the notion that if someone is arrested it is because they are a criminal. The news media perpetuates this notion by the constant “perp walk” and in your face interrogation of those who are accused of a crime. I’ve written numerous times how I believe that a system that chains or strip searches before conviction completely obliterates the notion of the “presumption of innocence”. As egregious as I feel that those actions are the fact remains that the fallacy of the “presumption of innocence” is not as bad as what happens when someone is unfairly jailed for a crime they did not commit.
A prosecutor “can indict a ham sandwich” was used to explain to me how a prosecutor’s presentation before a grand jury is a one-sided presentation devoid of any fairness. This is because a prosecutor gives a presentation to a grand jury by providing only the information that is likely to result in an outcome the presenter consciously or unconsciously wants.
Basically, the prosecutor lays out the evidence of a ham sandwich committing murder by causing the chocking of the victim. The prosecutor that wishes, or believes the sandwich caused the murder provides evidence that the victim ate the sandwich and according to the medical examiner, the sandwich lodged in the victim’s throat resulting in death. The prosecutor closes by showing the grand jury a picture of a piece of the sandwich lodged in the victim’s throat.
Triumphantly the prosecutor turns to the grand jury and proclaims to them that because the cause of death was the sandwich then the victim died because of the sandwich and as such, the sandwich should be indicted by the grand jury.
I know what you are thinking, but how can a grand jury indict an inanimate object? Consider my original premise where I discussed how US citizens are brought up with the notion that the legal system is the fairest in the world, that generally the US is free of corruption and add to that, that those who question too much while serving on a grand jury are normally marginalized by the others because it’s a waste of time or because they must be another conspiracy theorist and therefore they should be ignored. Some would even argue that if the sandwich was investigated by the police they must have done something wrong, if not this then something else since police officers only investigate criminals. Some would even argue that the indictment is only step one in a criminal process and ultimately the sandwich would be judged by its peers.
Accepting this for a moment consider the inverse of this scenario and this time the prosecutor likes the sandwich and wants to eat it later, so during his presentation the prosecutor tells the grand jury, guess what, the law doesn’t make a provision for the indictment an inanimate object and therefore you can’t indict the ham sandwich.
I’m sure you know who who’ll be eating that ham sandwich later that night.
All kidding aside, I used the ham sandwich to illustrate the dangers of having a semi-secret process under the control of one individual that can manipulate the outcome of any given situation because of how the process is set up.
Although an indictment isn’t necessarily the end of the world it nonetheless is the first step of a serious issue for an accused.
Consider the case of Daniel Villegas. As many of you already know, he has been in jail for murder that he has said he did not commit. Judge Sam Medrano recently ruled that he deserved a second trial in light of evidence that supports of Villegas have put together over the years.
At this point, we have conflicting information; a judge has ruled that Villegas deserves a new trial and a prosecutor intent on keeping the person he prosecuted almost two decades ago in jail. Jaime Esparza, the prosecutor is intent in keeping Villegas in jail and to do so he is relying on manipulating the legal system to gain an advantage. Instead of stating his case before Judge Medrano’s court, he tried to have the judge recused so that he could possibly land a friendlier judge willing to keep Villegas in jail through the process.
If you haven’t read it yet I encourage you to read an in depth account of this case in the Texas Monthly, titled “How to Get a Teenager to Admit to a Murder He Didn’t Commit” by Nate Blakeslee that was published on January 8, 2014.
Honestly, my gut leads me to believe that a travesty was committed against Daniel Villegas however, there are some of you who still believe that the legal process can’t be subverted for a political agenda.
I also personally believe that Jaime Esparza has created a fiefdom where he alone determines what is proper for the community. In my opinion, he has subverted a failed legal system making it even worse for those subject to his whims. As an example DIMS has been litigated and although I firmly believe it is a corruption of the legal system, that same legal system has upheld it.
Yet, we find ourselves wondering if a sixteen-year-old was wrongly convicted for a crime he did not commit. On one hand, the legal system that has upheld DIMS has also given a glimmer of hope to Daniel Villegas that his possible nightmare may be coming to an end. And through all of this there is Jaime Esparza trying to manipulate the system to keep Judge Medrano from ruling on whether Villegas can go home or not while Esparza decides to prosecute him again, or not.
Keep in mind that the same legal system that Esparza dominates in El Paso is the same system that has not being able to prosecute a single public corruption case, has resulted in hundreds of thousands of dollars paid out to settle cases and has kept at least one person in jail for having the temerity to take laundry detergent through airport security. It is also the same system that has Ann Morgan Lilly under criminal investigation for a second assault all in a cloud secrecy that keeps the process secret.
And some you still wonder if Jaime Esparza wouldn’t be able to indict a sandwich if it fancied him to do so. Better yet, ask yourself why is it that Jaime Esparza is at the center of the most controversial criminal proceedings in El Paso and why is it that they all seem to be a result of his own actions.
Note: I don’t normally link to websites for the reasons that I have stated in my Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) however in this case I think it is important to link the Daniel Villegas case site in order for you to access.
I assume this explains why Grand Jury transcripts are rarely provided and given to defendants “prior to trial.”
Great article Martin.
So, how much better is it in Mexico, as you are conflicted about citizenship?
Comparing Mexican and US judicial systems is an interesting topic. First, both work like a charm if you have money, both suck if you don’t. Here in the US we have a system of common law, Mexico on the other hand has a system based on Roman Code, dating from more than 3,000 years; quite more sophisticated. Kind of comparing the system of measure, Mexico has the metric system like the rest of the World; the US has the one based on the length of the foot of the King and the temperature of the butt of a sick caw.
But, lets compare the US with, for example: Sweden, Great Britain, France, Germany, Japan, Spain, Austria, or even Italy. We may even find ourselves holding the short stick if we compare the US with Canada, or Malaysia.
Are we aspiring to be like Mexico, or the Helvetic Confederation?
There is the undisputable fact that we have 10 times more people in jails per capita than any other organized country. Are we 10 times more criminal than Germans, or the French?
Or shall we concentrate on the issue at hand, justice in El Paso.
Our system only works when the check and balance process is in place.
Who checks the Grand Jury in El Paso?
Who checks Judge Montalvo?
Who checks the El Paso DA?
Until “We the People” are allowed to see what goes on, there are no checks and balances.
All court records need to be open.…..or is there something to hide?
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