Monday, December 19, 2011

The Equality of American Justice

Barry Bonds has been sentenced for the obstruction of justice conviction he received from his perjury trial, where he was accused to lying to a grand jury about his steroid use. Two years probation, thirty days home incarceration, and a $4,000 fine. This is what it costs to give evasive answers calculated to mislead prosecutors.

The only real reason to prosecute people for perjury and obstruction is to deter others. If people start getting the idea they can swear on the Bible and then tell a court whatever they feel like without fear of retribution, what little justice we have in this country won’t be worth even the pittance it has become.

How much will this sentence deter Bonds, should he find himself in another similar situation. Two years probation is nothing. It means only that the judge doesn’t want to see you in court again for a little while. Even a santorum like Bonds should be able to go forty years at a stretch before his arrogance becomes criminal again. He made it that far once; he knows how it works.

Thirty days house arrest? Please. Barry Bonds made over $100 million dollars playing baseball. It’s not like he’s trapped in some fifth-floor walkup in the South Bronx where the rats are afraid to go because of the number and attitude of the roaches. Barry’s toughest decision might be to decide which house to be stuck in for a month.

Then there is the fine, which is insulting to any member of the 99% who has ever run afoul of the criminal justice system. At his prime, Barry Bonds made about $30,000 every time he stepped to the plate. He wouldn’t put pine tar on his bat for four grand.

How is this calculated to make someone think twice before they get cute in court? Not only will this not deter Bonds and his ilk; it won’t deter me. I’d like nothing better than to be kept home for thirty days, and The Home Office is a little to the left of anyplace Bonds might stay on the Palatial Scale. Two years probation. I’ve never had any more serious brushes with law enforcement than a speeding ticket in fifty-five years; I can go two at a stretch if I have to.

Four thousand dollar fine? I’m not one of the 1% (though I am probably part of the 5%), and I was able to maintain a rainy day account adequate to write a stress-free check for my share of The Sole Heir’s car last summer, which, coincidentally, was $4,000. If I had to testify in court, I’d tell the truth because that’s how I roll, not because a penalty the likes of Bonds’s means anything to me.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t people for whom that would be a serious penalty. How about a guy who’s working on a landscaping crew, or a day laborer making minimum wage (if that) by the time you average in the days he doesn’t get work? Tie him to his house for thirty days and he doesn’t make his rent or feed himself. Of course, he wouldn’t get thirty days home incarceration, he’d get longer time in a real jail because he also doesn’t have the four grand to pay the fine.

This is American justice at its finest, proving its equality by punishing the rich the same as the poor, except to the rich it’s not punishment. It’s bragging rights, so they can chat up their buddies and show how the system works for them. In our case, justice isn’t just blind; it’s stupid.

No comments: