The American legal system, which unashamedly holds itself out to the world as a model for all other nations to follow, boasts of a presumption of innocence which is afforded to all accused. While hardly anyone would overtly criticize this lofty ideal, its existence is for the most part in name only and is in fact almost wholly illusory. The realities of America’s criminal justice system have reduced the presumption of innocence to a meaningless theoretical ideal, diametrically opposed to the realities of how criminal matters typically unfold in the nation’s courts.
Americans often snicker about how “everyone in jail says they’re innocent.” One might think that in the nation that leads the world in both number and percentage of its population under lock and key, significant segments of the populace would be sophisticated enough to realize that substantial numbers of those imprisoned are there erroneously. Yet in the U.S., a developed first world nation, nothing could be further from the truth as the prevailing wisdom is that if someone is in prison, “they must have done something.”
Despite the supposed presumption of innocence, the accused are almost universally assumed to be guilty
The divergence from reality goes further when the discussion turns to how “offenders” in the U.S. are treated. There is a steady drumbeat of calls for harsher punishment which infers that criminals are currently being coddled. The government rarely misses an opportunity to spread the myth of “country club prisons” through its accommodating media myrmidons who stand ready to parrot the day’s desired message. Indeed, the average American has been led to believe that U.S. prisons routinely offer swimming pools, golf courses and a host of other amenities. Prison, according to this fallacious asseveration, is a place people want to be. It is not enough to lock people up in record numbers. The government feels a need to also deceive the public into believing that those imprisoned are somehow enjoying their experience. This deliberate deception further infers that most of those committing crimes do not ever see the inside of a prison due to a porous criminal justice system that routinely allows the guilty to go free. The fact that America is already the undisputed world leader in incarceration and actively seeking to add to its burgeoning prison population is cleverly kept from the equation. The ongoing dissemination of these blatant falsehoods continues unabated.
Federal prosecutors, working through their media supplicants, go to great lengths to disseminate the myth of “country club prisons”
The professed belief in the presumption of innocence is another example of government disingenuousness. In actuality, the government is playing a duplicitous game as it cites the presumption of innocence as a core element of the criminal justice system while simultaneously doing all it can to further the notion that only guilty people are charged with crimes. The malleable U.S. public has overwhelmingly bought into the government’s mendacity with disastrous results.
Much of the government’s ability to achieve its blatantly illegitimate 99% conviction rate in federal court flows from these efforts to misinform the public and poison prospective jury pools. Jurors, being victims of the media’s misinformation, often come into court with anything but a belief in the presumption of innocence. Despite all of the boilerplate instructions directing jurors to begin with a presumption of innocence and require the government to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, defendants are typically expected to prove their innocence. This perversion of the legal system has turned the process on its head, resulting in the kind of conviction rate one might reasonably expect to find in a third world dictatorship.
On Monday, March 18, 2013, Abu Ghraib whistleblower, former JAG lawyer and high profile criminal defense counsel Paul Bergrin was found guilty in federal court in Newark, NJ on all counts, including murder and drug trafficking. Although Bergrin’s trial spanned over eight weeks and included 23 separate counts, his jury deliberated only a little over one full day. When one considers how much time was spent selecting a jury foreman and dealing with other housekeeping issues, one can only wonder how much time was actually spent deliberating the various charges against Bergrin, who had acted as his own defense counsel.
Criminal defense lawyer Paul Bergrin was convicted on all counts despite exposing a prosecution made-up almost entirely of perjured testimony suborned by federal prosecutors
Bergrin’s trial has been regularly reported at Online Publishing, see:
The government’s case against Bergrin almost exclusively consisted of testimony from convicted criminals of the lowest order who were seeking to be rewarded for their testimony. All of the major witnesses were caught perjuring themselves on the stand and admitted to having previously perjured themselves in prior proceedings. There was almost nothing in the way of corroborating testimony.
Bergrin’s legal woes began after he exposed human rights abuses at the notorious Abu Ghraib prison
The top count against Bergrin revolved around his alleged involvement in a conspiracy to murder a federal witness, Deshawn “Kemo” McCray. Allegedly, Bergrin had conspired to have Kemo eliminated because he was poised to testify against William Baskerville, a major drug dealer and client of Bergrin’s. The government’s central witness for this element of the case was convicted murdered and drug dealer, Anthony Young.
It was easy to see that Young was an experienced criminal. He was very familiar with the ways of the federal criminal justice system and knew how to deftly play the game. Young immediately impressed observers as a man who would do or say anything to extricate himself from legal jeopardy. His story, under the friendly direct examination of AUSA John Gay, made little sense and completely unraveled under Bergrin’s blistering cross-examination.
Bergrin pointed to numerous inconsistencies between Young’s current testimony and previous versions also recounted under oath. Young acknowledged pleading guilty to a murder in which he was previously uncharged and taking a 30 year sentence, to get out from under a gun charge where he was facing a likely maximum term of 15 years. He tried, with a straight face, to tell the court that no promises had been made by the government regarding a subsequent reduction in his sentence. His story is that he simply passed on a 15 year sentence, took a 30 year term and now in furtherance of his newfound status as a solid citizen, is tying Bergrin to a murder with no expectation of a reward.
Federal witness Kemo McCray was allegedly shot by Anthony Young, but there is a stunning lack of evidence tying Bergrin to the conspiracy
Young was forced to admit that he initially lied to FBI agents and prosecutors, and gave false information in an effort to frame another drug ring member as the Kemo shooter. Young’s justification for doing so is that he allegedly feared for his life and wanted his adversary to be incarcerated. He insisted that now he was telling the truth and had been doing so since he decided to “come clean” in 2006 and cooperate with authorities. He did, however, concede that he had made “mistakes” in his prior sworn testimony.
Young was arguably almost credible when compared with the government’s central witness, Oscar Cordova. Cordova was billed as the Chicago hit man who Bergrin had conspired with to murder additional prosecution witnesses. Early in Bergrin’s cross-examination, Cordova was caught in a blatant lie regarding another investigation in which he had cooperated with federal authorities. Bergrin asked Cordova if he had been prepped by the FBI and U.S. attorneys for today’s testimony. Cordova admitted to lengthy rehearsals for his performance in court. Bergrin then asked, “Is telling lies like that part of how you were instructed to testify?” There was audible laughter in the courtroom. Spectators were threatened with removal if there were further outbursts. Even more significantly, Cordova was forced to also admit that he had previously made false accusations of murder against another individual.
Cordova’s dubious claim that he was the international leader of the Latin Kings was central to the government’s case against Bergrin
Cordova became visibly upset whenever the questioning turned to the topic of his alleged father, imprisoned Latin King leader Lord Gino. Cordova’s alleged Latin King leadership role was central to the government’s charges against Bergrin. Cordova repeatedly looked to the judge for help when this topic was broached by Bergrin. USDJ Dennis Cavanaugh seemed a bit puzzled and was at first sympathetic to Cordova, gently advising him that Bergrin had the right to ask questions about Cordova’s supposed father. Even after Cavanaugh’s gentle prodding, Cordova was reticent to answer. It was obvious that there were significant doubts about Cordova’s claimed lineage. Most likely, he was just an opportunistic petty criminal who was able to initially fool the feds with his claim of being Lord Gino’s son. The feds had likely become wise to his lie, but had no choice but to stick with his initial story, ridiculous as it may be. Bergrin, having previously represented real Latin Kings, almost certainly knew all along that the story was a complete fabrication and would have immediately recognized Cordova as a fraud.
Lord Gino is the imprisoned leader of the Latin Kings, but Oscar Cordova is almost certainly not his son
Bergrin had dissected Cordova’s testimony masterfully, revealing one lie at a time. He asked Cordova if he was receiving any type of professional care. Cordova hesitated and after a lengthy pause looked at Cavanaugh and said, “Your Honor, I don’t feel so good.” Cavanaugh noted that it was almost noon and declared a recess for lunch.
When court resumed and prior to the jury being seated, Gay approached Cavanaugh and said, “Your Honor, it has come to our attention that Mr. Cordova is in fact receiving counseling and taking two types of mood-stabilizing drugs.” Cavanaugh became visibly upset and said, “Why is it that we are four weeks into this trial and I am hearing for the I am hearing for the first time that the government’s central witness is medicated and receiving counseling?” Gay offered a mumbled response, but the show was inexplicably allowed to continue.
USDJ Dennis Cavanaugh allowed his courtroom to be used as a staging ground for serial perjury and blatant prosecutorial misconduct
Bergrin also drew out of Cordova that he had received no money to kill anyone and had received no address to locate the supposed target, despite repeatedly querying Bergrin. It became increasingly clear that there was never a plot to kill anyone. Cordova’s whole story about why he initially contacted the FBI about Bergrin was similarly exploded on cross-examination. Cordova claimed he met with Paul and spoke about the murder plot prior to calling the feds. The relevant dates, however, exposed this lie as Cordova had actually spoken with the feds prior to meeting Bergrin. This lie raised the possibility that Cordova was called into service by his federal handlers specifically to entrap Bergrin before any “plot” existed. We may never know if it was Cordova or the feds who initiated this part of the scheme to ensnare Bergrin.
Who is Oscar Cordova and is that even his real name?
Those closely following the proceedings believed that Bergrin had deftly deflected the government’s charges and had an excellent chance of acquittal. After all, the government’s central witnesses had all been exposed as serial recidivist perjurers. Bergrin’s previous trial had ended with a hung jury and this was considered by many to be his worst-case scenario in the retrial.
Yet it was not to be. Despite revealing shocking inconsistencies in the stories recounted by rewarded government witnesses, Bergrin was swiftly convicted and now faces a likely life sentence. One can only wonder what the discussions were like in the jury room, but it appears that the jurors were unconcerned with the prosecutors’ subornation of perjurious witness testimony.
The jurors were likely acting upon the aforementioned preconceived notions that the government works so hard to perpetuate. Admittedly, it is hard for some to concede that their government would bring charges against an innocent person, yet to think otherwise ascribes to federal prosecutors an unrealistic level of perfection. Even without the element of malice, it would be inevitable that mistakes be made in the prosecution of federal cases. Jurors, however, remain reticent to admit as much making acquittals in federal court extremely elusive.
Even if all of those accused of federal offenses were indeed guilty, a normal margin of error would cause the conviction rate to be well-below its current improbable 99%. Aside from reeking of illegitimacy, that number suggest something is very wrong with the process of dispensing criminal justice on a federal level. Jurors’ unfortunate presumption of guilt may be a good point at which the process should begin to be reexamined.