Is the Criminal Justice System Broken?

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The Article

Hello students! Welcome back to UNC-Wilmington for another semester. My name is Dr. Adams and I’ll be your professor until May. I’ve prepared a handout for you explaining your one (and only) out-of-class assignment for the spring semester.

During the course of the semester, you will be asked to make at least three trips down to 4th and Princess, which is the home of our local county courthouse. Of course, given the tendency of UNC-Wilmington students to drink and drive, several of you will be making more than your share of trips to the county courthouse. But let’s not deal with that unpleasantness now.

After your court visitation experience, you’ll be asked a series of questions designed to help address this semester’s principal question: Is the criminal justice system really broken?

First off, you’ll need directions to the courthouse, assuming you haven’t yet been arrested in your time here in the Port City. From campus, all you have to do is follow Market Street all the way down to 4th Street. Take a right and stop when you see a bunch of nervous people standing outside a big building chain-smoking cigarettes. That’s the county courthouse.

Before you enter the courthouse, I have a few questions for you to answer:

1. On your way down Market Street, did you see anyone using illicit drugs?

Note: Keep your eyes peeled when you get around thirty blocks from the courthouse. Many people believe that heroin use is confined to only the first fifteen blocks of downtown Wilmington. That isn’t true. Dr. Adams saw a man injecting himself with a dose of heroin while leaning on a telephone pole around the 30th block last summer.

2. What can the criminal justice system do when people are seen shooting up heroin in public and no one calls the police? (Dr. Adams started carrying a cell phone shortly after witnessing the public injection).

3. Walk across the street to the little park facing the courthouse. Take a look around. Do you see any crack vials or marijuana cigarette butts on the ground?

4. Take the time to interview some people who are smoking outside the courthouse. Ask them why they are there. Do you detect the smell of alcohol on anyone’s breath? Is anyone actually smoking a joint while waiting on his court appearance?

5. If you see someone talking on a cell phone, do your best to eavesdrop. Is anyone actually making a drug deal while waiting on his court appearance?

After you have answered these initial questions, proceed to the courthouse and take the elevator to either the third or fourth floor. Quietly go into one of the courtrooms without your cell phone and think about the following questions as you take notes:

6. Did you attend a plea hearing? If so, what was the most outrageous plea you heard entered in court? Did anyone peddling in child pornography get off without jail time? How about drug dealers or statutory rapists?

7. Why do around 90% of criminal convictions involve negotiated pleas of guilt? Does the fault lie within the system or without?

8. How many times did you hear a cell phone go off in the courtroom? Did any jurors’ cell phones go off during testimony? If so, why were they not cited for contempt of court? Also note whether any juror’s cell phone woke up a fellow juror.

9. Make sure you stay long enough to list five concepts we discussed in class that were also at issue in an actual criminal trial.

10. Make sure you attend a civil case before you go. (Be on the lookout for people like Terrance, the deadbeat dad, who, last time I was at the courthouse, showed up at a hearing and forgot which of his illegitimate children he had been summoned over).

12. When you leave the courthouse, go down to the intersection of Second and Red Cross Streets. That’s where the police station is situated. Drive north on Red Cross until you see your first daytime crack deal. How many blocks was it from the police station?

13. Drive to one of your taxpayer supported housing projects (do this only in the daytime and if you are a man). See how long it takes for a hooker to approach the car and say “I’ll slob on your knob for a dollar.” That means she’ll give you oral sex for a dollar but you can easily talk her down to fifty cents. After you do, you should pay her the fifty cents to tell you when and how she became a prostitute. Her story will be far more coherent and insightful than anything you read in the Wilmington Star News, which also costs fifty cents.

When you are finished following these instructions and answering these questions, think about this analogy and the question that follows:

A 400 horsepower truck is attached to a trailer, which carries 100 pounds of human waste to a landfill. The truck performs well with the 100 pound payload. But every week the payload is increased by another 100 pounds. Eventually, the truck is unable to make it to the landfill. It even reaches a point where the driver is unable to pop the clutch and keep the motor running. Which one of these statements best describes the situation?

a) The engine is broken.

b) Every engine, no matter how efficient, eventually shuts down when over-burdened with human excrement.

Professor’s Note: All law enforcement officers enrolled in my classes are exempt from this assignment. I appreciate your service to an insufficiently grateful community.

Mike S. Adams
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