Kangaroo Court: A mock court in which the principles of law and justice are disregarded or perverted. A court characterized by irresponsible, unauthorized, or irregular status or procedures (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/kangaroo%20court).
The term may also apply to a court held by a legitimate judicial authority who intentionally disregards the court’s legal or ethical obligations (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kangaroo_court).
The premise behind the US criminal justice system is that those accused of criminal wrong doing are presumed innocent until proven guilty; that they are protected by numerous constitutional amendments (including the 5th, 6th, 8th, and the 11th) and that they have a right to a trial by a jury of their peers.
The reality of the system is far different. Over 90% of defendants are coerced into pleading guilty to something. Defendants are coerced by piling on of charges by prosecutors, and by judges who threaten lengthy prison terms should a defendant go to trial and be found guilty. I wrote about the widespread use of plea bargains to enhance incarceration on a mass level back in 2012 (http://truth-out.org/news/item/12556-overwhelming-use-of-plea-bargains-plays-major-role-in-mass-incarceration).
Those brave enough to go to trial, often face a court system stacked against them. This includes judges who used to be prosecutors, denial of access to evidence that prosecutors have, and restrictions by the judge on what may be claimed as a defense. The same government which accuses and tries those accused of criminal wrong doing tells defendants what they may present as their defense.
All of this amounts to a system of kangaroo courts. Like the South African apartheid system, it is legitimized by rules, procedures and precedents cloaked in symbols of authority and marinated in imposing, postmodern courthouse buildings. Kangaroo courts are part and parcel of the New Jim Crow.
The trial of Occupy activist Cecily McMillan provides a window into the kangaroo court system of criminal justice in the US. Except of course, most defendants processed through the US criminal justice system do not have the good fortune to be white college educated defendants with a highly accomplished attorney and fairly critical media scrutiny, as does Ms. McMillan.
The Cecily McMillan Trial
“Though your brother’s bound and gagged
And they’ve chained him to a chair
Won’t you please come to Chicago
Just to sing
In a land that’s known as freedom
How can such a thing be fair
Won’t you please come to Chicago
For the help that we can bring”
—-Chicago by Graham Nash
Occupy Activist Cecily McMillan was arrested at Zuccotti Park on March 17, 2012 and charged with assaulting a police officer. McMillan has claimed she elbowed the police officer in question after her breast was forcefully grabbed from behind. The cast of characters in this case also include police officer Grantley Bovell, defense attorney Martin Stolar and State Supreme Court Judge Ronald A. Zweibel.
The following reports from various publications reveal what can be argued is a kangaroo court proceeding in the McMillan case, not unlike the Chicago Eight trial (1968-1970).
The Village Voice reported:
“In a decision issued yesterday, State Supreme Court Judge Ronald A. Zweibel decided that the information contained in Bovell’s internal disciplinary file isn’t relevant to the case and that the defense can’t see any part of it. But McMillan’s lawyer argues that this officer has assaulted and falsely arrested people before, and that the file can help them prove it “.
“Justice for Cecily, a legal support group advocating for McMillan, also issued a statement. It reads, in part: Judge Zweibel’s interpretation that such a history is ‘irrelevant’ to the case at hand sets a chilling tone for the case moving forward. The denial of access to vital information such as Bovell’s conduct within the NYPD, is unfortunately common, however contrary to common sense and justice (http://blogs.villagevoice.com/runninscared/2014/03/cecily_mcmillan_occupy_wall_street_trial_assault_marty_stolar_grantley_bovell.php).
Cecily McMillan’s defense attorney Martin Stolar claimed that testimony from McMillan’s arresting officer violated the Fifth Amendment restrictions against the use of comments that a defendant made at the time of arrest.
Prosecutors argued that the officer’s remarks about what McMillan said constitute admissible hearsay since the officer in question overheard the statements.
Judge Ronald Zweibel agreed, ending the morning-long debate that also included Stolar’s bid to show videos of the arrest that he says will prove that McMillan was not faking a legal seizure, as prosecutors claim.
“This debate is going to end,” a frustrated Zweibel said. He allowed for only 45 seconds of a recording of McMillan’s arrest, and shot down Stolar’s request for a mistrial.
Stolar said the judge’s decision to restrict his use of videos of the arrest “is cutting the heart out of my ability to refute” that McMillan was faking a seizure to avoid being arrested. “I’m totally handicapped.” In other words the ‘Kangaroo court’ is working (http://www.courthousenews.com/2014/04/23/67280.htm).
The judge had been ruling that the defense would not be able to question Bovell about his history and even threatening her attorney Marty Stolar with contempt of court if he asked about it.
The judge ruled for the prosecutor and prevented Stolar from providing any context to what was occurring in Zucotti Park and in the conflict between Cecily McMillan and Bovell. Judge Zweibel, and the injustice that the geminates, is worrisome. In the pre-trial phase he urged Cecily to plea to a felony, telling her if she were found guilty the sentence would be more severe.
Stolar was also limited inside the courtroom by the judge. Judge Zweibel did not allow Stolar to bring up issues regarding Officer Bovell’s violence against Austin Guest, another person arrested that night, even though Stolar said there was an additional witnesses to Bovell slamming Guest’s head and Guest was ready to testify.
The issue of Bovell being involved in the Bronx ticket fixing scandal also came up, with Bovell saying he thought it was normal behavior to fix tickets it is part of “the culture of the department” and “”this is what we do. Everyone does it.” More facts about the American injustice system.
Zweibel tried to cut this line of questioning off saying, “I think we’ve exhausted this line of questioning.” Stolar responded: “I don’t” and continued.
A key piece of evidence is a video that shows some of the conflict between Cecilly and Bovell. Stolar contested the video shown saying “It’s been edited. It’s not the whole thing.”
Shawn Carrié tweeted that the prosecutor admitted it was not the original video that was first retained as evidence many months ago, which also was shared with defense… The judge allowed this video of the incident to be played in court.
Bovell got away with not bringing his notes, a memo book that Stolar requested saying he forgot. Stolar asked him for his memo book as his notes may have shed more light on what occurred but instead Stolar was limited to portions of the notes given to him by prosecutors. Other judges would have reacted strongly to Bovell’s failure to bring the memo book, but Judge Zweible said nothing (http://www.popularresistance.org/cecily-mcmillan-trial-update-halfway-from-picking-the-jury/) (http://www.popularresistance.org/testimony-of-key-witness-in-cecily-mcmillan-prosecution/).
Kangaroo Kriminal Kourts
The trial of Cecily McMillan provides a window into the egregious system of kangaroo courts which characterize the US criminal justice system — except most defendants are not lucky enough to be white, college educated persons represented by an accomplished defense attorney.
Most defendants are poor and people of color, who are processed through the system, like a beef patty at McDonald’s, through a system of Kangaroo Kriminal Kourts which represent governmentally sanctioned racism similar to the justice wrought by the KKK.
After five years in office, this is something African American US Attorney General Eric Holder has belatedly acknowledged, yet he has proposed very limited reforms of the criminal justice system. Holder is simply another AG that protects the steel toed booted police thugs and the criminal injustice system.
The modern criminal justice system primarily serves the interests of the increasingly privatized and financialized prison-industrial complex, which includes, among others, “tough on crime” politicians, seedy bail bondsmen, Wall Street-traded for-profit prison corporations, money-backed judges, the drug-testing industry, police and corrections officers, and parole and prison officers’ unions. It is also the tool wielded by the one percent in their ruthless attempts to quell any dissent and protect police officers who wield cruelty while the judges and prosecutors circle the wagons in an effort to protect them.