By Nicole Flatow
Every year, stories emerge that serve as a reminder that the American system of justice means injustice for too many, with some receiving little or no punishment for egregious offenses, while others receive harsh or faulty punishment for much less. Here are some of the worst injustices of 2013:
1. An Alabama blogger is still sitting in a jail cell for exercising his First Amendment rights
Blogger Roger Shuler drew the ire of the powers that be when he continued to write about the alleged extramarital affair of a prominent lawyer rumored to be running for Congress. The lawyer and son of former Alabama governor Bob Riley, Robert Riley, Jr., won a temporary restraining order that prohibited Shuler from writing anything about Riley’s alleged extramarital affair and other related stories. The order itself was almost certainly a violation of First Amendment law. But Alabama officials took the dispute a step further when they pursued him for a traffic stop and arrested him for contempt. In spite of advocacy from the ACLU and others, Shuler has now been in a jail cell for two months for his journalism.
2. A teen spent three years in jail without a conviction or trial
Kalief Browder was a 16-year-old sophomore in high school walking home from a party in the Bronx when he was arrested on a tip that he robbed someone three weeks earlier. He was hauled off to Rikers Island, a prison known for punishing conditions and overuse of force, and was held because he couldn’t pay the $10,000 bail. Browder went to court on several occasions, but he was never scheduled for trial. After 33 months in jail, Browder said a judge offered freedom in exchange for a guilty plea, threatening that he could face 15 years in jail if convicted. He refused. Then one day, he was released with no explanation. While Browder was behind bars, he missed years of his childhood, and is now aiming to attain his GED. Browder spent a particularly long time behind bars before his trial, but the practice of holding those charged but not convicted who cannot afford bail for months is all-too-common. In fact, the U.S. Supreme Court dismissed the appeal last term of a Louisiana man who waited seven years behind bars without a trial because the state stalled in appointing him a lawyer.
3. A man who killed an escort for refusing sex was acquitted by a jury
On Christmas Eve, Ezekiel Gilbert hired escort Lenora Ivie Frago and gave her $150 as what he believed was a payment for sex. But when she didn’t deliver that, Gilbert shot her in the neck and she died several months later from critical injuries. A jury acquitted Gilbert after his lawyer argued that he was authorized to use deadly force under a Texas provision that goes even farther than Florida’s Stand Your Ground law in authorizing the use of deadly force to “retrieve stolen property at night.” As in any jury trial, we’ll never know if that’s the reasoning the jury accepted when it acquitted Gilbert. Regardless, he will not face any criminal penalty for the shooting.