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Article posted May 21 2014, 6:15 PM Category: Commentary Source: Jacob G. Hornberger Print

A Rotten Criminal-Justice System

by Jacob G. Hornberger

A good sign of a rotten criminal-justice system is the extent to which it is putting good, ordinary people into jail for inane criminal offenses while letting real criminals walk the streets free and carefree. Unfortunately, that is the type of system that now exists in the United States.

Recently, a man named Michael Steinberg was sentenced to 42 months in jail by New York City federal Judge Richard J. Sullivan. Steinberg is a former hedge fund trader on Wall Street. He and his wife Elizabeth have two children, an 8-year-old boy and a 6-year-old girl.

At his sentencing, the judge noted that he had received 68 letters from friends and family attesting to Steinberg's good character. In fact, prior to imposing his sentence Sullivan said that he was persuaded that Steinberg is, in fact, a "good man" who has "good character."

So, why is Steinberg a convicted felon and going to jail? Because he supposedly violated "insider trading laws," which are among the most inane economic crimes ever devised by a government.

He's not the only one. Recall Martha Stewart. Does she seem like the criminal type? As you'll recall, she had to serve time in jail for supposedly lying about a stock trade to a federal agent who was investigating whether she had violated insider-trading laws. She wasn't even under oath when she supposedly made the false statements. Moreover, they didnít even end up going after her for what they were investigating her for ó violating insider-trading laws.

Did Martha Stewart actually belong in jail? Is she the type of person who should be arrested, prosecuted, convicted, and incarcerated? After all, don't federal officials lie to the American people all the time when they're not under oath?

Let's not forget Joseph Nacchio, the former CEO of Qwest Communications, one of the nation's biggest telecommunications companies. When he was asked by the George W. Bush administration to commit felony offenses by secretly divulging confidential records of customers to the NSA, he said no. The federal government retaliated against him by prosecuting him for supposed insider-trading violations.

Ask yourself: Is Joseph Nacchio a person who should be spending six years in a federal penitentiary?

Why, I'll bet that most people would feel very comfortable having Michael Steinberg, Martha Stewart, and Joe Nacchio as their next-door neighbors or in the homes for a dinner party.

Consider the tens of thousands of good, ordinary people who have been prosecuted and jailed for nothing more than buying, possessing, and ingesting illicit drugs. Why do they belong in jail? They haven't initiated force against anyone. All they've done is to possess or consume something that federal officials disapprove of. Big deal.

After all, lots of federal officials, from the president on down, have illegally possessed and used illicit drugs. Are they the type of people who belong in jail? They don't think so, which is precisely why they aren't volunteering to serve time for what they admit was a felony offense, one that they just didn't get busted for.

Now, let's compare Steinberg, Stewart, Nacchio, and non-violent drug offenders to some of the real criminal types who are walking the streets scot-free.

Consider Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper. He not only lied, he lied under oath. He knowingly, intentionally, and deliberately committed perjury before an official congressional hearing.

What happened to Clapper? Nothing. Nothing at all. Well, except that he got praised and glorified after everyone discovered that he's a perjurer, an official liar under oath. Even members of Congress are indifferent to the fact that Clapper lied to them under oath.

Unlike Martha Stewart, there was no arrest of Clapper. No grand jury indictment. No criminal prosecution. No sentencing. Clapper received a grant of informal immunity for his very real crime. Under our system, he's considered a "patriot."

Consider the CEOs of all those telecoms who, unlike Nacchio, said "yes" when federal officials requested them to participate in a real felony enterprise involving selling the privacy of their customers down the river. What happened to them? They ended up receiving formal immunity from Congress for their crimes. The government considered them to be "patriots."

Consider the band of CIA agents who knowingly, intentionally, and deliberately kidnapped a man in Italy and forcibly transported him to Egypt for torture. Kidnapping and conspiracy to torture are real crimes -- felonies. They involve the initiation of force against another person. That's why the Italian judicial system prosecuted and convicted those CIA agents of felony offenses.

But are those convicted felons serving time in an Italian jail? Of course not. Federal officials consider them to be "patriots" for loyally and obediently following orders to violate the law. That's why they're not sending those agents back to Italy to face the music.

Consider all the CIA agents who have tortured people and conspired to torture people for the last several decades. Nobody is prosecuting them, notwithstanding the fact that many of their torture partners are now being prosecuted, convicted, and sentenced in countries like Chile and Argentina. If those countries can garner the intestinal fortitude to go after people who have committed torture-related felonies, why can't the United States? Instead, CIA torturers continue to walk American streets scot-free and are even treated like "patriots."

I wonder how many people would feel comfortable living next door to perjurers, kidnappers, and torturers or having them visit in their homes.

What better evidence of a rotten criminal-justice system than one that is sending good, ordinary people to jail for inane "crimes" while, at the same time, letting real criminals go scot-free and, even worse, treating them as "patriots"?
Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News' Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano's show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at and from Full Context. Send him email.

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