After losing in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Arizona’s attorney general appealed the decision to the Supreme Court. During those oral arguments, state prosecutors repeatedly argued that “innocence isn’t enough” of a reason to throw out Barry Jones’ conviction.
On Monday morning, by a 6-3 vote, the Supreme Court concurred: Barry Jones’ innocence is not enough to keep him off of death row. The state of Arizona can still kill Jones, even if there exists a preponderance of evidence that he committed no crime.
Most Americans have watched with a sense of sadness and rage as the women’s basketball star, Brittney Griner, has been put through a mock trial in Russia, having been charged with possession of a small amount of marijuana.
It has been painfully obvious to us that Griner is being used as a political pawn in a renewed cold war between Russia and the United States as Russia’s President Putin attempts to claim Ukraine, in whole or in part, as a part of Russia, and the United States is arming the Ukraine army with sophisticated weapons, allowing them to fight a virtual proxy war for us against Russia.
So, Russia has played a cruel publicity game, daily dangling this innocent athlete in front of TV cameras to make the American government beg for her release, and finally to trade a truly dangerous criminal in order to buy her way out of jail. It has been a despicable affair and we are justly outraged by it.
What has been missing from the media coverage, in my estimation, has been any sense of self-awareness of just how hypocritical it is of Americans to be upset about Russia giving a 9-year-sentence to this basketball star for marijuana possession when we have thousands of Americans in county jails and state and federal prisons for marijuana violations.
Even as marijuana has become increasingly decriminalized or legalized in state after state, we never seem to be able to meaningfully review our current incarcerated population to give early release and, just as importantly, to purge criminal records for these generally harmless violations.
Granted, Russia’s judicial system is a sham, a hoax, it is uncivilized and unjust but the truth remains that the United States incarcerates a larger percentage of our population than Russia does and that our judicial system is not the global example of fairness and equality under the law that we have been brainwashed to believe: Far from it!
I absolutely hate the way people make arguments from false equivalencies in any conversation about ethics. “What-about-isms” are typically a logical fallacy we call “tu quoque,” which literally translates “and you too” or more colloquially translates as “I am rubber, and you are glue, what you say bounces off of me and sticks to you.”
This may seem to be a bit off topic but I can’t help pointing out that for six months now we have been filling the airways with comparisons of Putin to Hitler with every manner of condemnations of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. And, granted, Russia is guilty as charged . . . even though there have been break away regions on the border where most people wanted to be a part of Russia and even though Russia, as a nation, was really born in Kiev and not in Moscow . . . there are historical and cultural reasons for Putin’s claim, just not sufficient to justify invasion, not to mention all of the war crimes: rape, targeting civilians, and stealing children and shipping them to Russia. Putin is, if not a Hitler, he is at least a Hitler-wannabe.
But it continues to be ironic to me that Russia’s sins are so easy to see from this distance, but we still refuse to admit that our invasion of Iraq was an even more egregious and illegal war than Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and I can’t seem to find anyone else who will admit the obvious truth that Bush, Cheney, and even Colin Powell, were war criminals. They lied to the American people, they lied to the world at the United Nations. They destroyed a country, killing hundreds of thousands of people and plunging them into poverty without any plausible excuse. And they wasted American resources that could have more easily provided universal healthcare and tuition free education for everyone.
Look, I’m not the only person who knows this. In 2015, the counter-terrorism czar in the Bush administration, Richard Clark, told Amy Goodwin in an interview on Democracy now, that Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld, his former bosses, were all war criminals. And we let Bush retire to his Texas bathtub where he paints pictures of his favorite pets and old friends, like Vladimir Putin . . . you recall that he said of Putin, "I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy. We had a very good dialogue. I was able to get a sense of his soul; a man deeply committed to his country and the best interests of his country."
I’m not saying that the USA and Russia are the same, but I am saying that there are so many similarities that the hypocrisy should shame us into getting our own house in order before we get too self-righteous about Russia’s clay feet. I cannot think of any good reason why Bush, Cheney, Powell, and Rumsfeld were not put on trial as war criminals. . . but I digress.
Back to Brittney Griner and America’s hypocrisy about marijuana: One of the biggest disappointments I continue to have about the Obama administration is that he never granted pardons to people charged with marijuana offenses, especially in light of the fact that Obama had been a marijuana user himself, he just didn’t get caught or charged. I literally waited out the closing weeks of his administration, fully expecting him to grant pardons to tens of thousands of people suffering unemployment, homelessness, and a host of other issues because of a marijuana charge on their record but, sadly, he never rose to the decency of showing mercy to these unjustly judged Americans.
Again, Republican politicians have been worse on this issue, but Democrats have yet to impress me with their moral vision. This is low hanging fruit, and it is just inexcusable that our country remains blind to the obvious truth of our excessive incarceration around drug use. Even for harder drugs, addiction is a medical and/or a mental health issue and it simply should not be treated as being a criminal issue in most cases.
Most of western Europe has come to terms with this and there is no reason for the United States to hold onto an antiquated and mis-informed perspective on drugs. We are not, after all, trying to follow in the footsteps of Iran and Russia . . . even though we are. Folks, the answer is treatment, not incarceration. Most of the western world has known this for years. There is no excuse for the fact that we are still using incarceration to punish rather than treatment to help addicts.
This is not the first time that I've addressed this topic and it certainly will not be the last time that you will hear me say that the United States does not so much have a justice system as we have a legal system.
I can think of no case that illustrates this fact more clearly than the case of Barry Jones, who was charged by the state of Arizona with having caused the 1995 death of his girlfriend’s 4-year-old daughter, Rachel Gray, who was determined to have died because of a punch in the stomach. Shoddy police work, junk science in the forensic report, and horrendous legal representation in court, resulted in Jones being convicted of the child’s death and he was sentenced to death.
I have no doubt that Barry Jones was not a likeable character in court, and I wouldn’t have wanted my sister to date him, but he didn’t kill the kid. He was found guilty based on circumstantial evidence and his defense attorney didn’t even review the medical evidence. When he finally managed to have his case re-tried, it was made evident that he was innocent of the murder and a lower court judge said that he should be immediately released. But the state of Arizona took it to the Supreme Court where, just two months ago, in a 6-3 decision, that merely being innocent of the crime would not prevent the state of Arizona from executing an innocent man.
Did you hear what I just said? The Supreme Court, the panicle of our “justice” system, ruled that merely being innocent of the charges does not prevent the state from executing an innocent man.
It will not likely surprise you to learn that Justice Clarence Thomas wrote the decision, saying that it put an unreasonable expectation on the states to be expected to provide an adequate defense and that the federal government should not be reviewing state decisions.
It will probably also not surprise you to learn that Justice Sonia Sotomayor said that Thomas’ opinion was “perverse” and “illogical.”
Which, of course, it was! I didn’t go to law school and that is obvious to me, what might be less obvious is any claim that Clarence Thomas went to law school, but sadly, deference to “rule of law” decisions is not only commonly taught in law school but even Justice Sotomayor has typically defended it because it keeps a judge’s personal opinion out of decision making and makes the law a standard which is supposed to be applied equally . . . even though, in almost every case, consciously or unconsciously, race, class, religion, and location play major roles in how cases are decided.
I have, in fact, been arguing for years that if Trump, along with most of his family and his administration, do not end up in prison, that we cannot say that we have equal justice under the law. And I was saying that before the January 6, 2021 failed attempt at overthrowing America’s government and installing himself as a dictator. His criminal self-dealing, using the office of the President for personal gain, emoluments, in his first year was enough for me.
Trying to use military aid to blackmail President Volodymyr Zelensky into producing fake evidence against Joe Biden was certainly enough. But after January 6, for Trump to still be walking around, a free man? It isn’t that it is a legal matter for me.
For me it is about justice, but in this case, a septic tank stinks just as much, no matter whether you call it sewage or a rose. Trump is a sociopath who has delusional beliefs that he should somehow be an emperor. He is a sad little man who thinks that he is important, and that the laws do not apply to him.
It would seem that Justice Clarence Thomas agrees with him… Trump, in spite of being the epitome of guilty of many crimes, should be president, and Barry Jones should be executed even though he is innocent, because it is easier for Arizona to just kill him than it would be to face the embarrassment of being shown to have wrongly convicted him. And that, I submit, is what is wrong with our justice system.
As of this writing, Brittney Griner is still in prison in Russia, awaiting some miracle of diplomacy to be set free from an absurd conviction for a victimless crime. Also, thousands of Americans who do not play professional sports, also languish in American prisons and jails on equally absurd drug charges.
What is much worse, at least in my mind, Barry Jones, a man who is innocent of the murder for which he was convicted, remains on death row awaiting execution in Arizona. . . because, as Justice Clarence Thomas has clearly said, “innocence is not enough.” Whereas, for the rich and powerful in America’s judicial system, guilt is often not enough to even merit a criminal charge, and so… at this writing, Donald Trump, his family, Roger Stone, Steve Bannon, Rudy Giuliani, and many others who attempted to overthrow our government and install Trump as a dictator are still free, living the lives of millionaires.
I, at least, will not gift these injustices with my silent assent and I hope that you will not either.