The Corner

Injustice Department

Daniel, re that seditious conspiracy that wasn’t, I chanced to dine tonight with a fellow whose hairdresser is pals with the head Hutaree militia guy, so I feel I’m on the inside track with this stuff. And her line, like everyone else’s in this corner of Michigan, is “Aw, he says a lot of stuff, but he’s not gonna do anything.” Unfortunately, my dining companion’s hairdresser isn’t U.S. attorney general, and Eric Holder is, and he declared the Hutaree a “dangerous organization” and his money-no-object prosecutors went to town.

It’s easy to laugh at this crowd, although it’s an open question who’s nuttier: the organization that thinks Javier Solana is the anti-Christ, or the organization that expends millions of taxpayer dollars and FBI manpower (including agents undercover for months on end) investigating them. But the fact remains: These men languished in jail without bail for two years — for a big phony nothing of a case the judge threw out. Because, unlike my friend’s hairdresser, the U.S. Justice Department has no sense of proportion.

Conrad Black, another chap on the receiving end of federal zealots, writes at NRO today about the corruption of American justice by its grotesque reliance on plea bargains — whose negotiations, as Justice Kennedy noted, are now “the critical point” for any defendant. Whatever you actually did, a plea-bargain culture incentivizes prosecutors to inflate the charges into stuff they can’t support in court. But you have to be either crazy (like a bunch of militia loons) or extremely dogged (like Conrad) to fend off the enormous pressure to forgo your right to a trial. A “sane” person would have copped a plea with Holder’s heavies for misdemeanor sedition or whatever.

When I attended Conrad’s own trial in Chicago, the first thing that struck me about the federal building was that there was nothing going on in any other courtroom: I’d duck into them to eat my sandwich at lunchtime, or to make a quiet phone call. As he points out, 94 percent of state convictions and 97 percent at the federal level come from plea bargains. In rural upstate New York recently, a town attorney tried to get me to attend a “pre-trial hearing” and discuss a plea — for traffic court. I wanted a swift trial; he wanted to drag it out for months on end, and get me to settle for being kinda-sorta semi-guilty of something or other, because that’s the way the system “works.” (I won, by the way.)

From Conrad getting the “honest services” law reined in at the Supreme Court to the Hutaree sedition charges getting dismissed, determined defendants can still occasionally win against federal prosecutors, but in reality they always lose: The process is the punishment. The jury tossed out the feds’ case against a New Hampshire neighbor of mine in nothing flat, but by that time he’d lost his savings and his marriage and attempted suicide. Any fair-minded observer of U.S. justice would conclude its excesses have thrown off the balance between defendant, prosecutor, and judge.

Incidentally, I see the original Time story on the Hutaree militia is headlined “A New Name In American Paranoia.” But they weren’t paranoid, were they? They were convinced that one day the black helicopters would be hovering overhead. And one day they were. Or, actually, one night — in the wee small hours, descending from the skies with searchlights circling. Oh, and Humvees — just like in Waziristan. So Eric Holder proved their point. In Lenawee and Hillsdale counties, they still talk about it — and the general consensus is the pseudo-commandos of the federal constabulary looked way more ridiculous than the survivalist kooks.

(P.S. I’ll be speaking at Hillsdale on Tuesday. If any Hutaree members care to swing by, I promise to do some Javier Solana gags.)

Mark Steyn is an international bestselling author, a Top 41 recording artist, and a leading Canadian human-rights activist.

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