On page 8 In the Week in Review
section of the New York Times of April 17, 2011, there is an Op-Ed
article by Joseph L. Hoffmann and Nancy J. King which argues that
habeas corpus is usually a waste of judicial time and expense. The
purpose of the habeas corpus hearing is to ensure that innocent
people are not kept imprisoned. They point out that very few post
conviction habeas corpus hearings change the status of the convicted.
Every year there are more than 17,000 habeas corpus
petitions by convicts, of which only about 0.45% result in a change in
status. They suggest other approaches to replace habeas corpus which
would be less expensive.
Their arguments are incorrect for many
reasons. First 0.4% still amounts to 68 innocent people being
exonerated. Second the Innocence Project estimates that 22,000
prisoners are innocent of the crimes for which they have been
imprisoned. Why are not they being exonerated? Is this a failure
of habeas corpus, or is some other factor responsible?
Third, habeas corpus hearings do not have to occur
after conviction, but can take place before trial. In this
situation, the expense of a trial can be eliminated if the person is
cleared in the habeas corpus hearing. I, personally, have escaped trial
and expense to the county on two occasions.
Once I used a bullhorn at an outdoor demonstration
and was charged with violating the noise ordinance. In my
pre-trial habeas corpus hearing, the judge declared the noise ordinance
to be unconstitutional and dismissed the case.
In the other incident, I was arrested for
distributing political literature without permission in front of a
Wal-Mart store. In a pre-trial habeas corpus hearing, the case
was dismissed because of non-uniform enforcement.
In both of these cases the county was spared the
expense of a jury trial.
The fourth, and most important, reason not to
eliminate habeas corpus hearings, is that they would lead to many, many
more exonerations, if used properly. The purpose of these
hearings is to protect people from convictions of unconstitutional
At least one-third, and probably many more people
are in prison for violating unconstitutional laws. All gun
control laws violate Amendment 2 of the U. S. Constitution. All
recreational drug-control laws violate Amendment 9 of the U. S.
Constitution. Twenty five percent of all U. S. prisoners are
incarcerated for non-violent drug law violations.
Others are convicted for obscenity,
prostitution, gambling, ticket scalping, fortune telling, or jay
walking. Some prisoners are incarcerated for ridiculously long
sentences because of 3-strike laws.
All of these improper convictions should be voided
for Constitutional reasons, if habeas corpus was enforced
properly. The failure to do so is in spite of habeas corpus.
Most judges in this country ignore constitutional
restraints. They violate their oath of office, which requires
that they faithfully uphold the U. S. Constitution. They are
guilty of treason. They should be removed from office, disbarred
from practicing law, and in many cases sent to prison.
If the above problems were resolved, habeas corpus
hearings would save an enormous amount of court expenses and a lot of
aggravation for many innocent or harmless people.
Submitted to the New York Times editorial page on
April 20, 2011, but not published.