Why the American Legal System is a Cruel Joke: A Very Personal Reflection

Before I start, I want to acknowledge that what I am about to write pales (no pun intended) in comparison to the grave injustices perpetrated, often intentionally, against people of color. But there are too many people of every race, albeit not so much of every socio-economic class, who have been mercilessly abused and unjustly punished by the “justice” system. This is about one of them.

Marianne, my wife by the time many of you read this, is free now, her sentence of four months of weekends completed. Well, I say “free,” but she’s not free of the felony, which will haunt her for the rest of her life. She’s not free of the trauma she endured, by stigma, injustice, incarceration PTSD, nutritional abuse, financial ruin, loss of her nursing license and her home, virtual unemployability, separation from her children, and the death of her father. And now that she’s “free,” I am free to write that she did nothing, fucking nothing, to deserve that. You see, once a bunch of random assholes that nod off through half of the trial called a “jury” say you’re guilty, proclaiming your innocence will only get you punished more. You have to be remorseful, even if you didn’t do anything; you have to grovel, otherwise you won’t curry the favor of mercy. Once you’ve been convicted, you carry a greater burden to prove innocence than prosecutors ever had to prove guilt. While you are forced to admit mistakes, they really don’t like doing so themselves.

So, in case you’re unfamiliar, here’s what happened. (I’ll add the proviso here that this is my own interpretation just in case anyone wants to sue me, although I wish they would try. Also, in case other eyes are reading this, Marianne had nothing to do with its writing.)

Marianne was the supervising nurse on the floor of the nursing home in which she had worked for seven years, highly respected and with an unblemished record, when a patient died. She wasn’t even supposed to be there, she volunteered to take another nurse’s shift. It was said that the patient’s death was due to the failure of having her hooked up to a ventilator. Supposedly alarms were blaring for two hours and everyone on the floor just all separately chose to ignore it, letting the woman die. This included Marianne, who had, the very week before, directly and diligently attended to this patient, who at that time had not been required to be on the ventilator. She supposedly died during this time frame, but there was no visual evidence of an emergency during that period, while there was evidence that she was alive later. But no autopsy was ever performed on the deceased, who was morbidly obese with multiple ailments, as to time or cause of death.

Now mind you, Marianne had assigned three certified nurse’s aides to oversee this patient, one stationed inside her room, one right outside and one at the monitor. Aides were regularly stationed at the monitor as a result of a previous incident that first revealed the unreliability of the alarming system, and subsequent to the one with Marianne, yet another one occurred, causing the whole system to be replaced. And aside from the faultiness of the so-called “Bernoulli” system, on which the entire case against Marianne would be based, one only need visit a nursing home to understand that alarms are beeping all the time and nurses aren’t expected to run to each one. Even the prosecution’s star witness, a man who had reported the incident to cover his own ass, had to admit on the stand to that. On top of that, the deceased was known to pull off and chew on her sensors, which triggers non-emergency alarms. So Marianne went about her normal duties, checking the med carts, etc., which is standard practice, since nothing was happening. However, hours later, when the real emergency arose, she was seen doing just that, running down the hall. Do you see any reasonable doubts yet?

Marianne wasn’t even arrested originally. The State rounded up some of the workers but merely questioned Marianne. Apparently their case wasn’t strong enough, because, one, they had to pressure some of those arrested to flip on their colleagues, and, two, the investigator was directed to re-interview others so they might turn “State’s evidence,” too. Ultimately, the prosecution got one worker to testify for them (i.e. lie) under threat of deportation and separation from her child, a second who I was told had been hospitalized for schizophrenia and who was seen dancing by the monitor at the time in question, and, a third, that “whistle-blowing” star witness who had caused all this by not passing on to the relieving respiratory therapist the doctor’s orders about reconnecting the patient to the vent because it would have taken a few minutes of his time. As for Marianne, she had been re-interviewed and was asked if anyone had told her about the alleged two hours of alarming, to which she truthfully answered no, because, regardless of what the faulty and misrepresented print-outs that the prosecution kept waving during the trial showed, it didn’t happen. She was subsequently arrested for “falsification of business records in the first degree,” a felony, for not volunteering that she had supposedly heard them, too.

And that gets us to that charge that will hang over Marianne’s head for the rest of her life. The statute is that for someone to be convicted of first degree falsification of business records, she or he has to have knowingly lied AND (and that word was made very clear to everyone including the jury) the falsification had to have been made in order to cover up another crime. There was no other crime, there was no lie, and there is nothing in the statute about acts of omission (not saying something the investigator wanted to hear), only commission. What’s ironic is that Marianne just lost her final appeal, which was based on post-trial information about the alarm system, because even though the prosecution failed to disclose evidence they had about its faultiness, they weren’t required to turn over anything that hadn’t been asked for by the defense. But Marianne was convicted for allegedly doing just that. It’s a cozy little arrangement of hypocrisy and deceit.

The prosecution won by playing videos, over and over and over, showing Marianne walking past the monitors without running to the room where the patient was supposedly in crisis. What the videos did show, as stated before, was that when there was a real crisis with the woman later, after she had died according to the prosecution’s account, Marianne was shown running to the room. It was the typical strategy of overwhelming the jury with lots of repetitive “stuff” in the absence of real evidence that O.J. Simpson’s lawyers used to get him off. And once those idiots reached their verdict, which shocked pretty much everyone including court officers and prison guards, as every damned decision has, it was set in stone. And that gets us to the larger questions of what’s wrong with our judicial system.

Simply put, American justice is a game. This was a big win for the former Attorney General, who, I suspect, saw going after nursing homes as a good way of advancing his further political ambitions… until, of course, the scumbag was forced to step down for abusing four women. I’m not saying that there weren’t and aren’t legitimate matters of neglect in many nursing homes, certainly including this one. But they went after the best nurses, the ones that held the place together. One wonders if potential privatization wasn’t a considered motive. Our system is all about winning, not about truth or justice. It IS, however, the American way. It’s about spinning and dealing and manipulating and obfuscating. For the most part, the people who were at all neglectful, and certainly dishonest, never went to jail. Just admit you did it, whether or not you did, throw others under the bus, and supplicate yourself before the majesty of the court and you might get a break, but assert your rights and you’ll be made an example of.

And then there’s the jury system. A bunch of random, untrained people are brought in not by choice or interest but by lottery, and then whittled down to the most ignorant and manipulable of one’s “peers.” They get paid like indentured servants to sit there passively, often very passively, observing a performance whose rules often impede the search for truth and whose outcome remains subject to their own predispositions and whims. Clearly, there was an a priori bias against nursing home employees. The discussion boards of Newsday and News 12 were filled with calls to cage these women and worse before the trial even began. I know how ludicrous the jury system is from first-hand experience. When my ex-wife was going through law school I participated in mock trials. In one scenario, I was a jury member, and during our deliberations the most irrelevant, factually ignorant and pre-biased arguments were put forth – and these were law students! Another time I played the role of a suspected killer and, on the stand, convinced a jury of law students that my gun actually misfired due to twitching TWICE.

So Marianne had to be incarcerated for fifty one days, having previously served nine before we were able to get her out. I was able to appeal to the judge to let her serve weekends due to her physical and emotional health and family circumstances, and it’s a good thing. They serve swill to the prisoners, and Marianne’s diabetes would have been life threatening. How many people in jail are innocent like Marianne, and how many more should be getting compassionate treatment instead of barbaric punishment? On the whole, the inmates that Marianne encountered were more humane than the ones who have sat in judgment over them. But we’ll be okay. Once Marianne is able, hopefully with the help of a “Letter of Relief,” to get a job that fulfills her and brings in a little money (“falsification of business records” isn’t exactly great on a job application), as much as it aches her and is a disservice to her community that she will never be a nurse again, all of this bullshit will be in the past, and we will have the last laugh. So fuck the system and everyone responsible for this travesty of justice. Maybe we’ll write a book.