The Inherent Flaw of the Criminal Justice System

The grand jury proceedings for Michael Brown’s killer, Darren Wilson, show us just how fictional the United States government’s system of checks and balances is. Unfortunately, the only ones who appear to be pointing this out are the protesters on the ground in Missouri — that is when they’re lucky enough to secure two-minute- interviews on the nightly news programs.

It seems logical: how could a state prosecutor possibly carry out a truly adversarial criminal prosecution of one of his closest allies in the state criminal justice system — a police officer? The symbiotic relationship between the prosecutor’s office and the police department is clear. Without arrests, the prosecutor has no criminal charges to press. Without a prosecutor to pursue the legal case against the alleged criminal, the police officer’s work is all for nought. The two offices work closely together, almost always collaborating in criminal matters. They have mutual interests, the one’s success depending largely on the success of the other.

This close working relationship between prosecutor and police officer is not viewed as controversial in most cases. People generally understand that police officers and prosecutors are a team — much like two members at different points in a factory assembly line. But in a prosecution like that of Darren Wilson, the criminal defendant is the police officer. What prosecutor, who depends upon a good working relationship with his local police department, wants to alienate the department by zealously prosecuting one of its members? It’s certainly possible, but one would have to think that such rebel prosecutors are few and far between.

The protesters who utter such concerns about the validity of a state prosecution of a police officer have their finger on an issue that market anarchists have long recognized. Government checks and balances are a farce. In For a New Liberty, Murray Rothbard notes that allegedly “separate” branches of government are just that — separate branches of the same government. A well-functioning government depends upon the mutual success of all branches. They are not in competition with one another, despite occasionally engaging in turf wars which might create the appearance that they are. To think that one government branch, bureau or department would carry out a truly oppositional battle against another is to ignore common sense.

Further compounding the backwardness of the state criminal justice system, the prosecutor carries out a legal case against the alleged criminal, not on behalf of the victim, but instead, on behalf of “the people.” These unidentified “people” are presented as the aggrieved party in a state criminal prosecution, but again, common sense leads us to question the wisdom of this setup. The real victim in Michael Brown’s case was clearly Michael Brown. In all crimes, it is the actual victim who ought to be carrying out the prosecution of the criminal. The victim alone is the interested party in the matter. In Michael Brown’s case, had Brown’s surviving family members had a choice, a state prosecutor would likely have been the last attorney they would have selected to represent them in the courtroom.

Michael Brown’s killing, indeed all police killings of citizens, serve to highlight some of the enormous procedural flaws inherent within the American criminal justice system. It is skewed in favor of the state from the get-go.

Translations for this article:

Anarchy and Democracy
Fighting Fascism
Markets Not Capitalism
The Anatomy of Escape
Organization Theory