While Mr. Porter was forced to resign based on the allegations against him, at least he was able to resign. My clients locked up on Rikers Island because they can’t make bail are fired as soon as they miss a day’s work. Employment consequences are just the beginning. Once accused, my clients also have no control over whether they are evicted from public housing, investigated by child welfare, or arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Mr. Cohen was privileged to be able to make an informed decision, unburdened by time constraints and the inherent pressures of jail, about whether to accept the government’s plea offer. Paul Manafort’s recent guilty plea came only after he had the benefit of a full preview of the strength and scope of the government’s evidence in his previous jury trial.
Just look at how my clients are treated and you will understand the real reasons that about 95 percent of convictions in the system are the result of guilty pleas. Unlike Mr. Manafort’s experience, my clients are forced to make decisions without knowing the evidence against them, often detained away from their families who would offer them solace, with limited access to private space, critical tools and technology to assist in their defense, and deprived the ease of working collaboratively with their attorneys that is so necessary for optimal representation.
I have deep concerns and reservations about the power of FISA, but Carter Page, a onetime Trump campaign aide who came under law-enforcement suspicion of spying for Russia, received a far more rigorous process to ensure fidelity to the Fourth Amendment than my clients ever do. Despite the “no hearing” uproar about the F.B.I.’s process of obtaining a secret warrant to wiretap him, there are never hearings before criminal warrants are issued — federal, state, FISA or otherwise. I welcome Mr. Trump to look at the judges who approved the surveillance. I know one of them well. I spent a year as law clerk to Raymond J. Dearie. I witnessed firsthand, on a range of cases — including one of the few terrorism cases prosecuted through trial on American soil — how deliberate, thorough and deeply protective of individual and civil liberties he is.
By contrast, my clients are routinely targeted, stopped and frisked without any warrant at all. I now represent a 19-year-old so afraid of being stopped again for no reason by the police that he fears walking a block to get a sandwich at his corner deli. Even when the police seek a warrant in advance, they often cite confidential informants, who may or may not exist, and the alleged observations of discredited police officers with little to no internal oversight before judges sign off. Searches are executed in early-morning home raids in which police break down doors, guns drawn, and order everyone, including children, onto the ground to be cuffed. My clients rarely get to challenge these constitutional violations. They are forced to give up their right to a hearing to contest the legality of government intrusion in exchange for more favorable guilty pleas.
This is the difference between justice for the masses and justice for the few. I’m not upset at how well Mr. Trump’s friends and colleagues have been treated. After all, the Constitution worked for them. I just want that same treatment for my clients.
Mr. Trump and his friends are the lucky ones. We should not begrudge their privilege. We should demand that same treatment for all.
Scott Hechinger (@scotthech) is a senior staff attorney and the director of policy at the Brooklyn Defender Services.
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