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Friday, July 6, 2012

A Supreme Court Awry -- June 29, 2012

The U.S. Supreme Court waited until the last week of July to release several major rulings. On Monday, the court ruled 5 to 4 to abolish mandatory life without parole sentences for juvenile offenders. It was of particular interest to many prisoners at Stateville and prisons across the U.S. The decision, however, was largely overshadowed, if not ignored, by the rejection of Arizona's immigration laws. The dereliction of the President to enforce immigration statutes has led to a number of states enacting their own similar legislation. Despite how the Arizona governor tried to declare victory, it was a major blow to opponents of unchecked immigration and border control. By far the most controversial decision though came on Thursday when Barack Obama's government-imposed health care law was declared constitutional. A day later, I and others are still baffled by the decision and are contemplating the vast implications it will have for the country and the American people. Obamacare will cripple the American economy and quality of medical care known as the best in the world. It also gives precedent for the government to tax and control people and businesses like never before in the history of the Republic. Although I agree with the banishment of mandatory life without parole sentences for juvenile offenders, all of these decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court are greatly perplexing and disturbing.

On Monday, the prison was still on lockdown from the Orange Crush search which began two weeks prior. However, visitation, phone calls, some health care passes, and most work assignments were being permitted. Early in the morning, I heard over the cell house loudspeaker that Adolfo Davis had a legal call and for him to get ready to come downstairs. Spooncake is unquestionably guilty of being an accessory to three murders and the evidence against him is overwhelming. Although framed in various ways, his only legal issue revolves around the legality of his sentence of natural life without parole. Davis was 14 years old at the time of his arrest and since last week he has been stopping by my cell periodically to see if I had heard any news about the two cases before the U.S. Supreme Court involving the constitutionality of sentencing juveniles to protracted deaths in prison. The two conjoined cases were heard in March and a decision was due before the court's recess at the end of the month. Thus, he knew any day a ruling could be made which could radically alter his life.

The news which dominated radio and television news, however, was the crushing of Arizona's immigration law. Outside the courthouse there was a large crowd of people both for and against the ruling. News media covered the decision and its political as well as practical ramifications. It was not for some time that I learned about the court's decision on juveniles sentenced to LWOP. When the news was finally mentioned, it was only briefly and as an adjunct. It was not until Chicago's WGN newscast at 11 a.m. that a legal analyst went over the ruling with greater detail. However, the news anchor seemed uninterested after he discussed the immigration ruling and was trying to rush him.

According to the news I initially heard, it seemed as if all juveniles with natural life were going to have their sentences vacated. Even the legal analyst on WGN inferred this. In Illinois, the maximum sentence a defendant can receive for murder is 60 years, unless there is an aggravating factor. I did not believe the state would create a special parole board system for the hundred or so juveniles who had their life sentences vacated. Thus, because the former law Spooncake was sentenced under only mandated a convict to serve half the period of time, I assume he will be released before his 44th birthday. At the sentencing hearing, his judge may even let him go immediately because of the amount of time he has already served. Although I was glad the man would be freed, I was a little bitter. I missed having my sentenced invalidated by a mere 28 days. Unlike Spooncake, I did not participate in a triple murder nor was even found to be at the crime scene. However, because I had just turned 18 years old, I would have to die in prison.

Spooncake came to my cell bars after he was let out of his cell to do his job as a cell house worker. He was jubilant and told me I should be also. According to what his lawyer had told him on the telephone the ruling was retroactive, applied to everyone under 18, and required a new sentencing hearing and not just the automatic maximum. Because the court could not systematically resentence juveniles to 60 years, I would not necessarily face another decade in prison. In fact, Spooncake thought because I was not even at the murder scene and the person I was held accountable for was acquitted, no judge would give me the maximum sentence. It was apparent the harsh sentence I was given was due to my suspicion in a mass murder which was not solved until 10 years later. Time and again, Spooncake told me I would be a free man by the end of the year. His excitement and misunderstanding was annoying. I still have yet to explain to him that my former cellmate, Ely, was wrong saying I was 17 at the time the murder took place. I was about to tell him, however yet another cell house worker came to my bars after overhearing him. He chimed in as well that I was definitely going home and could pack my bags. I only wish this was true.

While I was brooding about my misfortune of being born 28 days too early, I watched "The News Hour" on a public broadcast station. The news program had a comprehensive review of the day's Supreme Court rulings including the decision pertaining to juveniles. Repeatedly, I heard the newscaster say the mandatory life without parole for juvenile offenders was struck down. Why did he continue to use the word "mandatory," I wondered. I began to speculate the ruling somehow made a distinction between juveniles who statutorily had to be sentenced to life and those where the judge had discretion. Spooncake had to receive LWOP because the law mandated it when there were multiple victims. In my case, Judge Sam Amirante had the choice of giving me 20 to 60 years, but he chose not to.

The following evening, Spooncake was again at my cell bars although this time he seemed to have a sullen look. He told me the ruling did not apply to me but only juveniles where the judge had no choice but to render a protracted death sentence. He said he was sorry to jump to conclusions and handed me the Supreme Court Ruling which his lawyer had sent him next day mail via Federal Express. I told him it did not matter. I always fail to procure my freedom by the most unusual circumstances and smallest of margins or technicalities. If I had no bad luck, I would have no luck at all. With the cardboard envelope in hand, I sat down and thought about how numerous misfortunes have plagued me since the beginning. What were the odds of rolling snake eyes so many times?

Tuesday evening, I read through the 50 page Supreme Court ruling and various adjoining and dissenting opinions despite being repeatedly distracted by angry inmates. Prisoners were furious the administration announced that all typewriters were to be confiscated and the only time inmates could use one was while at the law library. The memorandum by the warden was posted on a television station for everyone to read. Prisoners had been sold typewriters since before I came to the IDOC and the news shocked and incensed many people. Apparently, some of the shank materials found during the Orange Crush raid were made of metal parts from typewriters. The typewriters which have been sold for the last ten years have been made of clear plastic, but possibly because they are not scrutinized, inmates were able to remove parts from them without detection. Some courts will not accept handwritten appeals, lawsuits, petitions, or motions. The federal courts, for example, are very strict about meeting their rules and formats. The warden permitting the use of a typewriter at the law library was a ridiculous accommodation because of the difficulty getting there and the deadlines prisoners must meet. Most inmates are also very poor typists and peck the keys like chickens. The vast majority of prisoners would require a lot of time in the law library and not the hour or two currently given to them a week if not on lockdown.

Inmates in C House and elsewhere decided they would go on a hunger strike to express their outrage. The news was spread by shouting inmates, cell house workers, and the passing of numerous notes, cell to cell, urging solidarity. I do not own a typewriter because I refuse to pay close to $300 for one. For this much money, I would expect to receive a laptop. Nevertheless, for the next two days I refused to take my food trays. I am almost out of commissary food and thus it was a sacrifice. Many prisoners are overweight and fasting for a little while may do them some good, but I have only about 3% body fat and can quickly look skeleton-like. Fortunately, the warden took the prison off lockdown abruptly and put out a new memo which said the former directive would be reconsidered. Prisoners still may eventually have their typewriters taken or restricted in some fashion yet to be determined, but most inmates were happy a better solution to the problem may be worked out. I tend to believe there is a way inmates can keep their typewriters while security precautions are taken. The administration can never stop violence and weapon making at a maximum-security prison where there are numerous, nearly indefinite materials to use, and convicts with no chance of freedom. It can only try to make reasonable efforts to curb it.

The court ruling handed to me by Spooncake is actually the combination of two cases of 14-year-olds sentenced to a mandatory life without parole for murder. In Miller vs. Alabama, a friend helped the defendant beat a neighbor with a baseball bat and thereafter set the victim's trailer on fire. In the Jackson vs. Hobbs case, Jackson along with two other juveniles robbed a video store where the clerk was shot and killed. Jackson did not commit the murder nor did he intend for anyone to be killed, but he was convicted under the felony-murder law. Justice Kegan wrote the majority opinion of the court. She stated the ruling was a continuation of prior ones, most notably Roper vs. Simmons and Graham vs. Florida. In Roper, the court decided the 8th Amendment prohibited the imposition of death for juveniles. The U.S. Constitution guarantees individuals the right not to be subjected to excessive sanctions. The basic precept of justice was that punishments be graduated and proportioned according to the offender and offense. The court also noted in Roper that only a small percentage of adolescents develop entrenched patterns of criminal activity and are incorrigible. Furthermore, they are less likely to consider the potential ramifications of their behavior and a sentence of death has no deterrence effect.

The decision in Graham went further claiming LWOP was a cruel and unusual punishment for juvenile offenders who did not commit the act of murder. The argument was largely based on the premise that both execution and an indefinite prison sentence were similar. Juveniles should not receive a death or protracted death sentence because of their diminished culpability, greater prospects of rehabilitation, and greater outside influences which oftentimes cannot be avoided because of their home life. The Graham majority also noted how life sentences are much harsher punishments despite how they should be more lenient because they will serve more years and a greater proportion of their lives in prison than an adult. Although the Graham decision was limited to all crimes but murder, it was now being extended to cover those crimes as well. However it only applied to those where the judge had no discretion to give an alternative sentence. Thus, while approximately 2,000 men convicted as juveniles will have their sentences vacated nationwide, about 500 will not. If my co-defendant would have killed the victim 28 days earlier, or I was born 28 days later, I would be one of those 500.

The decision by the majority was inconsistent and I could not understand why LWOP should not be abolished for all juvenile offenders. The four dissenting justices also noticed this incongruency of thought. Furthermore, they stated how most jurisdictions including Alabama and Arkansas had the discretion of prosecuting an adolescent in juvenile or adult court. Therefore, these cases were not exactly mandatory. In rebuttal, Kagon responded most courts will automatically transfer juveniles and the decision was often left to the prosecutor. There also was no consistency amongst the states and little choice between giving a defendant a very lenient juvenile sentence or death in prison. Justices Breyer and Satomayer made a separate argument that a universal prohibition against LWOP should also apply to felony-murder and murder by a theory of accountability because it encompassed the decision in Graham. I agree this would be more consistent but a truly correct ruling should have banned all protracted death sentences for juveniles. There is no adolescent I believe who should slowly die in prison, and in fact this should apply to adults as well but execution should be the alternative.

Justices Alito and Scalia in their dissenting opinion stated the 8th Amendment was wrongly interpreted in 1958 to be an evolving standard of decency based on the progress of a maturing society. However, they asked what makes changes in public opinion an evolution to better decency? Justices Thomas and Scalia also said in their dissent the original purpose of the 8th Amendment was to prevent torture which was still being used in Europe and the colonies as well. I agree the evolution of morals of society is not necessarily to the better. I also understand the original intent of the 8th Amendment, but if spending the rest of one's life from the age of a teenager or a child in prison is not torture, then I do not know what is. Others may differ, but I would rather experience a torturesome death than indefinite misery and torment.

Although I was not able to read the rulings on the state's immigration law or the government health care mandate, I have listened to radio and television news discuss them at great length. All this week, the cases have been at the forefront of news media as they should be. The rulings should be thoroughly scrutinized due to the pervasive impact they will have on the country. With the Supreme Court prohibiting states and localities from enacting their own illegal immigration laws, America will continue to be overrun by illegal Mexicans.

President Obama has instructed the Justice Department and Attorney General's Office not to prosecute or deport illegal aliens unless they commit a felony. In fact, recently, Obama has announced a new policy where all illegal aliens who came to the country as juveniles may stay--legally. The White House says it is not amnesty because these people will not automatically gain citizenship. However, it is well known they eventually will and the difference between legal residency and citizenship in the U.S. is unfortunately minimal. The 3 million or more Mexicans who this policy will apply to also will have children which according to America's outdated law will automatically be citizens despite how their parents and their parents should never have been here to begin with. It is a never ending cycle which has caused the clout and demographics of Mexicans to grow exponentially. Caucasians will soon discover they are a minority in the Republic they created and if they are foolish enough to believe the liberal propaganda that diversity is good, they will soon find out how disillusioned they were. It is not only the language, culture, race, and values which will be lost but the entire foundation to our way of life which is being destroyed. America will cease to exist in every practical sense. State law cannot supersede federal law, but I cannot understand why the states cannot mimic federal statutes especially when the federal government is derelict in their duty.

The President has skillfully catered to Mexicans and other minority interest groups.These constituency groups may help him narrowly defeat Mitt Romney in several close battle ground states. Although the President did nothing to pass legislation addressing illegal immigration when Democrats controlled both chambers of Congress, his recent rhetoric and executive decrees along with the recent Supreme Court ruling will give Hispanics the appearance that liberals are their best choice. Republicans foolishly have allowed this perception to grow and have coward away from their principles. They have played into the Democrats' hands with divisive politics rather than espousing conservative ideology which will appeal to all races and classes of people. The belief in freedom and success based on merit is superior to the Marxist ideas of government dependency, oppression and social as well as economic decadence.

The second blow to conservatives came on Thursday when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the Democrat's government mandated health care legislation was constitutional. The announcement was a great surprise to the vast majority of legal experts because not only was there no precedent for the government having the power to penalize people for inaction but how the justices critically questioned attorneys supporting the legislation during arguments earlier this year. Even I was stunned by the ruling and thought with great certainty that Chief Justice Roberts would side with Kennedy, Thomas, Alito, and Scalia to at minimum forbid the individual mandate. The individual mandate, however, was the centerpiece of the law and without it, the entire legislation could not function. Since yesterday morning, many people including lawyers are still trying to figure out how Roberts came to his convoluted and baffling decision which allows the government to force citizens to buy health insurance or pay a tax.

It may not be widely known, but the Constitution limits the federal government in taxation to three ways. The first is an excise tax which is a tax placed upon purchased goods or services. The second is a direct or proportionate tax which the government is allowed to levy on states based upon their populations. The third tax is an income tax which did not become law until the 16th Amendment was passed. For over 100 years, the federal government mainly relied on tariffs as revenue but since the 16th Amendment, the income tax has steadily grown and is now by far the largest source of revenue. Oddly, however, the government never argued the individual mandate does tax citizens, and this may be because none of the enumerated powers of government permit a tax on people for failing to buy or do something and for good reason. The ruling leaves the door open for the government to tax people for almost anything. For example, Barack Obama can press for an electric car tax and if people do not buy one, they will be fined. Already, there are tax deductions and subsidies for the industry and individuals who buy a Chevy Volt or other such vehicle, but these are not coercive additional taxes. It is a foolish policy and adds to government debt which indirectly must be paid by citizens, but it is recognized as a legitimate use of power.

The lawyers who argued in favor of Obamacare against the 27 states who were the plaintiffs in the lawsuit told the court the law was not a tax but a penalty and should be permitted due to the commerce clause in the U.S. Constitution. The commerce clause allows the federal government to intervene in the economy to regulate trade amongst the states. The lawyers also argued if it was not permitted under the power to regulate commerce, it should be under the general welfare clause. Both of these arguments were rejected flatly by the Supreme Court, but to the surprise of many, Roberts decided the legislation was allowable under a tax.

The Obama administration never thought the tax was constitutional nor did it want it to be identified as one. In fact, Obama repeatedly told Americans on television the levy was a penalty and denied the tax label. The legal and political reasons are obvious. Not only was a tax unconstitutional but it was political suicide. This will be the largest tax ever on the American people. By 2016, anyone who refuses to buy health insurance will be taxed 2-1/2% of their income, or $2,050, which ever is the greater amount. Businesses with 50 or more employees also will be hit by an even greater tax if they do not provide health insurance. If former President Bush's tax code is allowed to expire at the end of this year, prepare for what is being labeled "Taxageddon." However, Obama does not care how the economy will be crushed if he is reelected.

The president has incredibly named his health care legislation "The Affordable Care Act," however, there is nothing affordable about it. Like most government collectivist systems, while the quality of health care declines, the costs will go up astronomically. Projected costs of the Affordable Care Act are estimated to be $2 trillion dollars over the next 10 years. While Europe is running away from its socialist entitlement economies which have left them crippled with debt and some on the verge of bankruptcy, Obama is rushing to embrace the likes of Greece. America is already straddled with $16 trillion in debt and this will exceed $20 trillion under another Democratic administration. The country does not need another 4 years of oppressive socialism, Big Brother Government or heavy taxation, but rugged individualism and freedom.

The answer to spiraling health care costs is patient choice and free market reforms such as proposed by Congressman Paul Ryan. Individual tax credits, expanded health care competition, and elimination of the exemption to anti-trust laws as well as some Tort reform is an enormously better alternative. I personally would also end laws which mandate hospitals to provide emergency care to everyone, regardless of insurance coverage. This would put an end to the freeloaders. There are too many grasshoppers and too few ants to keep Obamacare and other socialist programs afloat. If charitable organizations wish to set up free hospitals or health care services, let them do so. However, it is time to stop penalizing or taxing people who work hard, save, and are responsible, and redistributing their money. America has thrived as a meritocracy long before government has taken over its citizens' lives and it can again.

As an innocent man who has spent over 19 years incarcerated, I have known for a long time not to have any faith in the legal system. After this week, I believe many other people have discovered how the system can go awry. Despite how baffling the U.S. Supreme Court was, there is nothing which can be done to reverse or amend the rulings. Like Mitt Romney said after the disappointing news Thursday, the only thing Americans can do now to stop Obamacare is to get rid of Obama. With a new president, the nation's immigration laws will be enforced. States will not have to struggle in vain against drugs, crime, and the invasion of the southern border. Illegal immigrants arrested will not simply be released by a president who rules by executive decree. Furthermore, not only health care but Social Security and the country's economy can finally be brought back into order. Obama says he is moving America "forward," but it is being sent into the abyss of no return. The Supreme Court has failed to obstruct the descent and destruction of this nation. However, come this November, Americans will have one more chance to save the Republic. Hopefully, they will seize the opportunity.