It is my contention that the American criminal justice system, like much else in today's America, is skewed in favor of the folks with lots of money.
Everyone I know, black and white, admits - when pushed -they think O.J. did it.
But O.J. had the funds to hire the late Johnnie Cochran, one of the best criminal defense attorneys of the latter part of the 20th century (because in addition to oratory, he hired the best experts out of the client's purse), and, like many a rich man before him, O.J. bought (I mean beat?) his case.
But don't believe me. Let's take a look at two cases going through varying levels of the system right now that have both captured national media attention.
First, there is that pillar of American rectitude, former Republican Congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham, of San Diego.
It turns out this John Wayne wannabe ("Duke") who served in Vietnam, and traded on it ever after, was busted by federal investigators for fraud. Federal proscutors called Cunningham's offenses "unparalleled" in Congressional history.
Cunningham stole more than $2.4 million.
In addition, he accepted bribes from defense contractors that includ-ed a more-than-7,000-square-foot mansion, a Rolls Royce, a yacht and years of traveling the globe first class.
For these favors, Cunningham did his best to fix federal contracts and steer business to his bribers' firms.
Just last year Cunningham sold the bigger-than-life house for more than $2.2 million. Yet now, awaiting sentencing, Cunningham's lawyers say the tinpot Duke is "penniless and estranged from family and friends."
Prosecutors asked for a 10-year sentence for this two-handed thief with incredibly huge pockets, but not suprisingly, the Duke's big-time lawyers are asking for mercy for their corrupt on-an-unparalleled-scale client.
Prosecutors only asked for 10 years because that is the maximum for fraud, even fraud at Randy Cunningham's level.
But it is still too much for Cunningham's hired legal guns. They are seeking half of the 10 years for the Duke, who, you can bet, will not be serving his time in San Quentin or Folsom, but will end up at some country-club prison surrounded by other suit-and-tie, upper- and middle-class criminals.
At the same time Randy was selling his house and looking for a way to maintain his upper-class, paid-for-by-corruption-at-the-expense of-the- citizenry lifelstyle, 20-year-old Candace R. Martinez was getting famous, too.
Martinez is the young Virginia-area woman who walked into banks with a note demanding money and a cellphone to her ear - the pictures of Martinez were everywhere. On the other end of the cellphone was Martinez's 19-year-old boyfriend.
Martinez robbed four banks while chatting.
She and her beau made off with a total of $48,000, less than one-25th of just the money, sans all the gifts, the Duke of Congress took. And nobody, not even investigators, knows for sure how much Cunningham really stole; it could have been double the $2.4 million he got nailed for.
Martinez displayed a gun at only the last of her four robberies.
Nobody was injured as a result of her crimes.
Like Cunningham, Martinez evidently stole to jack up an insufficiently lush lifestyle.
With her ungodly pittance she bought a used car, 1997 Japanese variety; a plasma-screen TV (to watch video of herself on the news?); and a puppy she named Capone - big-time criminal, get it?
Now I am not saying Martinez doesn't deserve some prison time.
She robbed four banks in a brazen manner, and despite her pleas of a messed-up childhood (she spent five years living in the famous Catholic-run home Boys and Girls Town, in Omaha), she terrified tellers and showed remorse only after she was caught. After all, she didn't name the puppy Mother Teresa.
Yet and still, as my old ghetto friends in circa-1970 Cincinnati liked to say when they were gonna balance the books conversationally, yet and still, did Candace Martinez deserve 12 to 14 years in prison?
Doesn't really matter what this fledgling criminal deserved - she got 12 to 14 years of time in a real joint served on her the other day. She'll serve at least seven or eight years before she's even eligible for parole.
This young, first-time offender loses at least a decade of her life for stealing less than $50,000. Nobody was killed, nobody was injured, in the Martinez quartet of petty thievery. The biggest haul was $14K at one bank.
Duke Cunningham, the "man" who recently sold his bribery house for more than $2 million dollars, doesn't think he deserves 10 years in the can despite the harm he did to national security and the public trust.
The Duke - another friend of our great president, Pinhead the First - won't do 10 years.
He drew eight years, four months, barely more than (and conceivably less than) what Martinez is going to serve.
What's the difference?
Duke's crimes were far bigger and far more harmful to far more people.
But the allegedly penniless former Congressman is connected and has fundage, the only commodity truly valued in this greed-encrusted society that serves the rich at the expense of the poor.
Candace Martinez will have a decade to think about her four moments of greedy insanity. Duke will be back out and spending whatever remains from his years of accepting bribes for favors, and telling everyone who will listen what a bad deal he got, long before the Cellphone Bandit takes a call in the fresh, free air.
It ain't right, but my ghetto friends of three decades ago had another saying that is still apt in today's America: Money talks and bulls--- walks.
Just ask Candace and the Duke if you don't believe me.[[In-content Ad]]