BANG! BANG! BANG! I wake with a start. It’s still dark outside and my phone reads
5:30AM. BANG! BANG! BANG! I jump up and as I reach out for my door I hear it unlock, open, and immediately 10-12 men in bullet proof vests, carrying guns, and siege equipment burst into my apartment and throw me against the wall. “FREEZE!” they yell. “Turn around and put your hands behind your back.” It’s safe to say that I’m no longer groggy nor do I remember anything about the pleasant dream I’d most likely been having before I was awoken. I can feel the adrenaline shoot through my body and I am more alert than I’ve ever been as I study the intruders in my apartment. I obey every command. They search my apartment hoping to find some contraband. Eventually one of them grabs my clothes from the closet and tells me to get dressed. I am not permitted to use my cell phone or do anything except dress. They congratulate each other as they lead me outside. It’s a cold, crisp morning—no one around to witness the unusual scene taking place. As I sit in the back of the car I wonder the true necessity of breaking into someone’s residence in the early morning with 10 armed agents who know full well that I am not a threat. Perhaps it’s just protocol? Or do they love a show of force? Somehow I doubt Paul Manafort or any other wealthy individual accused of a crime is treated this way. Once we reach our destination, the agents lead me around like a prized dog—they beam with pride at my enslavement. I’m fingerprinted and my picture is taken several times throughout the morning, but eventually I’m turned over to the U.S. Marshalls at the courthouse. The Marshalls have a stricter protocol and in addition to the handcuffs affixed to a chain around my waist to keep my hands in front of me, my ankles are also uncomfortably cuffed as well. These ankle cuffs make it extremely difficult to walk forward, and so I do at a slow pace. I’m led to what looks like a holding area with several cells the size of a small room. The Marshalls remove my handcuffs, but leave the ankle shackles as they direct me into one of these cells with several other arrestees. It’s still relatively early and everyone just keeps to themselves. There are long concrete benches that are about as comfortable to sit on as they look. The first few people grab rolls of toilet paper from the toilet at the back of the cell and use them as pillows as they lay across the benches, but eventually the room starts to fill up so they sit up. The entire room is freezing as large AC units near the back blow at full strength; everyone in the cell either has their hands inside their shirt or are doing something to try not to freeze to death. Large stretches of time pass and many people come and go. There is no clock or any posted schedule so everyone just sits patiently waiting their turn. If you are wealthy and have an attorney on retaine then your attorney will meet with you to discuss your charges and a game plan, but if not, you are assigned a public defender who typically doesn’t meet you until your first appearance in court. Eventually it’s my turn and I’m led out before a magistrate judge.
This is the first time that the official complaint is presented before you. Note that the complaint and all evidence against you are obviously not shared with you beforehand. You are not entitled to discovery until after arraignment. The government does not provide evidence for you nor does your attorney—you don’t start off on an even footing at all at your first appearance. “The purpose of this proceeding is to inform you of certain rights that you have, to inform you of the charges against you, to consider whether counsel should be appointed for you, and to decide under what conditions, if any, you should be released. You have the right to remain silent. You’re not required to make any statements, Even if you have made any statements to the authorities, you need not make any further statements. Anything you do say can be used against you. You have the right to be released either conditionally or unconditionally pending trial unless I find that there are no conditions or combination of conditions that would reasonably assure your presence in court and the safety of the community. You have the right to be represented by counsel during all court proceedings, including this one, and during all questioning by the authorities. If you cannot afford an attorney, I will appoint one to represent you.”
The purpose of this first real hearing is to determine bail in accordance with the 8th amendment: “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.” Therefore, I am here to determine what bail will be set that I must pay to assure the court that I will show up to future court dates. This very concept seems odd—the notion that I must pay money or go to prison. Oh but there’s an added stipulation—the Bail Reform Act of 1984 legalized pretrial detention of the accused on the basis of “flight risk” or a “danger to society” for the first time in the history of the country. This unjust concept, which clearly seems at odds with the presumption of innocence, was only introduced in this country 30 years ago. Somehow, this law was determined to be consistent with the 8th amendment and bail set at infinity was in fact not excessive at all. This law was determined consistent with the 5th amendment and the due process clause, overruling the Court of Appeals who ruled the Constitution categorically prohibited pretrial detention. The Supreme Court ruled that The Government’s regulatory interest in community safety can, in appropriate circumstances, outweigh an individual’s liberty interest. This law was also determined consistent with the 6th amendment guarantee of a right to a fair trial.
Why would I worry though? I am granted a presumption of innocence by law and due process through the Bill of Rights. Today is the first time I have ever seen these charges or ever been charged with this before. “The government seeks detention and believes the defendant is both a flight risk and a danger to society.” My stomach drops. The crime I am charged with is in fact a non-violent, victimless crime. However, it is argued that since I am accused of a crime then it is possible that I could commit violent crimes. It is argued that once accused of a crime then it is much more likely that if I am allowed to leave court then I will either attempt to flee the country without a passport or I will immediately run out into the streets assaulting people. The bail argument continues for hours but it seems like days. How can this be happening? How can a judge actually sit there mulling over sending me to prison? Please tell me a presumption of innocence really does exist and isn’t just some hypocritical empty promise thrown around in legal arguments without any true meaning, Finally, the judge quiets both sides and states that he has made a decision, The judge states that the evidence presented by the government in the complaint is so strong, and that since my lawyer could not adequately rebut their argument of dangerousness there is no way I am innocent. I am immediately remanded. My case begins with a guilty verdict and the denial of my inalienable civil rights. I am sucked into the upside-down that is the American justice system.