The United States is undeniably a world leader and arguably one of the wealthiest nations in the world. It is also a model for democracy and law and order in a civilized society. However, there are some some aspects of the country’s legal system that are widely unknown. Here are 10 pertinent examples:
1. It Is Near Impossible To Declare A Law Unconstitutional
Between the years of 1954 and 2002, Congress and the 50 state legislatures passed over a million laws. Of these, the Supreme Court only struck down an astonishing 555 as unconstitutional, adding up to a meager 0.054%
2. The United States Is Notorious For Prison Overcrowding
While the United States boasts just over 5% of the world’s overall population, it houses an astounding 25% percent of the world’s prisoners. That means that one in four prisoners worldwide is an American. In California alone, occupation of prisons is at 150% of the maximum capacity.
3. The United States Sentences Children To Life In Prison Or Death
Out of all the countries in the world, the United States is the only one that has sent children, some as young as 11 years old, to prison with sentences of life without parole. Execution of children is also considered to be constitutional, and 365 prisoners under the age of 18 have been executed in the United States over the course of its history.
4. Many Of The Rapes In Prison Are Committed By Guards
There have been thousands of documented rape and sexual assault cases on the books that state that the perpetrator was a member of the prison staff. There was even a matter in Alabama where a guard impregnated a female inmate against her will, but he was never charged with rape.
5. Growing Medical Marijuana For A Sickly Person Within The Same State Is “Interstate Commerce”
In California it was held by the Court that growing marijuana for a friend or family member within state boundaries and giving it to them is interstate commerce. The woman in question suffers from an inoperable brain tumor and uses legal medical marijuana for pain management, which is grown for her by close friends. The Court stated that this act can be regulated under Congress’s authority “to regulate commerce…among the several states” though California is the only state involved.
6. Three Strikes Laws Can Lead To Life Sentences For Misdemeanors
When three strikes laws were first enforced in the early 1990s, they were championed as a way for the judicial system to get tough on crime, by removing repeat offenders from the streets. It held that the minimum punishment for a third offense was a mandatory 25 years.
Instead, people were sentenced 25 to life for petty crimes ranging from stealing a pair of baby shoes to grabbing a slice of pizza under the guise of such acts being considered “serious”.
7. Judges Are Especially Biased During Election Years
Trials are admittedly based on a few factors, such as the skill of a defendant’s attorney, the prosecution’s evidence, and whether or not the jury has any hidden bias. But, what most people do not consider is that the presiding judge may be running for election that year. Judges win by showing that they are tough on crime and by taking popular positions on particular cases.
8. Children Can Be Listed On The Sex Offender Registry
The intention of the National Sex Offender Registry was to protect the public from dangerous predators and pedophiles. Unfortunately, zero tolerance policies have established laws and penalties that have forced children, such as a fifteen-year-old girl that posted naked photos of herself online, to register as offenders (in this case, for distributing child pornography) though she was the only victim of her alleged crime.
9. Eminent Domain Means Your Property Can Be Snatched And Given To Random Developers
Eminent domain laws are in place so that that government can legally seize private property if necessary. Though the Constitution states that eminent domain is only meant for “public use” such as for building schools and roads, a Connecticut case turned that ideal on its head. Five Supreme Court justices agreed that the seizure of a working class neighborhood for the building of high-end shops and condos was perfectly legal, since the aforementioned buildings would generate increased tax revenue.
10. The Death Penalty Is Not As Common In Other Parts Of The World
There are only 21 countries in the world that enact the death penalty, and the United States is the only one in the Western Hemisphere to carry out executions in 2012. There was a total of 43 in all.
In conclusion, the United States’ legal system is far more advanced than the systems of most other countries in the world, but there are several areas that need to be improved or revised. Of course, these views are subjective, and opposing views should be taken into account.
Jay Sekulow is the Chief Counsel for the American Center for Law & Justice.