David, an old friend of mine, screwed up five years ago. We may never know how badly he screwed up, since he didn't receive anything even resembling a fair trial in the redneck, hillbilly, skin-head, KKK-worshiping state of Idaho, but he definitely screwed up. According to the joke Idaho passes off for a court system; David Santistevan committed attempted murder with a handgun. David claimed that he justifiably acted in self-defense. Where David screwed up was when he panicked and ran from the scene of the crime(s). He kept screwing up and hid the weapon after dismantling it. He's a poster child for my rule, "every panic reaction you will ever have will be wrong."
Where David screwed up was when he bought a gun for self-protection in an avowed gun-rights state with conflicting feelings about gun rights. Where David screwed up was when he decided to defend himself, western-style, instead of running away, rational-being-style, when he had the opportunity. Idaho's perverted sense of justice gets completely bent out of shape when a man of color (David is Hispanic) protects himself from white men.
If those white men happen to be "teens," even if they are six-foot, 220 pound teens, Idaho falls all over itself in vengeance. In David's case, even though the teens recovered from their injuries and were not charged with any crime, he received a 45-year attempted murder conviction from the all-white jury and court system. The court consistently refused to admit evidence that pointed to the victims' past activities which might have "prejudiced" the jury toward leniency. In the trial, a good bit of evidence was presented that demonstrated that David was so overwhelmed by fear that his response to being attacked was psychological unbalanced. The posing-for-election prosecutor called that “psychobabble” and it was obvious from the local barely-literate hick newspaper reporting that the prevailing attitude was “hang the Mexican bastard.”
I have a couple of problems with Idaho's gun laws. First, I don't believe that the 2nd Amendment was intended to arm the general public, so an individual's "right to bear arms" isn't something that I think deserves defense by the state; any state. Second, when a state goes as far overboard as has Idaho, Nevada, Texas, Minnesota, and other loony conceal-and-carry states to allow citizens to arm themselves for everyday war, adding special penalties for using guns in crimes is disingenuous. Either people have the right to use guns as conveniently and often as sharpened pencils, or they don’t. Get your psychobabble gun-bearing laws to line up; or quit babbling. Either it is dangerous for ordinary citizens to be armed like bandits in the grocery store or it isn't. If it isn't, tacking weird fixed sentencing guidlines to crimes committed with guns is irrationa. If it is, drop the hammer on gun-toting citizens everywhere.
The local press worked the pages hard to demonize David with all sorts of near-racist descriptions. David, however, is normally a harmless, decent, incredibly talented musician. This is a picture of David with my grandson a couple of years before he went to jail. He's teaching Wolf to sing the blues, something that David did well before going to prison and is probably incredibly talented at now. I'd sent a copy of this picture along with a letter of reference to the court to be read at his sentencing, but the court decided to ignore my experience with my friend. It didn't fit their preconceived notions of his viciousness and they probably worried that actual knowledge of David might moderate the jury's desire for revenge and punishment.
So, David is giving guitar lessons in prison, writing a guitar instruction book, and becoming a jailhouse lawyer. The state of Idaho is wasting taxpayer money keeping this guy behind bars, while Idaho politicians regularly commit crimes that make David's worst moment look benign. The US is the First World's champion prison state. In "the land of the free," one in 100 citizens is behind bars. Last year, we blew $55 billion dollars on state and federal prison costs. With the crashing economy in front of us, we can expect to add a few tens of billions to that in the next few years. 2.3 million citizens in prison puts us well ahead of China; and that totalitarian state has four times our population.
Like most criminal activities in the US, prisons are a "business." There is money to be made in canning every 100th citizen behind bars and it's a business with political clout. Every incompetent bozo lawyer can find a home in a prosecutor's office and a little time spent as a bureaucrat appears to be a pass into higher political office.
Adam Gelb, director of the Center's Public Safety Performance Project, said "There are large numbers of people behind bars who could be supervised in the community safely and effectively at a much lower cost -- while also paying taxes, paying restitution to their victims and paying child support."
Not much profit in that. The corporations who mismange most state's prison systems would fight that kind of logic with millions of political dollars and lobbying. Idaho, for example, is looking at $1 billion in prison construction and in 2008 the Idaho prison budget was $2.82 billion. If the state's economic forecast was half as optimistic as the prison population forecast, Idaho would be an island of prosperity amidst a nation in severe depression.
Idaho, however, is an economic catestrophe state with property values falling like bricks from the sky. Even Idaho's gungho media admits that as of December, "1 out of every 479 houses in Idaho has been foreclosed on." Idaho's Unemployment Insurance fund is expected to be completely broke by early 2010. Unemployment is heading toward a national high. Wood and paper product sales, Idaho's prime industy, have dropped more than 10%. Tech has all but abandoned Idaho, mostly due to the poor K-12 education system and lack of higher education technical capacity.
It seems to me that a more rational legal system would be something worth looking at, but that's going to be a fight because the vested interests have fear on their side. Fear, as we've seen for the past 8 years, outweighs rational thought by at least 10:1.