So, I've been blogging about my run-ins with the law for about nine months now, and particularly I've been telling you the tale of how I was wrongly arrested in Hall County Georgia in 2014. I'm gearing up to tell you about how my slanted trial resulted in an obviously false conviction, but before I can get to that, I want to set the stage by talking a little about trials in Georgia in general.
If you're like most Americans, you're thankful that you live in a free country, and you recognize that your right to a fair trial (enshrined in the constitution's sixth amendment) is one of the few precious things that keeps you free. Without the right to a fair trial, there's nothing to stop any petty tyrant from robbing you of your freedom by throwing you into a prison without cause. With that in mind, we recognize that the right to a fair trial is of grave importance, and without it, we might as well admit that we aren't a free people at all. But can the people of Georgia really trust that fair trials are available to them?
I submit to you that we can't.
We've already mentioned before that, in the United States, something like 90-97% of all criminal accusations end in guilty pleas. That number is disturbingly high, and I have serious doubts that the number is high because the accused are actually guilty. As I've already discussed before, obtaining legal counsel and going to trial is literally more expensive than pleaing guilty. In Georgia, winning in court is worse than just giving up and losing. But set that aside for a moment. I don't want to talk about the finances or the bullying from the DA. I want to talk about those intrepid few who bravely demand their right to a trial and who are convinced enough of their innocence that they are more than willing to pay the cost. Can those people expect to receive a fair hearing?
Allow me to give you two examples which occurred in Georgia in the same time period as my false conviction, but which were totally unrelated to my case, and then leave you to decide.
First, let's talk about Reuben Green. Green is a Superior Court judge in Cobb County. In 2016, he was caught on tape discussing cases with prosecutors and expressing his hope that defendants - defendants about whom he had not even yet seen any evidence - would be convicted. In the case of one Borja Francisco Escobar, the AJC reports that Green even told prosecutors that he had decided what sentence he would give Escobar (25 years) even though his trial hadn't yet started.
So Reuben Green is a perfect demonstration of what actually goes on in courtrooms all over Georgia. The judges are old lawyers. They work in the same building as the prosecutor, and at the end of the day, the state pays both of their paychecks. They're on the same team, and the decisions about how the case must go are made before the trials even begin. What is most disturbing though is that there are no consequences for this kind of behavior. In 2016, after news of Reuben Green's obvious corruption broke, he still comfortably won re-election. I'm not sure if I should blame the ignorance of the common voter, who tends to vote for anyone with the word "incumbent" beside his name, or if I should blame our seriously messed-up election system, but we're here to talk about trials, not elections, so I'll leave that can of worms for another day.
Here's the point: a judge in Georgia can cozy up to the prosecutor and decide your sentence before the trial even starts, and there will be no conseqences for anyone but you.
In our second case, we have Jeff Hobby. If his name sounds familiar, it's probably because you know him as the Georgia Sheriff who was indicted on accusations of molesting an entire high school. What you might not have heard is that, not long after being arresting for molesting everyone, he was arrested again, this time for secretly recording conversations between inmates and their lawyers.
Jeff Hobby's recordings are a big deal. Everyone deserves the right to a fair trial, but they can't have a fair trial unless they adequately understand the law and trial strategy - and believe me, trial strategy is key to winning. But they can't adequately know the law and understand the strategy to navigate the system without legal counsel, and to have adequate legal counsel, they have to have the ability to speak confidentially with a lawyer. If a "lawman" like Jeff Hobby and his buddies have access to conversations between inmates and their lawyers, the right to a fair trial is completely circumvented.
And yet, Hobby is accused of making the recordings. Now to be fair, Hobby was arrested for making those recordings, but remember - no one noticed that Hobby was doing this until after he drew attention to himself by molesting an entire high school. I think we can safely assume that if this Sheriff hadn't molested an entire high school, he could have gone merrily on his way intentionally depriving the citizenry of their right to a fair trial, and no one would have noticed. And if Jeff Hobby could get away with it, why can't any Sheriff in Georgia?
"Preposterous!" you say, "Surely there is someone who will catch these crooked officials!"
But really, there isn't. Right now, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation is overwhelmed. There have been so many police shootings combined with such a high increase in opioid arrests, that the crime lab can't even keep up with investigations. So if they can't even investigate the cases that they have, what makes you think that they're going to go poking their heads in to check on corruption in your local Sheriff's office?
So, we need fair trials if we're going to live in a free country. Maybe one in twenty people can afford to go to trial, and in Georgia, there's no good reason for that one person to believe that the Sheriff isn't secretly snooping on his conversations with his lawyer. He also has no reason to believe that the judge in his case didn't make a decision about the sentence before the trial even started.
At the end of the day, a Georgian can have no confidence that he'll get a fair trial, and until there is a major overhaul of our legal system which gives real accountability to our public officials, that fact won't change.
It's time to wake up and smell the bacon Georgia - you don't live in a free country.