Abuses of Power in the Criminal Justice System

The criminal justice system is designed to protect the citizenry of the United States. It keeps us from injustice from ourselves, from our neighbors, and from total strangers. This is the ideal. Unfortunately, reality rarely ever lives up to such a noble ideology, and Abuses of Power in the Criminal Justice System exist.

There is a saying: “Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” As long as there are mortal men with ulterior motives (which defines a large preponderance of mankind), there will be corruption and abuse. The criminal justice system has seen its fair share of abuses since its inception. These abuses in power clearly stands against the ideals of this great nation. However, we are men and thus tend to err and deviate. There is an obvious need to create a remedy for the system so that it may live up to its noble idea.

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The first step to rectifying the situation is through knowledge. Knowing just what injustices occur and where is a good place to start. Here are ten examples of criminal justice abuse–throughout both history and the branches of the system.


The patriot act is a model of terrific marketing. Most people aren’t aware that it’s actually an acronym and that it stands for “Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism. No one in their right mind would vote against such terminology. Unless they happened to have the foresight to realize that it would also become a more sinister model. A model for massive abuses in power.
Since its inception in 2001, the abuses related to the patriot act are numerous and widespread. There have been countless unjust arrests and detainment due to its ambiguous wording and law enforcement zeal to defend security. Until 2007, the FBI was issuing hundreds of thousands of national security letters. Most pertaining to US citizens. However, the ACLU won a landmark victory that prohibited the practice to continue. That all being said, the abuses of power are still rampant from the act itself.

Abraham Lincoln’s Suspension of Habeas Corpus

Abraham Lincoln is renowned throughout the United States (and many other cultures) as the Great Emancipator. His Emancipation Proclamation was what set the legal precedent to the 13th amendment, which forever granted freedom to the slaves. This is surely a good thing and no one can dispute the positives of this part of Lincoln’s legacy. However, he did more than just free slaves. He made it a legal precedent to indefinitely detain American Citizens.

The writ of Habeas Corpus is used to ensure that people cannot be unjustly detained. I.e, to be detained without sufficient evidence. Abraham Lincoln issued an executive order that suspended this right. Now, people could be held indefinitely without a just reason. It was a powerful tool to invoke during the civil war. It was also an amazing abuse of executive power.

Government Attacks on Academic Freedom

Many would think that the criminal justice system doesn’t have much to do with academia. While this can be true as a general rule of thumb, there are plenty of instances where they overlap. Unfortunately, such instances do include abuses and injustices.

According to the ACLU, the Bush administration engaged in a form of censorship utilizing selective pieces of newly enacted legislation. This was to ensure that views that went against the government could be weeded out during the time of great social instability. However, this led to Academic Freedom being denied and attacked. If an impartial paper was run that studied the actions of the government and deemed them to be improper, there was no way it would see the light of day. Scientific papers were screened by enforcement agencies. Unfortunately, this issue continues to this day.

Frank Jude

Frank Jude was a 26-year-old black male leaving a party in Milwaukee. After he exited, he had the unfortunate luck to run into four off-duty officers.

Normally, running into an off-duty police officer shouldn’t be an issue. In theory, they’re supposed to act like normal individuals during these hours– with the exception of emergency situations and specific protocols. Bumping into these officers should have been uneventful. It was the furthest thing from it.
The officers attacked Jude and his friend claiming that they had stolen one of the officer’s wallets, containing his badge. The attack could be described as nothing short of brutal. Jude’s friend suffered a knife wound to his face before he managed to escape. Jude was repeatedly punched, kicked, and stabbed in the ears with a pen. The local courts acquitted the officers of their crime. It took a federal court to convict these men; yet they only managed to get three of them for their part in the injustice.

Connecticut Police Charged with Racist Abuse of Authority

Four Connecticut police officers were charged for improperly carrying out their duties in East Haven. According to the charges, the officers willingly decided to choose a select group of individuals and refrain from allowing them to practice their civil rights equally. This abuse was aggravated by the fact that their choice seemed to be entirely prejudiced by race. The preponderance of the injustices was leveled at those in the Latino community. The charges leveled insist that the men didn’t act as ordained officers of the law, but as bullies with badges. This case was one of many police investigations across the nation, but the specificity and the predetermined nature of the offense make it stand out as particularly abusive.

District Judge Mike Fuller and Judicial Bias

The right to a fair and impartial court proceeding is one of our most precious. The United States legal system prides itself in being able to deliberate and deliver fair punishments. After all, many of the first ten amendments pertain to the rights of the citizenry in a court of law.

District Judge Mike Fuller of Montgomery, Alabama didn’t live up to this creed of impartiality. Over the course of his career, it’s become clear that he prefers to judge cases based on his own interests. He’s refused to try political allies, taken in large sums of money via his private company, and avoids recusing himself of duty. His antics are so renowned that they’ve inspired numerous newspaper columns and opinion pieces. His continued trial of cases that relate to his personal issues has put him in hot water.

Material Witness Misuse

After the terrorist attacks in 2001, the United States government was adamant about never letting an event like this occur again. They needed to stop all attempts before they even came close to fruition. They needed information.

How they went about collecting this information, however, is an extremely clear example of abusing the collection of material witnesses. Many in the FBI and other criminal justice agencies decided that the qualifying standard for being associated was faith. They collected hundreds of Muslims, arresting and detaining them on suspicion of association. An assumption based entirely around a common faith. Many weren’t even treated as witnesses; there was no attempt at securing their testimony as such. The government has apologized for a mere 13 cases of this abuse of the material witness statute.

Rodney King

Rodney King has become infamous for one of the most sensationalized instances of police brutality in American history. King and two cohorts were being chased by police officers for 8 miles on suspicion of illegal activities. Once caught, the police ordered the men to step outside the car and lay face down. King eventually complied but then resisted. He was then shot with a Tazer and ruthlessly beaten. The officers were accordingly charged with brutality. Upon their acquittal, the community became enraged and started one of the most violent race riots in history. Eventually, a federal court convicted two of the men for brutality.

The McCarthy Hearings

During the 1950s and 60’s the United States was experiencing its second communist scare. This time, however, it had escalated into what we know today as the cold war. The American public was absolutely terrified of Russia’s potential. They were equally so of what sort of influence it could have on their way of life. They were convinced that Communism could undermine their way of life.
This fear is what sparked the McCarthy Hearings. These hearings were well-publicized congressional interrogations of suspected communist agents. If conducted properly, they could have been a legitimate way to ensure the nation’s security interests were being served. As you could imagine by this point, its legitimacy was questionable at best.

Senator McCarthy did more than just round up suspected communists. He round up political enemies and did his best to damn them for their “crimes.” Any individual who publicly acknowledged even a distant connection to a communist (say, a cousin’s friend’s girlfriend that you met at a party once) could be tried. Oftentimes, they were lambasted and ostracized.