Welcome to the grand opening of the Nat Turner School of Law. The ancestors told me to establish it today because last week’s article about the Michael White case went viral as a result of social media and the Philadelphia Tribune website. Although that article was primarily about that case, it also was about criminal law procedure.
Based on the overwhelming response to and widespread appreciation for last week’s general information about how the criminal law process works, the ancestors required me to found the Nat Turner School of Law in honor of that 31-year-old literate revolutionary who, at 2:00 a.m. on August 21, 1831, confronted, condemned, and attacked America’s legal- I said legal- slavery system. I often tell people I’m “Nat Turner with a law degree” because I, somewhat similar to- but not nearly as courageous as- him, seek to confront, condemn, and attack America’s racist legal system and to do so “by any (non-violent) means necessary.”
Although I am an attorney, I am not an attorney who happens to be a Black man. Instead, I am a Black man who just happens to be an attorney. In other words, I, unlike most attorneys, don’t respect America’s laws. That’s because this country’s laws are nothing more than a set of rules created by wealthy whites to protect the interests and influence of so-called white supremacy. You might say, “Well, what about laws against crimes like murder and robbery and kidnapping and rape?” And my response would be, “Well, why weren’t those things crimes when white colonizers/invaders were murdering and robbing Red people and kidnapping and raping Black people?” I’m not suggesting that those things shouldn’t be considered crimes today. I’m simply putting them in proper historical context.
I’m also simply trying to empower the victims of the American criminal law system. Who are those victims? You guessed it- Black people. The numbers reported this year by the NAACP prove it:
• In 2014 (which is when the most reliable figures are available), Blacks constituted 2.3 million, which is 34 percent, of the total 6.8 million jail/prison/parole/probation population.
• Blacks are incarcerated at more than five times the rate of whites.
• The incarceration of Black women is twice that of white women.
• Black children, who constitute about five percent of this country’s population, constitute 32 percent of children arrested, 42 percent of children detained, and 52 percent of children whose cases are certified to adult court.
I should mention that most of the Black folks who are in jail or prison are there only because they can’t afford bail or only because of convictions for non-violent crimes. Something’s obviously wrong with that.
By the way, the only crimes that people today should be incarcerated or otherwise severely punished for are “malum in se” crimes, which means actions that physically hurt or violently threaten people. On the other hand, no one should be incarcerated or otherwise severely punished for “malum prohibitum” crimes, which means actions that are illegal only because state or federal legislators say they are illegal despite the fact that those actions don’t hurt or threaten willing participants, such as gambling, prostitution, and drug possession for example. In other words, lawmakers should not be in the business of legislating morality by minding other people’s business if those people ain’t bothering nobody.
As Charles Dickens wrote in Oliver Twist, “The law is an ass, an idiot.” And as yours truly wrote and writes, “That ass, that idiot has power, brutal power.” And the only way to beat a powerful brute is to outthink it.
Therefore, I’m now providing you with ammunition in the form of information about the following eleven stages of criminal law procedure you need to know in order to outthink and beat that brute:
1. Arrest: Anytime you’re stopped by the police and they do or say anything that makes you reasonably believe you’re not free to leave, then you’re under arrest. At that point, sit down and shut up. Stated differently, don’t make any statements about the particular incident and don’t consent to any searches. Be aware that anything- and I do mean anything- you say will always be used AGAINST you, never for you.
2. Processing: After you’re arrested, you’ll be taken to the police station to be fingerprinted, photographed, and given a police photo number (which is known as a PPN). At that point, sit down and shut up. Stated differently, don’t make any statements about the particular incident and don’t consent to any searches. Be aware that anything- and I do mean anything- you say will always be used AGAINST you, never for you.
3. Preliminary Arraignment: A Bail Commissioner via closed circuit TV will inform you of your charges, set your bail (assuming you’re not facing first or second degree murder), and schedule a preliminary hearing.
4. Preliminary Hearing: A Municipal Court judge will decide whether your case proceeds to trial. And he/she makes that decision not based on “proof beyond a reasonable doubt” but based merely on “prima facie” evidence. That means if the prosecutor presents “any” evidence that a crime was committed and “any” evidence that you committed it, your case will be scheduled for trial (which is when “proof beyond a reasonable doubt” evidence is required).
5. Formal Arraignment: You’ll get what’s known as “discovery,” which consists of documentation (i.e., reports, statements, videos, audio recordings, etc.) that the police “discovered” during their investigation.
6. Pre-Trial Conference: Legal arguments are raised to suppress certain evidence or dismiss certain charges or otherwise resolve legal issues before trial.
7. Scheduling Conference: Trial date is set.
8. Trial: This has very little to do with truth and has everything to do with rules. If your lawyer knows all the procedural and evidentiary rules and is strategic in applying them, you’re much more likely to be acquitted. If he/she does not know and apply them, you’re much more likely to be found guilty.
9. Sentencing: Punishment is imposed.
10. Appeal: A request that the state Superior Court (and/or possibly the state Supreme Court) reverse your conviction or order a re-sentencing.
11. Post-Conviction Relief Act (PCRA) Petition: This is primarily where a new lawyer alleges ineffectiveness by your trial defense lawyer or misconduct by the trial prosecution lawyer.
Now that you’ve read about the eleven stages of criminal law procedure, your assignment is to study them and commit them to memory. Your exam will take place the next time you’re stopped by a cop or are a defendant in criminal court. You’ll fail if you don’t remember and adhere to what you’ve been taught here at the Nat Turner School of Law. You’ll pass if you do remember and adhere.