So Gary McKinnon’s apparently off to a US jail forever for doing fuck all. Hurrah!
It’s interesting – both on the NatWest case and this case, opinion seemed broadly divided between:
1) people who think it’s possible to get a fair trial in the US
2) people who understand the US judicial system
Why’s that? Well, the US judicial system has two features that come together to make fair trials for non-violent crime impossible: very very long sentences for trivial offences; and discounts for pleading guilty that can amount to cutting your sentence by 90%.
So in the UK, if you were accused of conning your employer out of a million quid, or of hacking the military’s computers, you’d be looking at a sentence of a few years maximum. Which would be fair, as you wouldn’t actually have done anyone any real harm. A guilty plea would get you 1/3 off your final sentence – so if you’re not guilty but there’s some circumstantial evidence against you, or if you are technically guilty but think a jury would go your way, then it’s still worth fighting.
In the US, you can be charged initially with counts that would leave you in jail for the rest of your natural. Remember, this is *for nicking a bit of cash*, or *for some not-super-complex hackery* – if you think that’s fair and proportionate YOU ARE INSANE. But then, the kindly prosecutor-man will offer you a sentence which is only slightly longer than you’d get in the UK, as long as you plead guilty to everything.
This effectively means that, if prosecuted for a non-violent criminal offence in the US (they can’t get away with the same kind of sentencing discounts for violent crime, on the grounds that the long starting points there aren’t totally insane), your only reasonable strategy is to plead guilty.
And that isn’t a judicial system to which we should be sending people at all, never mind on the basis of nothing as per the current system.