The Townhall

Is Justice Blind, or Is Justice Only For the Elite?

Is Justice Blind, or Is Justice Only For the Elite? 

By Jeff Charles

Trump’s Conviction

Former President Donald Trump is now a convicted felon, thanks to the verdict in his Manhattan trial in which he was accused of falsifying business records. This outcome could be the first of several convictions, given that he is facing 57 more charges spread out over three more indictments.

The fallout from the verdict focused primarily on the politics of the situation. Some Trump supporters have argued that if the justice system can railroad Trump, they can do the same to average Americans.

These people are missing the depressing reality that the justice system already railroads regular citizens on a routine basis – and it affects them far more than any of Trump’s legal troubles will impact him. Being a convicted felon hits differently for the average Joe than it does for a former president, especially when it comes to losing one’s rights.

Those convicted of felonies, in many states, lose their right to vote. For Trump, it will likely turn out differently. In New York, where he was convicted, felons are allowed to vote as long as they are not incarcerated. Florida, where the former president currently resides, would follow the law of the state in which a felon is convicted, meaning that he will still be able to participate in the electoral process if he is not imprisoned. Florida law would bar him from voting if he had been convicted in the Sunshine State.

Felony Convictions and the Second Amendment

Felons are typically not allowed to own firearms, even after they are released from prison. Federal and New York state laws prohibit this. The NYPD is reportedly preparing to strip the former president of his concealed carry permit. A senior police official told CNN that the law enforcement agency’s Legal Bureau is completing an investigation “that will likely lead to revocation of his license.”

However, given Trump’s resources, there are still ways around these laws. Cheryl Bader, a professor at Fordham Law, told ABC News that the former president

(Trump) could seek to have that right restored since his conviction was for a lower level non-violent felony.

To put it into perspective, the process for having one’s gun rights restored after being convicted of a non-violent felony is no walk in the park. In New York, a convict can file for a Certificate of Relief from Disabilities, typically used by those prosecuted for non-violent felonies.

After navigating this process, the state will decide whether the person is eligible to have their gun rights restored. However, this does not shield the person from being targeted by the federal government. Procedures for regaining gun rights at the federal level are even more intricate and costly.

Once one regains their state gun rights, they must apply with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF). This is also a lengthy process. If the ATF rejects the request, one can challenge the agency’s decision through the courts, which can be expensive. In essence, reclaiming the right to keep and bear arms typically requires the assistance of an attorney to help navigate the process, which acts as a financial barrier many post-conviction Americans can’t afford. 

There is no doubt that Trump has the money and resources to have his Second Amendment rights restored if he wishes. This is not typically the case for the average person who does not have the time, money, and resources to fight this battle.

Post-Conviction Job Prospects

Despite the conviction, Trump will still be able to run for president, a job for which he has decent odds of being hired. For regular folks, a felony conviction makes it exceedingly difficult to obtain employment. Opportunities are limited for those with felony convictions.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics published a report in 2021 showing that of more than 50,000 people released from federal prison in 2010, 33 percent were unable to obtain jobs over four years after being released. Another study found that only about 40 percent of companies would consider hiring a candidate with a criminal history. The stigma that comes with having been convicted of a crime can be debilitating for average Americans.

When filling out applications for employment or housing, people are typically asked about their criminal history. The same is true for those seeking to attend college. Schools typically conduct background checks that often lead to applicants being disqualified, which makes it even harder for felons to become productive members of society.

However, for Trump, it has become a badge of honor – a symbol of Democrats’ efforts to weaponize the government against their most feared political opponent. At least half of the country is not judging Trump harshly for being convicted of falsifying business records. Whether this is right or wrong, the same is not true for other less prominent Americans who were convicted of crimes for political purposes.

American Justice Rewards the Rich and Punishes the Poor

Some are fond of claiming America’s two-tier justice system is set up to benefit leftists and penalize conservatives. Our nation’s system is built to benefit the wealthy elites while leaving those who are not in that club nearly defenseless against the state. If one has wealth and fame, accountability for crimes, real or imagined, can be avoided. 

Unfortunately, changing this system isn’t an easy proposition. Not only is the system more lenient to those who can afford to pay for leniency, but it is also quite challenging to hold the government accountable for its misdeeds. There are countless individuals whose lives have been unfairly ruined or destroyed because of how America administers justice.

New York vs. Dexter Taylor

This is especially true of someone like Dexter Taylor, who was convicted in New York for manufacturing his own firearms using parts he purchased legally. He was given a ten-year sentence, which, considering his clean criminal record, can look like a political statement rather than justice.

His story started in 2021 when he realized he could purchase gun parts legally and assemble his own firearms. This led to a 2022 SWAT raid on his home conducted by the ATF and the NYPD. During his trial, the judge specifically admonished his defense attorney not to bring up the Second Amendment during the proceedings and constantly interrupted his opening statement. The trial was biased in favor of the prosecution.

Later, Taylor was convicted on 13 counts related to possessing so-called “Ghost Guns” without a permit. New York is notoriously opposed to civilians owning and carrying guns — even for their own protection. After the Supreme Court ruling in New York Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, which struck down the state’s unconstitutional gun licensing scheme, the state legislature passed other laws intended to subvert the ruling. Someone like Taylor, a peaceful man who built his own firearms, is repugnant to a system that does not want people to keep and bear arms, which is why the judge sentenced him to a decade in prison. The trial was about sending a message, not justice.

Reform Attempts

Nevertheless, it is worth noting that there are still people fighting for a more just system. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals recently issued a ruling in favor of an individual who had been incarcerated for possessing a firearm after being convicted of a non-violent felony. This ruling, along with the Supreme Court’s ruling in New York Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, could establish a precedent doing away with state and federal laws restricting the Second Amendment rights of those who have served their time.

Several organizations are currently fighting in the courts and Congress to stop federal and state governments from prohibiting felons from voting after serving their sentence. In time, these efforts are bound to succeed. It is also worth mentioning the First Step Act, a significant piece of criminal justice reform legislation, that was passed and signed into law by Trump in 2018. The act created programs intended to reduce recidivism and rehabilitate federal prisoners. These programs have already proven to be successful, decreasing recidivism by 37 percent.

Bail reform efforts from progressives have been a mixed bag, with critics pointing out that many district attorneys are putting violent criminals out on the street. However, some efforts have been successful, especially when it comes to nonviolent offenders who can’t afford to post bail. In the two years after New York instituted a historic bail reform law, 24,000 fewer people had bail set on their cases while bail amounts dropped by $104 million, which made it easier for lower-income folks to be released while awaiting their trial.

Given these indications, there could come a time when the government will finally respect the rights of even those who have made bad decisions in the past. There are numerous efforts to reform the system. As much as Trump’s case highlights the deep weaknesses of our justice system, perhaps it could become a catalyst for positive reforms that reflect the value of liberty. 

Todd Davis

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