|Week of: |
November 26, 2000
|Technically, We're All Criminals Now
by: F.R. Duplantier
A D.A. complained, "What's the sense
Of losing each case to Defense?
If the guilty go free
For a nice legal fee,
I might as well try Innocents."
Michael Zinn has made a career out of "bringing risky, cutting-edge, environmentally beneficial technologies and projects to life." Besicorp, the alternative energy company he founded in the 1970s, "made its fortune developing clean-energy power plants that sold power to larger public utilities." As CEO of Besicorp, Zinn has acted on the conviction that "the only way to save the natural environment is through the development of new technologies that are both environmentally sound and economically competitive."
In his new book, Mad-Dog Prosecutors and Other Hazards of American Business, Zinn recounts how his company, Besicorp, became "a prime target for corporate raiders. They organized a clandestine campaign to oust me from the company," he charges, "and this campaign resulted in my being unjustly incarcerated by the federal government." Zinn points out that "such tactics are not unusual in corporate takeover battles. Why not use the power of the government to force your prey into submission?" he asks. "The government is only too willing to comply, with an army of agents and investigators standing ready to ferret out real or manufactured wrongdoing."
Zinn concedes that he "may in fact have inadvertently violated certain regulations." But he insists that he "never intended to do so," and argues that "nobody should be harshly prosecuted for unintentional, technical violations of bureaucratic regulations. Yet it happens every day," Zinn contends. "Americans have only recently begun to note the way our system of justice is spinning out of control. Under increasing scrutiny, apologists for the criminal justice bureaucracy hide behind the flag, repeating the mantras of 'law and order' and deterrence while defending the excesses of individual prosecutors and federal agents as insignificant aberrations."
Zinn reports that "record numbers of citizens are being investigated into bankruptcy or incarcerated for technical violations and 'white-collar' crime." He warns that overzealous and partisan prosecutors are "gradually undermining our constitutional safeguards and destroying America's freedom. The lack of criminal intent or the actual innocence of an accused person gets lost in the process," Zinn laments, "whether the criminal is a first-time minor drug offender or a white-collar 'criminal' who has made a mistake in filing a federal form."
When a blameless and productive individual like Michael Zinn goes to jail while a murderous athlete and a pair of treasonous chief executives escape chastisement, something is desperately wrong with the justice system in America. When the innocent are presumed guilty and the guilty are given a pass because of some privileged status, the rule of law has broken down. We are at a critical juncture in the history of our country. We cannot continue on our present course and still remain free. We must curb these excesses and begin again to practice self-restraint.
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