On September 24, 2012, the United States Supreme Court will decide whether they will hear the case of Rubashkin V. United States. A new documentary takes another crack at the puzzling “Rubashkin Case.” Director Nicholas McKinney presents a justice system that acts as a ‘conviction machine’.
UNJUSTIFIED explores the vast discretion prosecutors have to choose and amplify charges, essentially creating slam-dunk cases that ensure guilty pleas. The question is not whether many of the people convicted are innocent – in most cases the film considers, they are in fact found guilty – but rather if the guilty are or are not guaranteed a fair trial.
On September 24, the U.S. Supreme Court will begin to consider which of approximately 10,000 petitions for a writ of certiorari it will add to its docket in October. One of the cases before them is Rubashkin v. United States. It is one of the stories UNJUSTIFIED follows in depth.
Rubashkin v. United States started as the largest immigration raid in US history and ended in a bank fraud case concerning a $35 million loan that cuts to the heart of our nation’s judicial excess.
The case has drawn widespread support from all sides of the political spectrum from former Federal prosecutor and U.S. Congressman Ted Poe, former U.S. Attorneys General Richard Thornburgh and Ed Meese to former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno, U.S. Congresswoman and DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, and the Iowa ACLU and draws attention to sentencing disparities between courts, problems with sentencing guidelines, over-criminalization, prosecutorial power and the boundaries of the relationship between judges and the prosecutors who argue before them.
“We live in a nation of people raised on Law & Order, whose parents grew up with Perry Mason,” says Nick McKinney, director of the new documentary that explores the American justice system. “We have this idea of due process where two fair-minded lawyers argue before an impartial judge, but in reality the system – and the power of prosecutors to bring and amplify charges – stacks the odds against defendants.”
In this case, Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin faced over 160 counts of fraud and immigration violations after seven superseding indictments piled on the charges. Ultimately, the fraud case was severed from the immigration case; the immigration case was never tried and Rubashkin was found guilty on 86 of 91 counts related to fraud. For those crimes, he faced over 1,000 years in prison.
At sentencing, prosecutors sought a life sentence until six former US Attorneys General and other Justice Department veterans wrote to the judge objecting to such harsh punishment. Prosecutors revised their request to 25 years in prison; Judge Linda Reade sentenced Mr. Rubashkin to 27 years – more than many other white-collar criminals whose crimes far exceeded the value of Mr. Rubashkin’s.
A subsequent Freedom of Information Act request returned documents demonstrating Judge Reade had worked with prosecutors in the months leading up to the initial raid on Mr. Rubashkin’s business, creating what his defense argues is “at the very least the appearance of impropriety.”