Goldwater Institute City Courts Report Shows How Americans Are Denied Their Rights

A new Goldwater Institute report shows how a disabled Vietnam War combat veteran living in Arizona faced jail time for mere zoning violations without even facing a trial by jury.

In City Court: Prosecutors Push Jail for Disabled Vietnam Veteran Over Zoning Violations, Goldwater Institute National Investigative Reporter Mark Flatten continues his examination of Arizona’s city court system, this time through the eyes of 69-year-old Bob Stapleton, a Phoenix resident who was hit with six criminal misdemeanor charges for zoning violations on his farm property. Each charge carried penalties of up to six months in jail and $2,500 in fines. Incredibly, despite the U.S. and Arizona constitutions’ guaranteed rights to trial by jury, Stapleton faced judgment by an unelected city court judge.

Stapleton lived quietly for more than 30 years on his small farm property in north Phoenix. His trouble began when Paul Johnson, the former mayor of Phoenix, acquired a neighboring property and sought approval from the city with plans to build a condominium project. Stapleton had been approached by a man claiming to be Johnson’s representative trying to buy his land at what Stapleton considered cut-rate prices. Even in the face of threats, Stapleton declined to sell and eventually was convicted on five of the six charges in Phoenix Municipal Court. The judge put him on probation for three years and fined him $15,000. Terms of his probation included abiding by city zoning codes. If he failed to do so, he could go to jail. Stapleton finally paid off the debt in December 2015 through $500 monthly installments.

Arizona is one of 11 states in which a defendant who is facing up to six months in jail is not guaranteed a jury trial. “In most places in the United States, the right to a trial by jury is a given—but not in Arizona,” Flatten said. “Both the federal and Arizona state constitutions say anyone facing criminal charges is entitled to a jury trial, but the federal courts have interpreted that language as only applying to crimes that carry penalties of more than six months in jail. And in Arizona, the courts have decided the right to a jury in most misdemeanor cases only applies if the offense was a crime under territorial law. Instead of facing a jury of their peers, a person’s guilt or innocence is determined by an unelected city court judge who is vulnerable to political pressure from the city council that appoints and retains him.”

This is exactly what happened in Stapleton’s case. For him and many others like him, the system is stacked against them. Stapleton has said of life on his farm: “I just wanted some peace and quiet. I tell people I’d like some peace of mind without a piece of somebody else’s.” But the city court system made that impossible.

13 Comments on "Goldwater Institute City Courts Report Shows How Americans Are Denied Their Rights"

  1. Some animals are more equal than others.
    We have a Second Amendment for a reason.

  2. And you expect something different from the politicians and crony’s that have their own court system with a bought and paid for political hack appointee? Shame on you if you do. The AZ constitution should be changed immediately.

    • The AZ constitution should be changed immediately but of course that will never happen with those currently in power, including Governor establishment. However, we can pretty immediately stop feeding the beast that is the corrupt AZ political establishment and that is to vote NO on all tax and bond increases!

  3. It just goes to show that in this country there are two different sets of laws. One for the little guy who gets screwed over and one for the elites who get away with pretty much everything and are allowed to do so with impunity and the Tucson city judicial system is proving this.

  4. This article describes one of any number of methods of intimidation used by the Mafia in Sicily. This situation needs to be brought before SCOTUS which will determine that every US citizen has the right to a trial by a jury of their peers before an elected judge, whether charged with a misdemeanor or a felony. Shame on Paul Johnson and his mafia tactics!

  5. Dwayne Wolfswinkle | October 13, 2017 at 8:29 am |

    This is outrageous, where are our “public servants”, the legislature that is supposed to protect the common citizens from the over bearing government. This is why they put the second amendment in to the constitution because they saw that eventually the citizens would need to protect themselves from the oppressive government. PAUL JOHNSON is a prime example of the corruption that is rampant in all levels of government.

    Where are the “Men who pretend to wear White Hats” such as Reps Finchem, Leach, Mesnard, Carter, Townsend, Thorpe and others.

    • Not sure it is fair to criticize Thorpe, Finchem and the rest for this particular failing. Changing the Constitution cannot be a simple process. My impression is that fighting against just a few of the wrongs committed by the gargantuan establishment for the public`s benefit is a herculean task, keeping in mind that an attack on even one of the establishment`s wrongdoings will usually raise the ire of the entire establishment against the reformers.

  6. You get as much ‘justice’ as you can afford. The courts are corrupt. I know from personal experience. The average person has no idea just how corrupt and wouldn’t believe you unless they experienced it first-hand. Those who haven’t — aside from an occasional traffic citation would only look at you smugly and claim “the courts would never do that.” Yes, they would.

  7. If you will remember, Sheriff Joe was denied a jury trial in his case. Had the case gone to a jury, he would never have been convicted.

  8. John Rocket | October 13, 2017 at 5:16 pm |

    This is why those NFL players are kneeling. This kind of thing is bad for everybody but it’s worse for poor minorities who have a hard time fighting back. Ferguson, MO was targeting it’s poorer citizens for years with crap like this and other low level enforcement in order to extract cash from them. The shooting that got all the press just set a spark to all the anger and resentment that was already there. All media wants to do is argue about the shooting and ignores years of unfair and unjust policy.

  9. Working Man Blues | October 14, 2017 at 5:03 am |

    If we are to be a country of laws, then the cornerstone must be innocence until proven quilty. Our courts were completely designed to free a quilty man before condemning an innocent man. When one person (the appointee) is the judge jury and executioner all the same. It never bodes well for the defendant. When you mix this with political pressure and $$$. Case closed. The preponderance of evidence standard means little to nothing.

  10. the judge and ex-mayor should be in jail – thugs with the perfect cloaking device – the cloak of justice and law, according to them.. investigate, fine the two perps 10 times the intimidation fee’s they charged to this old man – should get Johnson and the AHole thug Judges attention.

  11. Just more of the Arizona Swamp.

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