♫ I Don’ Wan’ No Sugar in Mah Co-offee…♪

“What we have here, is a failure to communicate.” The iconic words spoken by Strother Martin in the classic film Cool Hand Luke. The image comes to us from http://incogman.net/08/2011/what-we-have-here-is-a-failure-to-communicate/coolhandluke/

This was brought to my attention by Marsha Graham, AKA AnotherBoomerBlog, from a story that originally appeared in Yahoo News.


Apparently, Finbar McGarry was being held in a county jail, awaiting trial. He had not yet been found guilty, but merely was unable to afford bail.  So, like so many in his tax bracket, he found himself a guest at the Graybar Hilton. When he refused to do labor, he was threatened with solitary confinement.

Eventually, he made it to court where he was found innocent. However, he is now suing the state of Vermont for 11 million bucks.

Here’s some of what Attorney Graham has to say on the matter.

The reality is that we DID outlaw slavery in the Constitution.  The reality is also that we frequently force inmates to work (chain gangs and the like).  However, this guy was in pre-trial and forced to work.  That’s the difference here.  He was not sentenced yet – innocent until proven guilty, etc.  I am happy to see the Court ruling for him, but it has certainly not reached the highest appellate level, so this is still not the end of the story.

I would also point out that this man was not convicted AND that the consequences for failing to work for 25¢ an hour were INSANELY DRACONIAN  –  getting put in “the hole.”  While guards have to be careful of everyone in jail, you don’t put a prisoner awaiting trial in the hole for refusing to take a job.

Even more, the article points out we have thousands of individuals sitting in jail on the public’s tax dollar who are really no threat to the community but they can’t make bail.  If that doesn’t make people unhappy, I don’t know what will. They should release these people to save the taxpayers a lot of money.
The title of this piece comes from a Mississippi chain gang song recorded in the 1930s by Alan Lomax. Although I have a ton of this stuff, Jet Black Woman has long been one of my favorites. Sugar in the coffee refers to the use of potassium nitrate (salt peter) as a toxic and ineffectual method of suppressing the male drives that can prove so problematic in prison environments.

4 thoughts on “♫ I Don’ Wan’ No Sugar in Mah Co-offee…♪

  1. Argh! You pressed my jurisprudence button, David.

    There is no such criminal law finding as “innocent.” (sorry, but this is the exact same problem I had with the guy who claims to have been found “innocent” by a Federal judge when what probably happened was a remand or a dismissal. I still can’t find any citations on that case.

    Law School 101: We are “innocent until proven guilty” in a court of criminal law. In criminal Court one can plead “guilty”, “not guilty” or “no contest,” and a defendant is found “guilty” or “not guilty” at the conclusion of a trial. There is no legal finding of “innocent.”

    Why is there no finding of “innocent?” Because we don’t actually know the person is innocent. Not guilty may be nothing more than the fact one cannot produce sufficient facts beyond a reasonable doubt ( an appropriately high standard since life and freedom is at stake). There could be a great deal of information pointing to guilt, but it doesn’t reach the standard set for criminal cases. In fact, you can guarantee yourself there is at least some compelling evidence pointing to the person being prosecuted as “guilty” or the case would never have reached trial. Prosecutorial and court resources are stretched thin. Few cases ever go to trial, most are plea bargained or dismissed for lack of evidence.

    As the OJ Simpson case demonstrated, you can be “not guilty” of murder in a criminal case and still be found culpable of the tort of “wrongful death” in a civil case.

    In the case on point, the defendant was found “not guilty” in the criminal case, which is what enabled his civil case to move forward regarding enslavement. Had he been found “guilty” it would have been different – prisoners have far fewer rights.

    Okay, I feel better now. No more findings of “innocent,” okay?

    And as for the rest of it, it is crazy that we have what amounts to debtor prisons because the poor can’t bail out. I do not know why we have not come up with some viable alternative other than paying to incarcerate people who could be at home – working, taking care of families, etc. We have something similar going on in civil cases where a person can’t pay debts, a capias is issued and they end up in jail serving time for contempt of court for not paying their bills. Not quite a debtor’s prison, but I’m pretty sure it feels that way to the person in jail.

    I suppose there is a discussion about bail that should come of this at another time. Suffice it to say that the Constitution (8th Amendment) says bail should not be “excessive” (whatever the Courts determine that word to mean), but the Constitution does not guarantee the RIGHT to have bail to begin with. State laws vary as to bail because the Constitutional right to not have excessive bail is on a Federal and not a state level. In some states bail is automatic during appeals, in other states that is not the case at all.

    Confused yet? Good, now you have an inkling of what we struggle with in law school. 🙂


  2. But you know what I meant, right? 🙂

    Oh, and yes. Both engineers and lawyers are guilty of making simple concepts illegible.


  3. Absolutely, I know what you mean. However, if you’re going to have a blog dealing with legal issues, you need to use the appropriate legal terms, yes?

    So we are left with findings of “Guilty” and “Not Guilty” only. Or a mistrial or dismissal with or without prejudice.


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