Not long ago a man in Michigan was arrested for declining to show a receipt to a Circuit City door-checker for items he'd already purchased and left the store with. A while later, he tells the story of his Phyrric victory -- $7500 dollars of legal battles later, he stopped fighting because his family would get dragged into the fray. The media attention surrounding it forced the city to make a deal: we'll drop the charges and you give up your right to sue us.
This is the justice system in America, and it's pathetic. This man's story is a fine example of how all minor criminal charges are viciously pursued in this country, which for some strange reason, carries the notion that it is the most fair, equitable, and rational legal system in the world.
But how does it really work?
The first wave is usually the cop, whose job amounts to little more than hired muscle for the state; entrance requirements in terms of education are pretty low in most areas, and cops barely understand the law themselves, instead adopting an attitude of "arrest first and let the courts sort it out later".
The cop feels perfectly justified in this attitude, since the citizenry has zero oversight or options or recourse at their disposal. Even if a cop is completely wrong in his actions, nothing will happen to him.
A cop will therefore hassle a citizen based on a combination of hazy understanding of the law, bad mood, and whether or not he approves of the citizen's attitude. The charge is usually, in the grand scheme of things, fairly minor, but enough to cause a serious headache for the victim. For many things, an arrest will be involved, along with jailtime, bond money, and the embarassment of having to call friends and family to get you out, not to mention the retrieval of whatever confiscated or impounded property -- and the money involved in getting that back.
This is justice in America.
Your court date will roll around and you'll plead not guilty. A trial date will be set, meaning you'll have to schedule your life around that, and try to get a lawyer to help. The average person isn't expected to fully understand the law, because it's so nuanced and convoluted, which is why defense attorneys with years of specialized training exist. The average person is expected to fully abide by the law he doesn't understand, though, which may suggest a problem with the system, but nobody will question it during this process.
On your trial date you'll speak to some self-important prosecutor or solicitor who acts on behalf of the government. He'll treat your minor case like it's the crime of the century. Depending on your demeanor he may offer a deal of some sort, which usually entails you pleading guilty to a somewhat lessor offense. What he probably won't tell you is that if you reject this offer, and make him go through the hassle of an actual trial, he'll push for the maximum possible punishment the law allows, regardless of any circumstances up to that point, because he doesn't want to do more work.
This is justice in America.
If you take his deal, you've just pleaded guilty to an offense you may not have even committed, and is probably something so stupid no one should care even if you did do it, but you're intimidated into the plea by his legal jargon and the fact that, as an average Joe, you don't have the time, money, or resources devoted to fighting it. You'll pay a few hundred dollars in fines and be on your way, with an arrest record, a criminal history, and completely out the hundreds you spent for the bond, the fine, the impound, the attorney, and anything else. The state will pat itself on the back for a job well done for cleaning up the mean streets of dangerous scum like you.
If you don't take his deal you'll be put on trial. For minor offenses you may not even get a jury of twelve average Joes who will sympathize with you; the state has found a loophole and called this an "administrative matter", meaning you'll get tried by a judge, who will claim to be impartial but is on the state's payroll and has a vested interest in making sure things turn out in the state's favor, not to mention his clouded view of every person who appears before him as a criminal.
The judge will ignore everything you say, and your attorney will be mostly powerless since the time for deal-making is over and all he can do is try to object to the prosection's evidence. There will be little evidence to which he can object, though, since for most minor offenses there aren't any significant witnesses or material bits of evidence. Nothing but the policeman's word and charge on the books, often, and this will be taken as wholly sufficient to pronounce you guilty, whereupon you'll pay a huge fine, face possible jail time, and be in worse shape than you had you just meekly submitted instead of trying to assert your right as an American to a fair and impartial trial.
If you're very lucky, you may win your case and be pronounced "not guilty". You spent time in jail, have an arrest record, paid a pretty penny to bondsmen and lawyers and impound lots, had to take time off work, stressed the hell out of yourself dealing with this. Thousands of dollars later the state will send you on your way without so much as a "sorry about the trouble".
This is justice in America.
Create thousands upon thousands of arbitrary, meaningless laws which serve no public good, which citizens can't keep track of or reasonably comprehend, then leap out from behind the bushes to scream "GOTCHA!" when they may break one, rubbing your hands with glee that you can extract more money from the citizens. Punish them for daring to question the authority of the state. That's justice in America, and when you create laws just for the purpose of turning otherwise normal people into criminals, you cause them to lose all respect for the law.
I did, long ago.