Why don't US presidential candidates get thrown into jail by their opponent during election?

  • In Jakarta, Ahok and Anies are both running for gubernatorial election.

    One Anies supporter uses one of Ahok speeches to accuse him of blasphemy.

    Article: Ahok denies saying the Quran tricks people against voting for him, says his words were edited out of context

    Ahok, who had a 70% approval rating, was then sent to jail.

    It makes me wonder, why isn't this happening in stable democracies like the US?

    When Donald Trump and Hillary were running for election, rather than trying to campaign, why not just try to get the other imprisoned over unclear or "rubbery" laws?

    Does the US have special rules to postpone prosecution until the election is over? (Indonesians have one but chose to waive it for the Ahok case due to too much demonstration).

    What would happen in the US?

    Being a good candidate is tough (and not lucrative). It's much easier to simply jail your competitor than trying to rule well.

    I know it's done in many parts of the world.

    How do democracies like the US handle these issues?

    You're making the assumption that governor Ahok was sent to jail by his political opponents and not because he broke the law and was found guilty in court. I'm not saying your assumption is wrong, but you haven't provided any supporting evidence. The premise of your question may be false. How do you know he was thrown in jail by political opponents? https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/may/09/jakarta-governor-ahok-found-guilty-of-blasphemy-jailed-for-two-years

    The Saturday Night Massacre is one example of why it is hard for a US president to obstruct justice.

    @Michael_B the fact of being found guilty in court doors not preclude political opponents being behind the prosecution.

    Tl,dr; Two things, separation of powers and the rule of law.

    @Michael_B that is a very interesting questions. It should be a separate question. I think, most political scientists would agree that the charge is politically motivated. Ahok says that people can be lied to by using al maidah 51. Come on. How would christians feel if someone says that people can be lied to by using the bible? Many blasphemy cases in Indonesia simply didn't go through.

    Basically 40 prominent harvard graduate lawyers in Indonesia send analysis that Ahok did not commit any crime. However, Ahok got convicted anyway. One thing we can agree with is that politics play a big role for this. Another we can agree with is that the law is very "rubbery" and "flexible". Indonesia have many such laws. Most are rarely enforced. It's mainly used on "special" circumstances, like in saving some crook's ass, or getting rid honest politicians.

    I think most christians, if they hear that people can use christianity to lie will shrug their shoulders and say, duh.... Somehow the judge argues that Ahok claims that certain interpretation of the quran as lying. Even though it's not what's said. And well, c'mon. Many scientists think religions are just tools to control people. There are economic of religions, and various sciences studying religions anyway. That alone should be like 95% probability. Implicating that.

    Because nobody has yet announced they're running against Donald Trump, who was not yet President when asserting that his desired plan to deal with "crooked Hillary" was to "lock her up."

    I think people are overlooking the importance of informal norms - it's "not done that way" in democracies with effective rule of law.

    `It's much easier to simply jail your competitor than trying to rule well.` As much as people like to say that the US is corrupt and how the Rich control the legal system, It is really really hard to jail someone if they haven't committed a crime. Even if they aren't in a position of power.

    @SamIam that is precisely the issue. Some laws are rubbery and flexible. "Quite often we have, we know you did it. Is it a crime?" Kind of laws. This facilitates selective enforcement against dissenters.

    Because the US has the 1st amendment and the separation of church and state that prevents the state from being an irrational theocracy.

    @SamIam - I disagree slightly but just with your wording. More correctly, many many people are jailed who haven't committed a crime, or jailed for a crime they didn't commit. But, yes, it's very hard to get a specific person, like a political opponent, to be arrested/convicted of a crime they didn't commit.

    Many western countries have laws against "hate crimes". Indonesia have laws against spreading hoaxes and laws against deliberately speek something that's hostile to any religions. I wonder if US have such laws?

    From what I've seen, both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump tried to get the other one put in jail. Neither one was successful. Sources: CNN, USNews

    **Culture** The accepted answer mentions legal reasons. Many other answers have mentioned various laws, regulations and procedures. But of course Indonesia may have similar rules. What makes the difference is culture. The rules only work if they are followed. Were the president to tell the FBI director to arrest the opponent on bogus charges, the FBI director would say "no". And if he didn't, well he doesn't arrest people directly. He would ask someone to do it and they would say "no". But even if the arrest happened, the courts would say "no" and the police would then release the opponent.

    In America we are taught to follow the laws rather than following the person. "Rule of Law" as RBarryYoung calls it in an earlier comment.

  • jamesqf

    jamesqf Correct answer

    4 years ago

    The simplest answer is that a US President can't just arbitrarily throw anyone in jail. (At least overtly: we're not talking about covert ops here.) About the most a President could do would be to direct the Department of Justice to have the FBI (or some independent commission, like the current Mueller one) do an investigation. Then if creditable evidence was found, it would need to be presented to a grand jury, and indictments issued. Moreover, even if the opposing candidate was arrested, s/he would be able to obtain bail, and could continue campaigning, probably with increased popular support. See the 4th & 8th Amendments to the US Constitution.

    Aside from the legal obstacles, public opinion would make it pointless for a President to do anything like this openly. Unless s/he was extremely popular (and in that case, why bother?), such an action would almost certainly sway enough public opinion to lose the election, and would probably lead to impeachment. As mentioned in another answer, Richard Nixon's acts of just secretly investigating his opponent led to him resigning the office rather than face impeachment. Do a search on "Watergate".

    "creditable evidence" should be "credible". "Richard Nixon's acts of just secretly investigating his opponent" technically, it was covering up other people investigating his opponents that led to his resigning.

    Also, **due process takes time**. A plausible strategy to get a political opponent thrown in jail, even with an abundance of incriminating evidence, could take years.

    To cite just one recent example, a nanny in my hometown killed two children under her care in 2012. She has confessed. The trial started today. https://nypost.com/2018/03/01/lawyer-says-nanny-suffered-from-mental-illness-didnt-plan-to-kill-kids/

    @Michael_B I can't decide if that's a good example or a bad one. She confessed, but she pled not guilty (or there'd be no trial). In other words, she said "Yes I did it -- no I didn't", which is always going to cause complications.

    @DavidRicherby, I haven't studied the case carefully. I think she's pleading not guilty by reason of mental illness. But whatever the case, I cited this example solely as an illustration of time span.

    In addition to public opinion, I'd say the opposition party in Congress — even if it's the minority — would raise hell if its presidential candidate were arrested.

    @Acccumulation: I refer you to https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/creditable - or the dictionary of your choice. WRT Nixon, there would obviously have been no coverup if he hadn't initiated the secret investigations in the first place.

    @jamesqf while creditable is indeed a word, it is not generally used in US law to describe evidence, while "credible evidence" is a well established concept.

    @null: While that may be common usage in a legal context, I am not a lawyer, and so don't choose to limit myself to that usage.

    @DavidRicherby pleading guilty and waiving your right to a trial are not the same thing in the US.

    RE: *Richard Nixon's acts of just secretly investigating his opponent* -- In the US it is perfectly legal to *investigate* a political opponent. However you can't commit illegal acts , i.e. burglary, to do so.

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Content dated before 7/24/2021 11:53 AM