Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Reason Magazine and Criminal "Justice"

In the everlasting "war on crime," the people with whom I have the most in common -- religious conservatives -- pretty much do not "get it." Most of the people at my church tolerate me, and even a few have said I have helped them change some of their thinking, but overall, it was the Right that ratcheted up the "crime wars" in the 1970s and 80s.

After first resisting, the Left joined in the race. During Bill Clinton's eight years in office, the nation's prison population doubled, and it was Clinton's own Department of "Justice" that carried out the biggest government-caused massacre of individuals since Wounded Knee in 1890. (And the biggest cheerleaders for Clinton's massacre were liberals and the Religious Right, which showed that at least on the shooting and burning of innocent children, Left and Right happily could co-exist.)

Not everyone has been silent. Radley Balko of Reason Magazine (and now the Huffington Post) has been a hero, and his work on behalf of those who have been falsely accused is featured in the recent Reason Magazine edition that covers this nation's system of "justice." Radley's article on wrongful convictions alone makes the issue outstanding.

Why are wrongful convictions endemic? Balko gives a number of reasons, but he singles out what he calls "he professional culture of the criminal justice system." He writes:
In addition to the more specific causes of wrongful convictions listed above, there is a problem with the institutional culture among prosecutors, police officers, forensic analysts, and other officials. Misplaced incentives value high conviction rates more than a fair and equal administration of justice.

Prosecutors in particular enjoy absolute immunity from civil liability, even in cases where they manufacture evidence that leads to a wrongful conviction. The only time prosecutors can be sued is when they commit misconduct while acting as investigators—that is, while doing something police normally do. At that point they’re subject to qualified immunity, which provides less protection than absolute immunity but still makes it difficult to recover damages.
For all of the points prosecutors make of criminal liability and state bar sanctions against prosecutors guilty of misconduct, Balko sets the record straight:
...criminal charges are few and far between, and prosecutors can make egregious mistakes that still don’t rise to the level of criminal misconduct. Professional sanctions are also rare. A 2010 study by the Northern California Innocence Project found more than 700 examples between 1997 and 2009 in which a court had found misconduct on the part of a prosecutor in the state. Only six of those cases resulted in any disciplinary action by the state bar. A 2010 investigation of federal prosecutorial misconduct by USA Today produced similar results: Of 201 cases in which federal judges found that prosecutors had committed misconduct, just one resulted in discipline by a state bar association. Prosecutorial misconduct was a factor in about one-quarter of the first 225 DNA exonerations, but none of the prosecutors in those cases faced any significant discipline from the courts or the bar.

There is also a common misconception that appeals courts serve as a check on criminal justice abuse. It is actually rare for an appeals court to review the evidence in a criminal case. Appeals courts make sure trials abide by the state and federal constitutions and by state or federal rules of criminal procedure, but they almost never second-guess the conclusions of juries.
In fact, NO prosecutor in this country EVER has been convicted of prosecutorial misconduct, and it is not because the prosecutors in the dock were innocent. Instead, juries tend to treat prosecutors like they do police officers, often engaging in nullification decisions because Americans are taught to hold people of these professions in absolute deference.

Then there is lying. This comes from one prosecutor who apparently believes lies are just fine with him:
If you were to take every jailhouse informant at his word, you’d find that a remarkably high percentage of the people accused of felonies boast about their crimes to the complete strangers they meet in jail and prison cells. Informants are particularly valuable in federal drug cases, where helping a prosecutor obtain more convictions is often the only way to get time cut from a mandatory minimum sentence. That gives them a pretty good incentive to lie.

There is some disagreement over a prosecutor’s duty to verify the testimony he solicits from jailhouse informants. In the 2006, Church Point, Louisiana, case of Ann Colomb, for example, Brett Grayson, an assistant U.S. attorney in Louisiana, put on a parade of jailhouse informants whose claims about buying drugs from Colomb and her sons were rather improbable, especially when the sum of their testimony was considered as a whole. According to defense attorneys I spoke with, when one attorney asked him if he actually believed what his informants were telling the jury, Grayson replied that it doesn’t matter if he believes his witnesses; it only matters if the jury does. He expressed a similar sentiment in his closing argument. (Emphasis mine)
No, Grayson won't have to worry about being charged with suborning perjury, nor will he face discipline from his state bar. And it is my sense that Grayson is typical of prosecutors, both state and federal. We saw enough of that during the Tonya Craft trial, and a representative of the Georgia State Bar told me that she was just fine with that conduct, and that the State Bar pretty much condoned it. "They were just doing their jobs," she told me.

I wish the state of things was different, but it is not. Lying is accepted in our political and "justice" culture, and nothing ever will change. Those of us who believe that lying has no place in either sphere are a tiny minority, but at least we still can raise our voices, just as the people at Reason have done so.

6 comments:

Lookout Spy said...

Bill, you are not a lonely voice crying in the wilderness, but rather a prophet of what lying can do to a nation's soul in search of justice. Do not falter, my friend and brother, even though the path be rocky and you lash yourself with thorns to take the height of the mountain. The truth will prevail and the sword shall be a plowshare again.

liberranter said...

Lying is accepted in our political and "justice" culture, and nothing ever will change.

It is because lying is an accepted part of our culture, period, that these despicable creatures get away with their crimes against justice.

In the everlasting "war on crime," the people with whom I have the most in common -- religious conservatives -- pretty much do not "get it." Most of the people at my church tolerate me, and even a few have said I have helped them change some of their thinking, but overall, it was the Right that ratcheted up the "crime wars" in the 1970s and 80s.

Does it not just stagger the mind that the very people who are so fixated on truth as the Bible defines it are also the same people who are willing to swallow, whole, as Gospel, anything that anyone in a secular position of "authoritah" proclaims, no matter how obvious the lies? It especially helps if the person of "authoritah" wears some sort of uniform and carries some sort of weapon. Verily, this is a terminal moral and spiritual disease affecting America's Christian Right.

lmn4man said...

You are a very smart man Mr. Anderson and I find encouragement in your words. The injustice being done in this "witch hunt" form of truth need to be addressed and I applaud you for the hard work you do to fight it!!

KC Sprayberry said...

One has to wonder just what would happen to the judicial system if prosecutors lost their complete immunity from committing what amounts to criminal acts by those they investigate and bring to trial? Perhaps it's time for the Supreme Court to revisit their decision that lying by cops and prosecutors is all right, because after all, they're dealing with liars (criminals) and must lie in order to make their case. Wrong. I have known far too many cops who believe any officer utilizing lying as part of an investigation should not only be fired but also prosecuted. Yet, those lying cops are often an integral part of the prosecutor's team and held up to the community as the best cop in town. Why? Because those cops assist the prosecutor in getting that almighty conviction, making this attorney incapable of earning a living on the streets into Superman with no weaknesses.
Justice is no blinder than it is now, where convicting that proverbial 'ham sandwich' which all prosecutors say they can get an indictment against, is so easy it's scary we've allowed our society to de-evolve to this point.

liberranter said...

Perhaps it's time for the Supreme Court to revisit their decision that lying by cops and prosecutors is all right, because after all, they're dealing with liars (criminals) and must lie in order to make their case.

KC, I think we both know that that will NEVER happen. Remember that the SCOTUS is part and parcel of the Reigning Establishment. Prosecutors, cops, judges, and all of the other apparatchiks who are part of that corrupt system are "part of the family" to which those nine black-robed tyrants belong. Sure, every once in a blue moon they'll make a token ruling that upholds some minor instance of true justice, just to keep a credible facade. But whenever a case arises that requires a decision that will ultimately either seriously restrict the power of the State (i.e., the facade under which the Reigning Establishment holds onto power) in favor of the individual or confer all power and might upon the State, the State will win every time. Any other outcome would undermine the legitimacy of the State itself, and the Reigning Establishment will go to any lengths necessary to prevent that from ever happening.

justiceseeker51 said...

KC quote]...that lying by cops and prosecutors is all right, because after all, they're dealing with liars (criminals) and must lie in order to make their case. Wrong. I have known far too many cops who believe any officer utilizing lying as part of an investigation should not only be fired but also prosecuted....[end quote]



KC....I sooooo agree with your comment! Sometimes, it is not a criminal, that is 'arrested'...it's that 'ham sandwich'.....if they have to lie...there is NO case to start with....only victims....

They make the 'innocent' into a criminal, JUST by arresting him/her...in some people's eyes. Lots of people, in our great USofA do not go for "innocent until proven guilty" per se.....they believe the opposite. I have seen that, especially, in the North Carolina region, revolving around the "Zahra Baker" case.